Rick and I both looked out our respective cubicle doorways and watched Dana walk past us towards the copier room. Her slacks were a bit more clingy than usual with an obvious panty line.
“That has to be the best ass in the office,” sighed Rick.
Furrowing my brow, I asked, “When did she get pregnant?”
Rick laughed and said, “Boy, are you slow. Almost two months ago.” Shaking his head, Rick continued, “Man, just think. Someone gets to sleep with that every night.”
Grinning, I said, “If you play your cards right, Shelley might let you have a go with her.”
Shaking his head again, Rick said, “Hey, I do have standards.”
From the cubicle next to Rick, Shelley said, “You guys know I'm at my desk, right?”
I said, “You know we're kidding!'
Heavy with sarcasm, Shelley said, “Yeah, right.”
I said, “Shelley, we don't really think of you as a girl.”
Sounding irritated, Shelley said, “It's woman, not girl. And, you guys are terrible!” She paused for a moment and then said, “You know I have H.R.'s number on speed dial.”
Arnie, our supervisor had just stepped out of his office, a few cubes down from us. He said, “What are you calling H.R. about today, Shelley?” I rolled my chair back to my desk. I could see the top of Arnie's balding head as he leaned over the cubicle wall to Shelley's office.
“Sexual harassment!” said Shelley. “Those two are incorrigible!”
Arnie said, “Can you hold off until after lunch? I have plans.” Shelley never followed through with her threats to call H.R.
Arnie stepped to my doorway and said, “Paul, how far along are you with that program?”
I turned to face Arnie and said, “I should have it ready to test by first of next week.”
Arnie nodded and said, “Hand the project over to Rick. We have a new assignment for you. I'll tell you more about it in the conference room upstairs.”
Looking confused, I said, “I'm almost done, Arnie.”
Arnie turned to Rick and said, “You'll be taking on Paul's project.” Turning back to me, he said, “Come on, Paul. I have an offer you can't refuse.”
“New assignment?” I asked as I exited my cubicle to walk with Arnie to the elevator. “Are you finally letting me work on that facial recognition database?”
“I can't really talk about it here,” said Arnie. “It's classified. But no. Eric and his team will be working on that.”
“Classified?” I said as we entered the elevator. “Granted, this is the FBI. But I've yet to work on a classified project. Are you giving me that liaison to the CIA position to develop software to combat global terrorism?”
Arnie looked down his long slender nose at me before saying simply, “No.”
Feeling confused, I followed Arnie in silence out of the elevator and down the hall to a secure conference room. He slid his I.D. Badge through the slot next to the door, it clicked and then swung open. Inside the room, seated at an over-sized table were two women and two men I've never seen before.
Everyone stood up as we entered the room. One woman smiled and extended her hand to me. I shook it, not liking her weak grip. She said, “Thank you so much for coming, Mr. Peterson. I am Special Agent Turner. Next to me is Special Agent Kowalski, and agents Nichols and Walker. We have a proposal we'd like to discuss with you. It involves field work.” She pointed at a chair opposite hers at the table and said, “Please. Have a seat.”
I hesitated for a moment, fidgeting on the chair back. I said, “Field work? Hey, I'm just a geek. I have no police training or any of that jazz.”
Special Agent Turner pointed at the chair again and sat down herself. “You are...um, uniquely qualified for this particular mission. We'll discuss those qualifications in a moment. The situation is...” she nodded at Agent Walker who pressed a remote control button. On a screen at the end of the table, a picture of a very pretty teen girl appeared. “...the situation is that this sixteen year old eleventh grader named Kasey Newsom was found dead in a dumpster, an apparent murder. That was right at the end of August, not long after school started.”
“That's terrible,” I said. “She was very pretty. Any idea why or who did it?”
Ms. Turner shook her head and said simply, “No.” She nodded at the man again. A picture of another pretty girl appeared. She continued, “This girl...” She seemed to hesitate for a moment. “This, um, girl was found two days ago. Both were killed from trauma to the head by a blunt instrument. Both were on the cheerleader squad.”
I said, “Oh wow. And you have no suspects?”
A picture of a teenage boy appeared on the screen. Ms. Turner said, “This is Harlan Gray. Senior. Captain of the football team. Both victims were dating Mr. Gray at the time of their deaths. He's one of those men who have an almost Svengali effect on girls. Most of the girls at that school have a crush on him. He's extremely jealous and while he plays the field, he expects whoever is his girlfriend at the moment to be totally loyal.”
“Sounds like a real prick,” I said.
The picture changed to a sad, rather homely looking teenage boy. Ms. Turner said, “This is Joey Fuchs. Also on the football team. While quiet and shy, his psych profile lists him as a potential time bomb. He's been known for sudden outbursts of anger. Girls and boys alike seem to go out of their way to avoid him. He has expressed anger more than once at Mr. Gray's ability to attract girls. He's been caught on several occasions of peeping into the bedroom windows of both victims, as well as other girls in school.”
A picture of a teenage girl appeared next. “Amber Hough. A cheerleader and desperate to be Harlan's girlfriend. Several times the girls' coach has had to break up a fight between her and other cheerleaders. That's our suspect list at the moment. All three knew the victims and had opportunities to be alone with them, but we can't place any of them with the victims at the time of the murders.”
I shrugged and said, “Okay. This is terrible and all. Two girls dead and the murderer roaming free. I don't see how this involves me though. It doesn't really seem like a logic problem or something you need an algorithm to help solve. If the police have hit a brick wall, I'm sure you wouldn't need me to suggest putting an undercover operative in the school.”
Special Agent Turner studied her hands resting on the table top for a few moments. She looked up and said, “We did. The second victim. She was on assignment using the code name Cindy to investigate claims of an underage prostitution ring operating in the school. After the first murder, we had her alter her mission. She was deep undercover and allowed herself to get too involved with Mr. Gray. She fell in love with him and refused to consider him a suspect. Before we could pull her out, she was dead.”
“Oh my God!” I gasped. “That's awful. But I still don't see how this involves me.” I looked from Ms. Turner to Arnie and back. Arnie was being very quiet.
“I guess that brings us to your unique qualifications for this assignment,” said Ms. Turner as she removed several sheets of paper from a manila folder and spreading them on the table top. “The NSA provided us with quite a little dossier on you. It looks like you've complained to your brother many times on the phone about how you don't like your job. How you wish you could do something that matters, maybe have some excitement. This might be your chance, Mr. Peterson.”
Feeling horrified, I said, “It says all that about me? What else is in there?” I made a movement to reach for the files.
Ms. Turner quickly slid the documents out of my reach. As she held up one of the sheets, she said, “This report details why we feel it's important to use someone with no police training or experience.” She paused a moment and then said, “Because of the nature of the mission, we did try to look for a female agent, but we hit a snag. We had a report run on the main system to match up agents' faces with features that Mr. Gray would find the most attractive. After the report was created, we realized that we had failed to filter out male agents. I'm very glad we made that mistake.”
Frowning, I said, “I'm afraid to ask.”
Ms. Turner gave me a wry smile and said, “You match being a candidate for Mr. Gray's girlfriend at ninety-seven percent! Not one female in the department was that close. He's practically guaranteed to fall for you.”
I must have looked ridiculous sitting there with my mouth hanging open. “You can't be serious!” I almost shouted. I stumbled over my words for a moment and then said, “This idea is insane. You expect me, a twenty-three year old grown man, to pass myself off as not only a high school student, but a girl as well? And...and...to try to get a boy you suspect of murder to fall in love with me? This is crazy with a capital C.”
Special Agent Kowalski, the other woman in the room said, “We know this seems a bit unorthodox.”
I stood up and looked at both women. I said, “A bit? Really? Only a bit? Let’s forget a moment that I’m an IT guy and let’s play like I’ve had police training. Putting me in girl’s clothes isn’t going to make actual teen girls and actual teen guys take leave of their senses and go, ‘Oh! Look at the cute new girl!’ This wouldn’t even work in one of those stupid teen movies!”
Agent Walker put down the projector’s remote control, folded his arms on the table and said, “You’ll get two weeks of extensive training on how to walk and talk like a high school girl. Your profile suggests that you’re mentally suited for this mission.”
I dropped back down in the chair and said, “What are you suggesting? That I’m gay or something? You think I’m a sissy?”
Special Agent Turner smiled at me and said, “Oh, not at all. Quite the contrary, actually. It’s critical that you’re able to resist this affect Mr. Gray has on females.”
I stood up and turned to my boss and said, “Arnie, I’m done. You’ve had your joke. I promise to stop pestering Shelley. I need to get back to coding.”
Arnie shook his head and said, “Sit down, Paul. You need to give this some serious thought.” Folding his arms and leaning back against the door, Arnie said, “You’re the only person who could pull off this assignment. Field work, deep under cover, budget off the books. It’s a dream assignment.”
I poked my finger into Arnie’s chest and said, “Fine. Then you do it. Let me go back to my desk.”
Arnie grinned and said, “I don’t have the physique for the assignment. I’m too masculine.”
I frowned and said, “Very funny.”
Special Agent Turner said, “Please, Mr. Peterson. Sit down. Hear us out. You are uniquely qualified for this assignment.” She waved the manila envelope and said, “We know everything about you, Mr. Peterson. The accident you had as a pre-teen and the lack of a masculine body structure and your psyche profile, again makes you perfect for this assignment.”
Arnie straightened up and said, “Accident? Paul, you never mentioned any accident.”
I sat down and folded my arms and said, “Because I never wanted to talk about it.”
Special Agent Kowalski said, “At eleven, Mr. Peterson was a passenger in his parents’ car when a semi ran a red light and collided with the car. A piece of sheet metal tore through the car and struck young Mr. Peterson, removing all of his genitals and a portion of his thigh.”
Both the male agents and Arnie winced with Agent Walker emitting a low whistle and Arnie unconsciously covered his crotch for a moment.
Ms. Kowalski continued, “So while you lack female genitals, you have the right shape to wear girls panties, leotards, swim suits, and so forth. Even if you’re exposed with no panties and no one gets a close look, it’s doubtful anyone will suspect. Bonus in that you’re already used to sitting down to pee.”
I just sat there, mortified. I couldn’t say anything for a few moments. Finally, I said, “You fuckers! You goddamned pieces of shit! How dare you expose this deeply personal and disturbing event in my life! You’ve brought back a lot of painful memories that I’ve been trying to suppress.”
Special Agent Turner shrugged and said, “As I said, we were provided a very thorough dossier on you. We’re wasting time, Mr. Peterson. We have two dead women and a murderer who will most likely strike again. We need you. I can’t force you, but you either come with me now, or you turn you back on your duty and let our agent die in vain. The choice is yours.”
Arnie said, “Even if you don’t take the assignment, all your projects, both of them, I’ve already given to other people.”
I looked around to all the faces surrounding me. In a weary voice, I said, “I’m not a cop. I have no police training.”
Special Agent Turner managed a smile as she said, “We don’t need a cop for this. You’re not arresting anyone. You’re going in as bait to expose the murderer. Once we know who it is, we’ll move in and make the arrest.”
“And then I go home, if he doesn’t kill me first?” I asked.
Ms. Kowalski said, “Not right away, no. It’d be too obvious you were a plant.”
“Well that’s just great,” I said. “Arnie, toss me a bone!” Arnie just shrugged.
Special Agent Turner said, “We need your answer now. Make a difference Mr. Peterson.”
Scowling I looked around the room and said, “You know this is crazy, right? It’ll never work.”
Special Agent Kowalski leaned on the table and said, “We wouldn’t even be here if we didn’t have high confidence in the mission’s success.”
I sat there fuming for a few moments. If I turned them down, which is the only sane response, then I might find myself out on the street. Arnie’s been griping lately about my performance and he might be looking for an excuse to be rid of me. If I agree, I get to do secret spy stuff. Well, okay, not really but it’s still deep undercover and still potentially dangerous.
“Okay,” I said. “I’d say you have me by the balls, but I don’t have any.”
Special Agent Turner smiled and said, “Very good, Mr. Peterson. Here’s the mission.” She nodded to Agent Walker who clicked his little button. She also pushed some printed papers towards me. I looked around, but Arnie had left the room.
Turner continued, “As we said, you will go deep undercover. Your assignment is to identify the murderer. You are to make no arrest or try to detain the suspect. You will only identify. In pursuant of this, we will create a female persona for you. You will be placed in a foster family. They will have no idea of who you actually are. We have arranged to have you try out for the cheerleading squad and you will attend regular classes like all the other students. You will make contact will all three suspects and befriend them. You will try to foster a relationship with Mr. Gray. After that you will probe the suspects with questions to see if you can make any determinations.”
“It sounds so simple,” I said sarcastically.
Special Agent Turner smiled and said, “In many ways, it is. Look, this isn’t forever. After a period of time, it there appears that there will be no pay-off, we’ll scrub the mission. Worst case, you’ll be there until the end of the school year.”
“Now come on!” I slapped my palms on the smooth table top. “Isn’t that just a bit excessive?”
Special Agent Kowalski said, “If you succeed in becoming Mr. Gray’s girlfriend, extraction becomes more delicate.”
Turner leaned in towards me and said, “And it’s mission critical that you become his girlfriend.”
“I think I’m going to be sick,” I said with disgust.
“Good morning, Mr. Peterson,” said Special Agent Turner with a big smile. I was sitting in a small waiting room with just a few chairs. On one wall was a window with the blinds closed and another wall with a window showing a small office on the other side. “Welcome to our training facility for the first day of your assignment prep. First on your agenda is a trip to our medical facility. Now now. Don’t look like that. It’ll be relatively painless. Mostly.”
I frowned and said, “What can I expect? Any surgery?”
Turner laughed and said, “Not exactly. We don’t really have time for you to heal. That’s one of the reasons we selected you for this mission. You don’t need a tremendous amount of feminizing. Mostly today you will start a series of injections of mostly an experimental cocktail of drugs to basically speed up a feminizing of your body. We’re hoping that before you end your training, you’ll have a C cup size, but the med staff is telling me we’ll be doing good to get a B cup in such a short time span.”
“I’m disappointed,” I said frowning. “I was hoping to be a double-D.”
Turner laughed and said, “No, you don’t. But your mother was only a C cup so you’ll probably be a lot like her.” She indicated that I should stand and said, “Come along with me and let’s get started.”
I stood and Special Agent Turner opened the door that led to the office area behind the window. As I started following her, I said, “I have to admit, I’m surprised to see you here. Are you here just to get me started?”
Without turning around as she led me down the narrow hallway, Turner said, “Oh no. You’re my project, so you won’t be rid of me until the mission is over. I’ll be your handler, your mommy and your best friend for the foreseeable future.”
I was afraid to ask, but I said, “So, ah…what do you have in store for me? Your overview last week didn’t really go into much detail.”
She stopped in front of a door labeled “Bio Lab” and said, “Well, in this room, we start your feminization. This is very advanced chemistry and very top secret. Also starting today, get you started on being trained how to walk and talk like a female.”
I smiled and said, “I think I got that…the rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain.”
Turner flashed a fake smile and as she opened the door to the bio lab, she said, “By George…Let’s go in.”
A balding man in a white lab coat and glasses approached us with a toothy grin. “Special Agent Turner! So glad to see you.”
Turner smiled and said, “Dr. Teufel. I’d like you to meet Mr. Peterson. He’s here for the feminization treatment.”
Dr. Teufel turned to me with a grin, extended his hand and said, “Ah, Mr. Peterson. Nice to meet you.”
I shook his hand. Dr. Teufel had a good firm grip. “Hi, doctor,” I said simply.
Dr. Teufel pointed at the padded chair next to us and said, “Please. Sit down Mr. Peterson.” Turning to face Turner, he said, “Full strength, correct?”
Turner said, “We’re in a time crunch, doctor. I want the maximum safe dosage.”
Dr. Teufel raises his eyebrows and said, “Are you sure? Mr. Peterson is already lacking secondary male characteristics. That might be overkill.”
Turner said sternly, “He needs hips, boobs and a more feminine face. And we need it within two weeks.”
Sighing, Dr. Teufel said, “Yes ma’am. You’re the boss.” Addressing me, he said, “Do you have any questions before we begin, Mr. Peterson?”
I nodded and said, “Is this procedure safe? And is it reversible?”
Dr. Teufel chuckled as he said, “Well, the lab rats stopped dying. And in theory we can reverse the effects without much surgery.”
I frowned and said, “That’s not very comforting, doc. Besides boobs and hips, are there any other effects I should be worried about?”
Before he could answer, a couple assistants approached. One of them, a woman said, ”We’ll need you to remove your shirt and pants, please. Then hop up on this bed.” Behind me was a bed typical of what you see in doctors’ offices.
Dr. Teufel said, “Well, Mr. Peterson, what we are about to administer to you, both in general and to specific parts of your body is essentially estrogen on steroids. One treatment is like taking normal hormones for two months. The formula we use will allow your body to take this large quantity of hormones without increasing your risk of cancer or other health issues. Obviously, this is a highly experimental drug and hasn’t been approved for use in humans. You know, in general.
“What you will experience will of course be a rapid enhancement of your current feminine features and breast growth. Your hairline will lower. You may experience a change in color perception and a change in how your thought processes work. No, no. This isn’t going to change you into a bimbo. Actually, you’ll probably start thinking more clearly. Another side effect will be that you will, um, well switch sides basically and start finding men attractive. This should help your mission, I think.”
With a smirk, I said, “Oh great. This just keeps getting better and better.”
“Hop up on the bed, please sir,” said the other assistant.
As I sat on the bed in just my underwear, I said, “What if this can’t be reversed?”
Special Agent Turner smiled and said, “Then we’ll change your records to say female and lower your pay.”
“Now don’t think this is going to happen every day,” said Special Agent Turner as we walked from her car towards small café. “You did great today, so I thought this was a way to celebrate as well as chat a bit more informally.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I’m exhausted. I think I’ll probably just crash after you take me back.” I was bunking at the facility so they can monitor me in case I have an adverse reaction to the treatment.
“That’s good,” said Turner. “I was afraid you might want to hit the bars to mourn your last day as a man.”
We found a booth and sat down. I said, “Well, I guess that doesn’t really mean much, does it? It’s more of life style I’m losing than my gender. Plus, I get to return to my lifestyle when this is all done.”
The waitress took our drink order and handed us each a menu. Turner didn’t pick up her menu right away. She just studied me for a moment and then said, “You never took any HRT therapies to compensate for your lack of testosterone. Why not, if you don’t mind me asking.”
The waitress brought our drinks. We were obviously not ready to order, so I waited for her to leave before I answered. I said, “We couldn’t really afford it. Even with insurance, my parents’ medical expenses were huge. And I decided what was the point? What woman would want me? I decided I really didn’t want to bother shaving or having big muscles. I’m a total geek. Gamer and programmer. I escaped reality in reading tons of Science Fiction. Replacing lost testosterone just didn’t seem important.”
Turner looked up from her menu and said, “Not even for your own health?”
I scanned the menu and said, “To be honest, I gave up. I just don’t care.”
Tuner put her menu down and said, “That’s not true, Mr. Peterson. That’s not what’s in your psych profile.”
I smiled weakly and said, “Maybe. Trying to be a normal man did seem pointless to me.”
The waitress took our orders and disappeared in the kitchen.
We sat in silence for a few moments before I said, my eyes focused far away, “This is huge. This is just really huge what you’re asking me to do.”
Turner looked curiously at me and said, “What do you mean?”
I leaned back in my seat and spread my arms wide. I said, “Everything!” I then leaned forward, folding my arms on the table and said, “I mean, let’s just look at being a girl. Even though I had my manhood removed when I was a kid, I’ve lived my whole life as a guy. It’s all I know. Look at all the little stupid things girls do that guys never even think about. I’m going to have to pass myself off as a normal teenage girl. That means skirts, dresses, tight jeans, bras, panties, silly shoes, even a cheerleader outfit. Make-up, earrings, and even nail polish! That means a total change in everything!
“Every day life will be completely and totally different. That’s not even getting into going back to high school, or getting a boyfriend. A boyfriend for God’s sake! Never in all my life have I ever once said, ‘oh! Look at that cute guy!’ And now not only will I have to date one or maybe two, but I might actually start finding guys attractive! That makes me ill just thinking about it!
“And as if that wasn’t enough, I have to find a murderer as well. Sherlock I’m not. Any one of these things would be huge for me. But all together? Holy shit, Special Agent Turner! This is just too much!” I slid both palms through my hair and squeezed the sides of my head in frustration.
Special Agent Turner just sat that for a few moments looking at me, trying to gather her thoughts. Finally she said, “Mr. Peterson…Paul. We’re going to arm you with the most extensive training we can provide in the next two weeks to make sure are completely prepared to enter the world as a teenage high school girl. The treatments we’ll be administering will help adjust you mentally for thinking and acting female. That will become second nature to you.
“When you enter the field, you will not be alone. We’re not just tossing you to the wolves. We’ll be monitoring you and will provide you with backup when needed. This will be a team effort. You’re not the lone ranger.”
She slid a manila folder towards me and said, “This is who you are now. Paul Peterson, for now, does not exist.” As I hesitantly opened the folder, Turner continued, “Your new identity is Melissa Jean Cooper, seventeen year old female. You were placed into foster care because your parents are abusive crack-heads and also for a few minor brushes with the law yourself. Shop-lifting and petty theft. You’re trying to clean up your act although you still have an attitude.”
Interrupting, I said, “This says numerous piercings, including a tongue piercing. Um, I’m not crazy about piercings anyway. I was willing to accept having my ears pierced, but I’m not getting my tongue pierced. I’ve heard that hurts like hell to have it done, and there’s only one reason to have it done. I’m…I’m ah, not going to give anyone a blow job.”
With an embarrassed smile, Special Agent Turner said, “We might be able to adjust this profile some, but as a teen boy’s girlfriend, you can, ah, anticipate having to give him oral sex to hopefully postpone his trying to have normal sex with you. You don’t have the equipment for that.”
Frowning angrily, I said, “I know what equipment I don’t have. I really didn’t think any kind of sex was on the table.”
Turner’s expression turned a bit cold as she said, “Miss Cooper. In the environment you will be operating in, sex is very much on the table. Melissa Cooper and the others she will interact with are all seventeen.”
Scowling, I said, “Isn’t it enough, Special Agent Turner, that I’m taking on a drag queen charade, putting my life in danger, as well as forcing me to become some football jock’s bitch? Did you know I despise football jocks? Was that in your dossier? The way I was treated by the douche bags on the football team in junior high school because I didn’t have a fucking penis!?” I got a little loud at the end of my sentence and people started to turn and look. Despite my best effort, tears welled up in my eyes.
Turner looked away from me for a few moments. She said quietly, “We knew your secret got out briefly. I…”
A tear ran down my cheek as I tried to control my anger, pent up for so long. I said, “In P.E. I got hit in the crotch very hard with a basketball. Anyone else would have crumpled to the floor in agony. I just stood there. A jerk ran up behind me and said, ‘Are you seriously wearing a cup, man? In P.E.?’ When I said I wasn’t, before I could react, he bent down and pulled my gym shorts and underwear down to my ankles. Shouts went out of ‘Oh my God, he’s a girl!’ And they…they laughed. They laughed. After that, those bastard jocks would ask if I liked it in my pussy or up my ass. Trying to tell them I didn’t have a pussy just made them laugh harder. It was so bad I tried to slit my wrists. Even trying to fucking commit suicide I was ridiculed because a real man would use a gun! Finally, my Dad was forced to quit his job and we moved out of state and I started over at a new school.” My voice trailed away as my eyes focused far away. Everything I had suppressed from my mind was bubbling back to the surface.
In a hushed tone, Turner said, “I’m sorry Paul.”
Sobbing, I said, “And now here you are, exploiting my accident to have me pose as a fucking girl and get all cozy with some fucking jock and to top things off you suggest that I should have oral sex with him if he demands it. God damn. I tried to hold this in, but what you’re wanting me to do is just too much.”
Special Agent Turner swallowed audibly and took my hand in hers. She looked away for several moments. Finally, she said, “I can appreciate how hard this is for you. No, listen. Yes, I can’t possibly know how you feel. But I can understand. If you want out of covert ops, we can scrub the op, find someone less suitable and try again. With or without you, there’s still a killer out there. You have the best chance to bring him…or her, in before they strike again. It’s up to you, Paul.”
I pulled my hand away from Turner’s and leaned forward to be more in her face. Sneering, I said, “Don’t you dare try to lay a guilt trip on me. Don’t even try to suggest that I’m somehow responsible if the killer kills again if I back out.”
Frowning, Turner said, “True. Only the killer is responsible for his actions. But if you walk away when you could help to expose who the killer is, and another girl dies, you will forever ask yourself, would she still be alive if I hadn’t walked away?”
I closed my eyes tightly to squeeze away the tears and said, “You want me to be a girl and date a jock…those bullies and jocks from when I was a kid humiliated me, calling me a girl. They called me a girl back then, and look where I am now.”
Looking serious, Turner said, “We’re not trying to humiliate you. We’re not making fun of you because you lack a..a…a penis. We’re reaching out to you as our best chance. Look, back then, the bullies won. You quit. You moved. And now, you’re going to let the bullies win again.”
I looked at Turner, then down to my feet. She was right. I did let the bullies win. Every time I run, they win. Maybe I should stop running. I closed my eyes tightly and visions of those bullies’ faces pushed themselves before me, laughing, taunting, sneering and pointing at my useless crotch. I gritted my teeth and tears squeezed out between my closed lids. Lastly, a memory I had suppressed for years surfaced. The P.E. coach walked up to me with my shorts and underwear draped around my ankles and said in front of everyone in the gym, “Peterson, if I were you, I’d take a gun out into a field somewhere and end it all.”
My eyes still clinched, with a sob in my voice, I whispered, “I’ll do it. I’ll do it, Special Agent Turner.”
I opened my eyes as I felt Turner touch my hand again. Whispering back, she said, “Thank you, Paul.”
I showed up back at the training center promptly at seven in the morning, despite having a terrible time trying to fall asleep. I felt a bit lighter as I walked into the building as if I had finally exorcised the demons in my head. I never realized what a burden I was carrying around with me mentally. When I had checked myself in the mirror this morning to brush my teeth and take care of morning business, I noticed I was already looking more feminine. My ID tag read “Melissa Cooper.” They were starting the immersion right away.
A different female agent met me at the door. She smiled as she said, “Good morning, Miss Cooper. I’m agent Goodson and you’ll be following me around today. Let’s start first with continuing your conditioning. It’s amazing how fast this stuff starts to work, isn’t it?”
I smiled weakly back and said, “Yeah. I’d bet that trannies would kill to get their hands on this stuff.”
Agent Goodson smiled again and said, “Well, that’s why it’s a secret and we don’t allow it on the market and just keep it in our arsenal. It’s just too unstable and experimental to get loose in the wild as it were.”
We entered Dr. Teufel’s torture room. I said, “Did you say unstable?”
Ignoring me, Agent Goodson smiled at the doctor and said, “Miss Cooper is here for her next treatment, doctor.”
Dr. Teufel smiled at me and said, “You’re responding nicely to the treatment, Miss Cooper. It helps a great deal when it doesn’t have to fight testosterone. By the end of the two weeks, only your gynecologist will know for sure.”
I went through the same series of injections along with something new. Today they massaged my head and gooped my hair with something smelly. They said it was to accelerate hair growth on my head. They gave me a cream to apply to my face to retard facial hair growth. I thought I must be a walking, talking tranny wet dream.
“Dr. Teufel says you’re doing great!” said a bubbly Agent Goodson. “Now we get to trek all the way to the other side of the facility where some very good people are going to train you on how to talk and act like a typical girl. They will also start hammering into your head, your new profile.”
The next eight hours were grueling. You wouldn’t think learning how to apply make-up would be all that difficult. But it is when they’re trying to ram seventeen years of living experience into a two week time frame. Everything from shaping my eyebrows to painting my toenails, every aspect had to seem natural and normal to me. The hardest for me was learning how to walk and even just move with a certain amount of grace.
This was my life for the next two weeks. Hour after hour of everything from practicing putting on lipstick to walking with a book balanced on my head. It doesn’t sound hard or harsh, but it was. Especially when it is almost unrelenting. I would grab a very small bite to eat before crashing on my bed and not getting up until the next day, to start all over again. I couldn’t remember my real name.
I looked out the window of the private, government owned jet. It was getting to be late evening and the red and orange streaks on the cloud tops filled my view. My hair was long and worn in a punkish style. I was dressed in a black denim skirt, black pantyhose, boots, an olive drab colored tank top tried to hide my C cup breasts and from my earlobes hung big hoop earrings. My eyes were ringed with heavy black eyeliner and pretty thick, black mascara. My nail polish was blue. The goggles sitting on my head were probably a bit much. Yes, there wasn’t one thing coordinated that I was wearing. But even if I say so myself, I was pretty damned cute.
Special Agent Turner, sitting next to me said, “Miss Cooper, you might as well get some sleep. And after we arrive at the airport, there’ll be a bus ride of a few hours since, for security reasons, we can’t land at the airport local to the city. After that, I drop you off at the Foster care offices, you’ll be picked up by your new foster parents and your mission begins. It’s going to be a big day.”
I smiled at Turner as I leaned my seat back. I said, “Good idea. I’m pretty worn out. Tell congrats to your training staff. I don’t feel one bit self conscious about being dressed this way. I feel completely normal.”
Turner smiled at me and said, “They’re the best at what they do. Hopefully the conditioning sticks until your mission is over.”
“And it’s all reversible, right?” I asked hopefully.
“Just go to sleep, Miss Cooper,” was all Special Agent Turner would tell me.
I was sitting in a small waiting room, my luggage lying to one side. While it had only been half an hour, it seemed like forever before the door finally opened to admit the same Child Protection Services woman who had put me in the room in the first place. A man and a woman stood behind her.
“Please come in Mr. and Mrs. Williamson,” said the social worker. She waved her arm towards me and said, “This is Melissa Cooper. Melissa, say hello to Carl and Sandy Williamson. They are your new foster parents.”
I stood up and said, “Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Williamson.” Both Carl and Sandy extended their hands in offering a handshake. I gave them both a rather limp, girly handshake.
Mr. Williamson said, “You can call us Carl and Sandy. No need to be so formal.” He flashed a nervous smile at me. My appearance told them I might be trouble. I was specifically told to stay in character, but not to make these nice people’s lives a living hell. They weren’t in on the mission.
I smiled and said, “Sure, Carl. I want this to work.”
Sandy smiled nervously as well and said, “Come on, hon. Let’s go out to the car. All the paperwork is done. We have your room ready for you. We thought we’d get you registered with school right after lunch.”
I frowned and said, “Do I have to go to school?”
The social worker, Carl and Sandy all said in unison, “Yes.”
I did start to feel a bit self-conscious sitting in the school’s office while Carl filled out the paperwork to get me registered to attend. Sandy looked bored sitting quietly next to me. There were these large windows that opened to the main hallway. Kids walking by looked into the office at me. Some smiled, some frowned and a few laughed.
Before arriving at the school, I was taken to my new home. I have to say, this new house is a lot better than the house I grew up in. Carl and Sandy were obviously loaded. My bedroom was already furnished of course, with a queen sized bed with a rather girly pink bedspread, a vanity with a large mirror, a dresser and my very own flat screen TV. Another room had a large screened TV and was set up as a game room. I wondered if it was too late for my male self to be adopted by these folks.
Carl and Sandy finally stood up and handed the paperwork to the office worker. The office worker turned to me and said, “Congratulations, Ms. Cooper. You are officially enrolled in Artemus Gordon High. We look forward to helping you succeed. I know it’s only Wednesday, but the next two days will help you get acclimated to the school.” She pointed to a student working in the office and said, “Laurie would you mind showing Ms. Cooper around the school? Here’s a list of her classes. Oh, and Ms. Cooper. Coach Garner would like you to be in the gym at four thirty today to try out for cheerleader.”
Sandy said, “Well, Carl and I will be going. Have a good afternoon at school and good luck trying out for cheerleader. Call us when you’re ready to be picked up, okay hon?”
I pointed at her, smiled and said, “You got it, Sandy.”
Carl and Sandy both thanked the office worker for her time and bid me good-bye one more time before leaving the office.
Laurie waved at me and with an embarrassed smile said, “Hi, I’m Laurie. What’s your name?”
“Melissa,” I said. “Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too, Melissa,” said Laurie. “Let’s go find your locker first.” She handed me a slip of paper and continued, “Don’t lose that. It’s the combination to your locker.”
“Thanks,” I said as I took the piece of paper and slid it into the pencil bag inside my notebook.
As we entered the hall, Laurie said, “So. Where are you from? You don’t seem to be from around here.”
“Los Angeles,” I said, remembering my cover story.
“Ah. Cool,” said Laurie. “Well, this is quite a bit different than what you’re used to, but I hope you like it here.”
I smiled and said, “Do you have an ocean here? Beaches? Mountains?”
Laurie looked at the floor for a moment then said, “No. Not really. Or at all, I guess. But it’s quiet here. Not much crime and all that.”
I feigned surprise and said, “Oh really? I’d heard that you had two murders at this school within one month.”
Laurie flashed me a concerned look and said, “Oh that was awful! Just terrible! I knew both girls. Just a shame. And we still don’t know who did it. Poor Harlan! I think he’s afraid to date anyone anymore.”
We continued to walk down the hall, empty between classes. I said, “And why is that? And who’s Harlan?”
“Harlan is the captain of the football team. He’s a senior this year,” said Laurie. “He was dating both girls when they were killed.”
“Oh wow,” I said. “Did he kill them?”
Laurie laughed nervously and said, “I don’t think he’d still be in school if he did. He’s a real sweetheart. He wouldn’t hurt anyone.” Laurie looked thoughtful for a moment before adding, “Well, he did slap Kasey in front of everyone that time in Big Mike’s that night before school started.”
Frowning, I said, “Why would he do that?”
Laurie shrugged and said, “He thought she was cheating on him with Brandon somebody. Oh! Here’s your locker. Try opening it and go ahead and dump your stuff in it.”
I fumbled with the lock a few times before finally getting it to open.
While I was memorizing the locker combination, Laurie leaned against the lockers and said, “Oh. Just a word to the wise, Melissa. For school at least, you might want to drop the Steam Punk look if you want to blend in.”
I tossed my notebook into the locker and slammed the door to ensure it locked. I stood up smiling and said, “What if I don’t want to fit in?”
Shrugging again, Laurie said, “Then keep dressing like that if you want to. There’re various cliques around and if you want to be part of one and especially be a cheerleader you should try to fit in more.”
“So I should be some stuck up little bitch to fit in?” I asked.
Laurie shook her head and said, “They’re not all stuck up bitches. Mostly just groups of friends. I drift in and out between several cliques. Am I stuck up little bitch to you?”
I grinned and said, “You might be. But I like you, Laurie.”
Laurie smiled and said, “Let’s go find your classes.”
We were almost half-way through the list when the bell rang and the halls were suddenly filled with kids. It was almost as if I had been transported back into time when I was in school. Not a whole lot has really changed except girls clothes and hairstyles. One thing that did strike me was that almost all the boys were taller than me. Did I shrink or have I always been a head shorter than the average guy? I doubted that even the FBI’s magical lab could cause me to shrink.
I was frustrated by Laurie’s lack of logic. She was showing me the classes in the order they were in on the piece of paper rather than going by which class was closest. As we were fighting our way through the teeming throng of teens towards the next class, I spotted Harlan talking to some other jock types at a hallway intersection. I also recognized Joey Fuchs standing towards the back of the group. Of course, I wasn’t supposed to know who they were.
I stopped Laurie and pointed towards Harlan. I said, “Hey, who’s that cute guy over there. The one in the black t-shirt.”
Laurie grinned at me and said, “He’s gorgeous, isn’t he? That’s Harlan Gray.”
I covered my mouth as I gasped, “Oh! He’s the one whose girlfriends were killed!”
Frowning, Laurie said, “Yeah. I feel so sorry for him. That must be rough. There’s still a few minutes before the bell rings. Would you like to meet him?”
I smiled broadly and said, “I sure would!”
Laurie switched to a grin again and said, “Well, let’s go!”
We made our way through the crowd to near where Harlan and his friends were having an animated discussion about God knows what. Harlan looked at me as we approached. From his expression, I guessed I already had his attention.
“Harlan, guys,” said Laurie as we got near Harlan. “I want you guys to meet Melissa. She’s a new girl here at school. Help her feel welcome!”
A few of the guys there said, “Hey”, “Hi,” and “Hiya.”
Harlan smiled, took a more casual leaning against the window pose, casually brushed his hair out of his eyes and said, “Hey. Nice to meet you, Melissa. I’m Harlan.”
I smiled at Harlan and said, “Nice to meet you too.”
Suddenly Joey Fuchs pushed past his friends to step directly in front of me. He blurted, “Hey, you’re hot. Would you like to go out with me?”
I took a step back with a look of surprise on my face. I frowned at Joey and said, “Most people at least introduce themselves first before asking for a date.”
His face reddened, Joey stumbled for words, “I, well, uh, I just wanted you to um, well…”
Harlan gave Joey a little shove and said, “Get lost, Fuchs! You’re embarrassing all of us.” Harlan turned to me with a smile and said, “I apologize for my teammate here. He’s a loser.”
Joey pushed back on Harlan and shouted, “Dammit Harlan! I want a chance too. She just arrived and she went straight to you. It’s not fair, man.”
The smile disappeared from Harlan’s face as he pushed back on Joey’s chest. He said, “Look, loser. Is it really that hard to figure out why girls come to me and avoid you? You’re a loser!” Harlan then formed an “L” shape with his fingers and held it over his head. The other boys in the group laughed and Joey’s face looked like he was about to explode.
“One of these days, you’re gonna pay, Harlan! And your skanky girlfriends too!” Joey gave Harlan another shove and Harlan’s muscles tensed up.
A teacher looked around the corner, looking at Harlan and Joey bracing to fight and said, “Hey! What’s going on here? This looks like a fight.”
Harlan flashed a smile and backed away from Joey and said, “Fight? No way, Mr. Ashbury. We’re just welcoming the new girl, um Michele…”
“Melissa,” I corrected.
Pointing at me, Harlan continued, “…Melissa here to our school.” He then gave a pat to Joey’s cheek and added, “Aren’t we, Joey?”
Face red as a beet, Joey looked at the floor and said, “Yeah, we’re just saying hi to her.”
Mr. Ashbury stood there for a few moments in silence, glancing back and forth between Joey and Harlan. He said, “You were getting a little noisy out here guys. And Harlan, watch your step. A suspension will get you kicked off the team.”
Harlan smiled and said, “Yes sir. I work hard to keep these guys in line.”
Mr. Ashbury frowned and walked away.
Glaring at Joey, Harlan said, “I’ll deal with you later, loser.”
Laurie, who had just been standing there looking mortified suddenly glanced at a wall mounted clock and exclaimed, “Oh my God! I’m going to be late for class. Melissa, stay right here and I’ll get someone else who can finish the tour for you.” As she started to run down the hall, she said over her shoulder, “See ya ‘round! Welcome to GHS.”
The hallway started thinning out of people and I leaned up against the wall to wait for a new tour guide. Harlan and Joey both left without a word when Laurie ran off to the office. The other football jocks that were hanging out with Harlan suddenly scurried away. Except for one.
A really cute boy walked up to me and said, “Hi. I’m Brandon. I hope you don’t get the idea that everyone here at Gordon High is a moron.”
I stood a little straighter and quickly glanced Brandon up and down. Dr. Teufel was right. I seemed to have switched sides because I thought Brandon was really cute and I definitely wanted to get to know him better. Harlan is cute as well, but given that he’s also an ass, made Brandon more attractive.
“Focus, girl, focus!” I said to myself. To Brandon, I flashed a broad smile and said, “Hi Brandon. Yeah, I have to admit, I was starting to get worried.”
Brandon laughed and said, “Well, Joey really is a loser, but Harlan. Well he’s not really a bad guy. He knows what he wants and gets a little aggressive about it. A word to the wise, I think he likes you.”
I laughed and said, “Well shit. I’ve only been at this school for less than an hour and it seems I’ve already got a boyfriend.”
Shrugging, Brandon said, “I hope not.” He glanced at the wall clock and said, “I need to get to class. It’s that room right there and I have about twenty seconds.” He waved and entered the classroom directly across from us.
I stood in the empty hall. I couldn’t believe it. Special Agent Turner was right. Harlan was attracted to me five seconds after seeing me. Even without Brandon’s observation, it was pretty obvious that I had gotten Harlan’s attention. It seems the next step, becoming Harlan’s girlfriend, was going to be fairly easy. Too bad my target wasn’t Brandon…Focus! Pretty soon, I’ll have to start watching my back…
Footsteps coming up from around the corner broke my chain of thought. Another girl appeared around the corner, smiled at me and said, “Are you like, Melissa? I’m Tiffany! I’m going to like finish your tour and show you where to go for your cheerleader tryouts. I’m a cheerleader! Can you like believe it?” She giggled.
I smiled at Tiffany and said, “Really? I like, never would have guessed!”
“Melissa?” said a woman’s voice from behind me. I turned around to face a woman in her thirties dressed in a white polo and navy blue shorts and tennis shoes.
“Yes, that’s me,” I said. I was waiting to meet the girls’ coach to try out for the cheerleader squad. I had already changed into a sports bra and Capri tights.
The woman extended her hand and said, “I’m Coach Garner. Good to meet you.”
I smiled at her and said, “Nice to meet you too, Coach. I’m ready to try out.” This had probably been the worst part of my training. I had to learn a number of gymnastic moves and some basic cheers. I really had no desire to be a cheerleader. I’ve never liked having the spotlight on me and despised public speaking. And here I was about to try out to be on display at football games, wearing skimpy dresses, jumping around and shouting.
“Great. I hope your first day here was good,” said the coach.
“Yeah. I got here too late to actually have any classes,” I giggled.
“Well, come on out to the gym floor,” said Coach Garner. “As you can see, the other girls on the squad are waiting along with Ms. Morrison, the other girls’ coach. Looks like some on the football team have taken an interest in this as well.”
I looked up into the bleachers and there was Harlan, Joey, Brandon and a few other guys. This was just going to make it harder. While not totally necessary that I make it as a cheerleader because they can’t pay off the coach, doing so would definitely speed up creating a relationship with Harlan.
As I walked out on the gym floor with Coach Garner, Harlan shouted, “You go, Melissa! Show ‘em how it’s done!” The others around Harlan just laughed. I couldn’t tell if they were for me or against me. Since Harlan has a thing for cheerleaders, I’m sure he wanted me to succeed.
Coach Garner said, “Okay, Melissa. The cheers are on those giant posters taped to the wall. The girls will do it first, and then you will duplicate their moves as best you can along with them. If you can’t do the cheers and show spirit, then it doesn’t matter how good you can jump and cartwheel.”
The cheerleaders, including Tiffany who gave me a big smile as they lined up, had pom-poms in hand and then proceeded to go through all their school’s yells. I have to admit, they were good. They were both bubbly and precise. I studied their moves carefully. At the FBI training facility, they had brought in a cheerleading coach to go over basic moves and yells. I think I had it down.
Coach then indicated that I join the rank and cheer with them. “Did you bring your pom-poms?” she asked.
I shrugged and said, “Sorry. I think I left them back at juvie.”
Coach Garner frowned at me and walked over to the wall and picked up a pair of pom-poms that were laying there. She said, “Here, try these.”
I smiled and said, “Thanks.” I walked to get in the middle of the girls. I never felt so exposed and mortified. Not just in front of other girls, but in front of boys, I was exposing the size and shape of my breasts through my sports bra, not to mention totally exposing my midriff and the Capri tights fit rather tightly in the crotch. Luckily, the folds in my skin in that region did give the appearance of a “camel toe” so it both boosted my embarrassment as well as my confidence that I’d pass as a female.
Coach said, “Okay, now. I’m paying attention to how well you perform your high and low V’s, the T and broken T. And show some spirit!” Coach yelled that last word.
Harlan shouted, “Yeah! Let’s see some spirit for once!”
Ignoring him, we dropped our arms straight to our sides as the lead girl said, “Ready? Okay.”
As we went through the yells, I desperately tried to keep up and match the other girls. I messed up the words a few times, dropped my pom-poms, whacked the girl next to me in the face with my pom-poms and sometimes did the wrong move. But over-all, I actually think I did fairly well.
Coach Garner said, “Okay, Melissa. I think you actually did fairly well the first time out. Now let’s see what your moves are like. Show me a cartwheel, and handspring and a back flip.”
They had a mat laid out and I performed the requested moves just as I had practiced over and over at the training center. When I was done, I walked back to the coach where the other girls had gathered in a circle.
Coach Garner said, “That was very good, Melissa. Are you sure you’ve never been a cheerleader before?”
I smiled and said the rehearsed lie, “In another school, I tried gymnastics and did some tumbling and stuff.”
Coach Garner turned to look at the girls gathered around her. “You guys are part of this judging process. What do you think? I’ll comment last.”
One girl said, “I think she did good. Nobody knows her though. This is her first day.”
Tiffany’s face brightened as she exclaimed in her own bubbly way, “Oh, I know her! She’s like very nice. And she’s just showed us how good she is at tumbling and cheering. I think she’d like make a great cheerleader!”
Another girl said without much interest in her voice said, “Well, look around. She’s the only one that showed up for the tryouts. I mean, since the last two cheerleaders were murdered, not many girls want to be a cheerleader. Some of us are still here only because you’ve begged us to stay.”
Another girl laughed without any humor and said, “Well, as long as you don’t date Harlan, I think you’re safe.”
A girl who I recognized as Amber Hough, the girl who desperately wants to date Harlan scowled and said, “What’s that supposed to mean Tami? You think Harlan is a murderer? I know he’s not. He’s nice.”
Tami hissed, “You just want in his pants!” The guys in the stands laughed.
Coach Garner put her hands up in an obvious gesture to tell everyone to stop. She said, “Girls! Knock it off.” The coach turned to face me and said, “This is your first day here so you might not know. We’ve had two terrible tragedies in the past few weeks where two of our girls, both on the squad were brutally murdered. But…but! The police don’t feel that someone is hunting cheerleaders.
Frowning, Tami said, “Maybe somebody is just eliminating the competition!” She flashed a glance at Amber.
Amber pushed Tami and shouted, “What is that supposed to mean?”
Tami pushed Amber and said, “Everyone knows you have this insane crush on Harlan! Kasey was my best friend and you were so jealous because Harlan started dating her!”
Her face glowing red and her breathing growing heavy, Amber shouted, “We’ve been over this! I didn’t kill Kasey you bitch!” Harlan shifted uncomfortably in the stands.
One of the other girls said, “I remember you saying you’d kill to get a date with Harlan.”
Fuming, Amber seethed, “I told you, I…”
“Girls!” shouted Coach Garner. “Just stop it! Nobody is accusing anyone of anything! The police have talked to all of you. I don’t see the police carting any of you off.”
I looked up into the bleachers and saw Harlan sitting there, head hanging down. The other boys around him looking sheepish and were suddenly very quiet.
Running a finger under her eye to wipe a tear, Coach Garner turned to me and said, “I’m sorry. We’re all pretty tense. I thought trying to get the squad a new girl and get back to concentrating on cheer practice would point us back to being normal. Apparently not. Look, if you want to reconsider becoming a cheerleader here, I fully understand.”
I flashed the coach a big smile and said, “Are you kidding? I think this is going to be a blast. I’m used to being in dysfunctional families.”
Coach Garner looked at me funny, but said, “Well then, congratulations Melissa. Welcome to the squad!”
Harlan lifted his head and shouted, “I knew you could do it, Michelle!” Brandon leaned over and whispered in Harlan’s ear. Harlan shouted, “I mean Melissa!” The boys around him laughed.
Amber scowled and pointed at me as she said, “You already know Harlan? You haven’t even been here a full day!”
I shrugged and said, “What can I say? Harlan obviously has good taste.” I draped a towel around my shoulders and walked slowly back to the locker room.
“How was your first day at school today, honey?” asked Sandy as she was washing dishes.
“Not bad,” I said. “I got a tour, met some new friends and made it on the cheerleader squad.”
Sandy hesitated a moment and then said, “Ordinarily I’d say congratulations, but are you sure that’s a good idea?”
“I’m not scared,” I said. Actually I was. Even though it was the plan, I felt nervous that I was drawing so much attention to myself. “I met a boy too. His name is Harlan. He’s cute.”
Dropping some silverware back into the sink, Sandy said, “H...Harlan? Oh, honey. I think you should avoid him. His last two girlfriends were murdered!”
I shrugged and said, “That just makes him more interesting, Sandy.”
“I just don’t want you to get hurt is all,” said Sandy.
“I’ll be careful,” I said honestly. And then I immediately lied, “I can take care of myself though. Things were tough at my last school.”
Sandy rinsed off the last of the silverware she’d been washing and set them on the drying rack. “Melissa, you need to leave the past right there. In the past. You’re starting a new school and a new life. Carl and I really do want you to succeed. And finally be happy.”
I had been feeling bad about basically lying to this nice couple who thought they were helping a troubled teen get her life back on track. And now I was feeling especially bad about it. I said, “I appreciate that Sandy. I do want to get away from my past, but I don’t run from trouble if it comes looking for me. Don’t get me wrong. This year I’m going to be a bit more girly. I want to go to the prom and wear a prom dress and all that. But I just can’t turn off who I am.” Another lie I guess since I did just turn Paul Peterson off and this assignment better be over long before prom.
Sandy smiled at me and said, “I know, honey. We’re going to help you get there. Carl is already looking at a loan to pay for that prom dress! Would you like to help me with dinner?”
I smiled and said, “Sure!” If she expects me to help cook anything, it’s not my fault we all die of food poisoning.
“Have a good day at school, Melissa,” Carl said as he dropped me off at school on his way to work. “I’ll be by to pick you up after school.”
I smiled and said, “Have fun at work.” I closed the car door and Carl drove away.
I looked less like a Steam Punk Girl today and more like the other girls I’m in school with. Just jeans and a loose t-shirt. I hefted my book bag to my back and started walking towards the school building. Carl had to drop me off about half an hour early because he had to get to work. Still, there were a few dozen kids hanging around outside the school chatting with friends or getting in some last minute studying.
“Melissa!” I stopped walking towards the school and turned around to see Harlan rushing up behind me. I know he’s my target and I’m supposed to get into his good graces, but I really didn’t feel like dealing with anyone at that moment.
I smiled at him when I turned around and said, “Harlan! Hey, you remembered my name this time.”
Harlan flashed a frown and said, “That’s not going to happen again, I promise you. After yesterday at your try-out, I was half afraid you’d decide to quit coming to this school.”
I laughed and said, “No. I’ve had it rough my whole life. Being here is like a vacation.”
Harlan looked taken aback and said, “Oh? Anything you want to talk about?”
I shook my head and said, “No. I want to bury my past. I’m not the same person I was a year ago.” Or even just three weeks ago.
Harlan shrugged. I doubted he was particularly interested in my past. He said, “No problem. Everyone deserves a chance to start over, right?”
I smiled and said, “That’s what I’m doing. Starting over.”
Harlan flashed me a toothy grin and said, “Cool. Hey, mind if I look at your schedule? I might be able to give you a heads up on some of the teachers you have.”
Yeah, I thought. And see if we have any classes together. I said, “Sure. It’s in my purse.” I started digging through my purse. I’d put the stupid thing in my purse this morning so it’d be sure to be on top of the contents. I’d only been carrying a purse for a few days, how did it get so full of crap already? I finally found the paper with my schedule on it and handed it to Harlan.
Harlan studied the paper intently for a few moments. He said, “Oh yeah. Watch out for Lord Benson, your English teacher. He’s a total dick.”
“Lord Benson?” I said confused.
“We just call him that because well, because he’s a dick,” Harlan said matter-of-factly. “His real name is Larry Benson or something. Oh good, you have Mr. Moto for Algebra. He’s cool. Hey, we both have Mr. Miller for History right before lunch.”
“That’s great,” I said. “We can walk there together.”
Harlan’s face brightened and he said, “Yeah! And we don’t even have to run to the lunch room because it’s right around the corner from class.”
Harlan was right. Lord Benson was a dick. I don’t know if he just hates girls in general or was just picking on me because I’m new, but if I hear that clown say in his snooty voice “Miss Cooper…” one more time, I’m going full commando on him. That old expression people say when they’re adults thinking of being young again and saying “If I only knew then what I know now…” It’s not true. It’s only been one year since I got my college degree but now in these high school classes I’m all like what the fuck?
It felt really really weird walking through the halls with all these kids. I’m not a kid and I’m especially not a girl, but I’m hoping everyone thinks I am. Again I felt very self conscious about wearing make-up and girls clothes. Boys and girls both glanced at me as I walked by, checking out the new girl. A lot of them of course were totally oblivious of a new face among them. The most unnerving of all though were the looks from boys whether they thought I was new or not. They didn’t smile. They just watched me pass by, raping me with their eyeballs.
As I entered History class, I saw that Harlan was already in a seat on the front row of the seats furthest from the door. He grinned and waved me over and patted the desk right behind him. I smiled back at him and walked over towards him.
“Shouldn’t I wait for the teacher to tell me where to sit or just sit in the back?” I said. “I’m sure someone is already sitting here.”
Harlan shook his head and said, “Nah. Go ahead and sit there. It’s okay.” He kept grinning at me.
I tossed my bag under my chair and set a spiral notebook on the desk along with a pen. I leaned forward and whispered to Harlan, “You were right. Lord Benson is a dick. I can’t stand that guy.”
Harlan laughed and said, “I’d be worried about you if you didn’t.”
A chubby kid with glasses walked up to my desk and said, “Hey, that’s my desk.”
Harlan jerked his thumb towards the back of the room and hissed at the boy, “Get lost, loser.”
The boy stood there hesitating for a moment. Harlan scowled and gestured again and the boy walked to the back of the class.
“Do you call everyone losers, Harlan?” I asked.
Chuckling, Harlan said, “Just the losers.”
The teacher walked in and everyone quieted down. The teacher glanced over at me and said, “And you must be Miss Cooper. Welcome to my class. I’m Mr. Miller. If you follow the class rules posted on that wall over there, I’m sure we’ll get along fine. I see you found an empty seat behind Mr. Gray. Funny that.” The class laughed and I felt my face redden.
There’d been very little new history added to the Revolutionary War since my college days. This was going to be the only class I actually wasn’t confused by, but Mr. Miller’s presentation of it was dry as a bowl of dust. I felt a headache coming on.
I was already putting things back in my bag when the bell rang for lunch. There were three lunch periods and I, and apparently Harlan, had “A” lunch.
Harlan stood up quickly and said, “Hey, let’s go. We want to beat everybody so we don’t have to wait in line!” I stood up and hurried after Harlan.
It’s amazing how quickly the halls fill with kids when the bell, especially a lunch bell rings. I walked just below what might be considered running to stay up with Harlan. Luckily the lunch room was just around the corner from our History class.
Harlan noticed my confused look as to where we should go. He took my hand and said, “Screw the plate-lunch line. That stuff’s not any good. Let’s go to the burger line.”
We were third and forth in line at a snack bar type line, where you can get pre-cooked hamburgers, hotdogs, and burritos. As I selected my burger and grabbed a cup for my soda, I thought about Harlan taking my hand. We’re not dating and he’s not my boyfriend…yet. It just seemed he’s making an assumption about how I feel about him. I’m not sure if I liked him just assuming I might want to date him. I followed him to a table and sat next to him
As I unwrapped my burger, Harlan just stared sideways at me for a few moments. Finally he sat up and said, “So, what’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?”
“You dragged me here, remember?” I said with a smile.
“Oh, yeah. You’re right,” said Harlan as he took a bite of his burger. After swallowing he said, “Congrats again on making cheerleader.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I was starting to have second thoughts though. Seems like a dangerous thing to do.”
With a faraway look in his eyes, Harlan said, “It’s starting to look that way.”
I nibbled at my burger and said, “You dated both those girls? Sorry…you probably don’t want to talk about it.”
Shaking his head, Harlan said, “It’s okay. It doesn’t really seem real. They’re both just gone. I really liked Cindy. She was smokin’ hot…like you.”
“I’m very sorry, Harlan,” I said. “I really am.”
Suddenly Harlan’s face clouded as he said through clenched teeth, “Some people think I killed them. Me! Like I’d harm Kasey or Cindy! I first started dating Kasey in middle school. How could anyone think I’d kill her?”
Not knowing what to do, I touched his arm and said, “With any luck, the police will catch who did it. You have to believe that Kasey and Cindy will get justice.”
Taking another bite of his burger, Harlan said, “Hopefully. But in all honesty, I don’t think the police are even investigating it anymore.”
“You might be surprised,” I said before taking a bite of my burger. “Unless someone confesses or there’s video of the act, these investigations can take months. Or longer.”
Harlan swallowed the last of his lunch and said, “Well, anyway…I was going to ask you to a movie this Saturday, but there’s probably no point now.”
I thought wow. He’s certainly wasting no time. I was expecting to have to work on him for a week or two to get a date and here he is on my first full day of school asking me out. While it may speed up the process which would be good for me, it did seem more than a little cold of him. Having your last two girlfriends murdered would shake up a lot of guys I’d think.
I smiled and said, “Yes, I’ll go to a movie with you!”
Harlan looked over at me with a neutral expression and said dryly, “You’re not afraid you’ll die?”
I laughed and said, “No. Not unless you’re under some ancient curse or something.”
Smiling, Harlan said, “I’m beginning to think so. But hey, great. I’m looking forward to Saturday.”
We exchanged our cell phone numbers after which I just sat there in the lunchroom in deep thought. Next phase of the mission is a success. I now have a date with Harlan. While that was the assignment, I stared off into space and reflected a moment on just what that meant to me on a personal level. A boy just asked me out on a date. A boy. A boy who thinks I’m a girl. Emotions were all over the place. A part of me was even excited at the prospect of dating a boy. I guess my conditioning is kicking in. But part of it also was the idea that there was a person who wanted to date me. If I had to guess, there were probably several boys who wanted me to go out with them. I smiled at that thought.
Harlan interrupted my reverie and said, “Lunch is over. I think your next class is on the other side of the school. Catch ya later!”
“I’m sorry, Special Agent Turner,” I said as I walked up to Turner who was looking across a small pond in a park a few blocks from school. “Coach held us over for extended practice. I need to call Carl in a few minutes to come get me.”
Turner glanced over at me. “Ah, the joys of going to school. I thought we got you a drivers’ license.”
I grunted. “You did. You didn’t give me a car.”
Smiling, Turner said, “Oops. Maybe your fosters will get you one.”
Frowning, I said, “Not likely. But hey, I do have some progress to report. I have a date Saturday with Harlan.”
With a broad grin, Turner said, “Excellent work, Miss Cooper! I’ll want your analysis of the date by seventeen hundred Sunday.”
“He’s taking me to a movie,” I said with a tinge of sarcasm. “What is there to analyze?”
Grunting a laugh, Special Agent Turner said, “You’d be surprised how much you can learn on a first date. Engage him in small talk.”
“I did talk to him about the murdered girls today at lunch,” I said.
“And…?” said Turner.
“I doubt I learned anything you didn’t already know,” I said. “He’d known Kasey since middle school and had the hots for Cindy.”
Turner harrumphed at me and said, “You’re right. Nothing new there. At least you have him talking about it.”
“I don’t think Harlan’s our guy,” I said flatly.
Turner looked back at me and said, “Oh? Based on what?”
I said, “Feminine intuition.”
Turner laughed and said, “Good one. You’ll be meeting a different agent at our next check-in. Chao.” Turner turned on her heel and walked away.
Other than getting additional homework, Friday was pretty much a carbon copy of Thursday. The big difference though would be Friday night. The football game at Che Stadium of course. I thought I’d be sitting this one out as I’d only been on the squad two days. But Coach Garner thought I was as ready as I’d ever be. Harlan, Brandon and Joey would all be on the field.
I felt ridiculous. I mean, more so than usual. I’d gone a little heavier on my eye-liner and mascara. Both my lipstick and nail color was a rose pink. Of course I was wearing my cheerleader uniform. My pom-poms were lying on the bed. And to top it all off, I had a big white bow tied into my hair.
Sandy stood in the doorway of my room with her digital camera poised at the ready. Then I was briefly blinded by the flash. “Oh, honey! You’re so cute!” she squealed.
Carl stood behind Sandy looking at his watch. He said, “I hope you’re ready. You said you needed to be back at school by five thirty. It’s almost that now.”
I grabbed my pom-poms and said, “Yeah, I’m ready. I think!”
Sandy said soothingly, “You’ll do great, hon.”
“Are you guys coming?” I asked.
Carl said, “Wouldn’t miss your first time out as a cheerleader for the world.”
“Thanks,” I said. “That means a lot to me.”
They both smiled at me and Sandy whipped out her camera and took a few more shots of me in my cheerleader uniform.
I had always wondered what it was like down near the field during a high school football game. Not that I was ever that much interested in the games. I think I might have attended two games the whole time I was in high school. But here I was, right down in the middle of things. I thought I’d be embarrassed to be out in front of so many people, but I think it was so many and they weren’t really close, masked that feeling.
The football team was out on the field warming up. Us girls were standing over by the band. Turns out Tami is the Cheerleader captain. And she has let her very tiny position go to her head.
Tami yelled, “Okay, Cooper. Stop looking at your boyfriend over there.”
“What? I’m not looking at anybody!” I said honestly.
Amber said, “We all know you have the hots for Harlan.”
I shook my head and said, “We haven’t even had our first date yet.”
“Yet?” said Amber. “You just walk through the school’s door and bam! – you get a date with Harlan.”
Tami said, “Give it a rest, Amber. He doesn’t like you. He told me himself. In fact, he said the only way he’d date you would be if you became victim number three.”
Amber’s mouth opened wide with disbelief. “Harlan wouldn’t say that! That’s awful to say!” Amber suddenly started to walk towards the football field as she shouted, “Harlan! We need to talk.”
At the call of his name, Harlan looked up and missed the ball that was tossed to him. He then got knocked to the ground by another teammate when he stepped in front of them.
Coach Garner shouted, “Amber! Where do you think you’re going? Get your butt back over here!” Amber stopped, looked back at Coach, then looked back at Harlan who was regaining his feet, and the back to Coach Garner. Finally, she turned around and came back to the squad.
Coach said to all of us, “Get your act together, girls. Focus. The game will be starting in a few minutes and we still need to get this banner to the other end of the field. Everyone grab a pole and let’s carefully move it.”
The banner was just a big poster with the school’s team name and mascot painted on it and the players run through it to enter the field. We all spent part of the afternoon making one for each half of the game. Along with all the other posters we made and put up around the halls of the school. I never knew how much work there was to being a cheerleader.
As we carried the poster to the other end of the field, we passed Harlan and Brandon and others practicing a play. Brandon looked up as we passed, smiled stupidly at me and waved. I smiled and waved back, watching him miss the ball that was tossed to him and caught by Harlan. Harlan saw Brandon smile and wave at me, tossed the football down and pushed Brandon, knocking him to the ground. The other guys on the team held Harlan back. A few seconds later we moved to where I couldn’t see them without turning around.
I heard the football coach shouting at them. What I’d been told was right. Harlan is a very jealous person. I’d heard that he’d slapped Kasey a few times and had made Cindy, an FBI field agent, cry. How far would he go in a jealous rage?
As we were laying the poster into position, Coach Riley, the football coach approached with a scowl on his face. He walked right up to Coach Garner, poked a finger on her chest leaned in and angrily said, “Garner, keep a handle on these damned girls! They’re flirting with my boys causing them to lose focus and screw up. Dammit Garner! I’m retiring this year and by God we’re going to make it the play-offs this year if not make state if it hair-lips the governor! But it’s not going to happen if your girls keep distracting the players!”
Garner pulled Riley’s finger from her chest as if she was removing something foul and disgusting. “Keep your finger off me, Riley if you want to keep it,” said Garner with an angry tone. I’ll remind my girls that they’re not here to pick up boys. You might say something to your boys as well.”
Riley made a poor attempt at a smile and said, “Oh, they know what to do. I want to end my career here on a high note. Not be fired for failing to get us to the play-offs again this year. I don’t want to lose my retirement because of some stupid girls.” He turned to stalk away. He took a few steps and called back over his shoulder, “Keep those girls away from my boys.”
Trying to sound male, Tami said, “You heard Coach Riley. You girls stay away from them boys, ya hear?”
Sounding tired, Coach Garner said, “Tami, knock it off.”
Our team finally ran out onto the field along with the opposing team. Tami and Tiffany were holding the large poster for the team to run through. The rest of us stood three to a side and waved our pom-poms along the path the team would follow past the poster. As our team smashed through the poster, Brandon somehow managed to slap my butt. Amber rolled her eyes at me.
As we ran off the field with the shredded poster, Amber growled at me, “Two? You have two boyfriends? Any one of us would be satisfied to have Harlan.”
Tami jerked a handful of Amber’s hair and said, “Will you please shut up about that already? Sheesh.”
As we approached half-time, it was apparent our school was doing pretty well. The band was playing very loud and we were cheering our little hearts out. Just before half-time, our team was lined up on the ten yard line, poised to make another score. I was walking with the rest of the cheerleaders along the field shouting to the crowd in the stands. I looked over and saw Brandon glance over to me, smile and make a quick thumbs-up gesture.
Suddenly Brandon was being shoved onto the ground with Harland standing over him and yelling. Harlan shoved away a referee and continued to shout at Brandon. Coach Riley ran up and started yelling at everyone. Outrage showing on his face, Harlan stalked off the field. I could hear that he, the team’s star player, was out for the rest of the game.
During the confusion while a replacement player came out onto the field, Coach Riley ran up to me and shouted, “Didn’t I tell you girls to stay away from my boys?! Look what you’ve done! We might lose now!”
Shrinking back from his verbal attack, I said, “I didn’t do anything! I was just cheering!”
Coach Garner ran up and stood between me and Riley. She shouted, “Back off Riley! She didn’t do anything. Talk to Harlan! He’s the one that attacked Brandon.”
Coach Riley snarled, “Keep your damned slu…girls away from the field. Mr. Kurtz is hearing about this!” Mr. Kurtz is the school’s principal.
Coach Garner said, “I can’t wait to talk to him.” She then put her arm around me and led me back to where the other cheerleaders were standing, looking shocked. The hormones they pumped into me in the training center started working some of their magic. I actually began to cry and I didn’t care who saw me. Coach said softly into my ear, “It’s okay, hon. Don’t worry. You’re not in trouble.”
Amber sneered, “Looks like you got your boyfriend benched.”
Coach Garner, sounding very weary said, “Amber, if you don’t shut up…” Her voice trailed away and with her free arm just waved Amber away.
Tami said, “Shut up, Amber. That’s uncalled for.”
Tiffany surprised me when she said, “Yeah, Amber. Like just shut the hell up.”
Amber glared at me and said under her breath as she pointed at me, “I hope you die!”
“Okay, girls. Listen up,” said Coach Garner. The game had ended and we’d barely squeaked into a win. We’d all ridden back to the school in the bus in silence. Coach continued, “First, I want to commend you. Good work girls. Secondly, if you have an issue with another girl on the squad, leave it at home. We’re a team and being a cheerleader is supposed to be fun. It’s not fun if you think you’re going to be jumped on.” Everyone turned and looked at Amber.
Coach Garner paused for a few moments and looked out at nothing, her eyes glazed over before returning her focus back to us. “And lastly, the issue with Harlan and Coach Riley. Melissa, you’re fine. Don’t worry about it. Nobody is faulting you or really any of us. Coach Riley and I had a discussion a few minutes ago before we left the stadium with Mr. Kurtz. He pretty much saw everything and he doesn’t fault us at all. He then went on to talk to Coach Riley privately.”
The coach took a deep breath, sighed and said, “One last thing. After we all got past whatever little issues we were having, we did very good tonight. Like I said, good work. However, if any one of you can’t put aside your squabbles with others on the squad, I’ll kick you off the squad. We’re a team. We have to work together and trust each other. If you’re going to cause trouble, I just don’t want you here. That said, let’s have a great week of practice next week and let’s do even better next Friday. See you guys Monday.”
As we dispersed Coach walked up to me from behind and touched my arm to get me to stop. She said, “Melissa, I know you’re the new girl here and all and tonight Tami and Amber were pretty rough on you. Don’t let that get to you. I admit, I had my doubts about you at first with your tomboy act. But tonight showed me you can really become an excellent cheerleader if you keep up doing what you’ve been doing. I watched you tonight going through your cheers and tumbles and I saw a certain amount of grace and femininity emerge. Not only do I think you’ll be an outstanding cheerleader, and I wish I had you for another year, I’d like for you to consider trying out for the gymnastics team. You show a lot of power in your muscles, but like I said, you display feminine gracefulness. I really think you’d do well.”
“That’s quite a surprise, Coach,” I said honestly. I wasn’t sure how I felt about being considered feminine and graceful. I said, “I’ll give it some thought. I never really thought I could be a gymnast.”
Coach Garner smiled at me and said as she started to walk away, “Think about it and let me know, okay? See you next week.”
I started walking across the school parking lot when my cell phone rang. I looked at it before answering and it was Carl. I’m pretty sure he was wondering where I was. I answered and asked if he’d come get me.
The school parking lot was almost deserted. I stood by a chain link fence that ran behind the field house. I was partly in shadow, but the parking lot was fairly well lit. I heard a crunch of gravel against asphalt and I turned, startled.
“Shit, Harlan, you scared me!” I said genuinely frightened.
Looking sheepish, Harlan said, “I’m sorry Melissa. I didn’t mean to. But we should talk.”
I turned my gaze back out to the parking lot, leaned up against the chain link fence and said, “I don’t want to talk to you. And I don’t think we should go out tomorrow night.” I know getting to be Harlan’s girlfriend and dating him was mission critical for me. But his behavior had really pissed me off.
Harlan leaned up against the fence next to me and said, “Please don’t say that. Look, I’m very sorry for how I acted tonight.”
I turned towards him and said, “Just what the hell were you thinking, Harlan? Huh? I mean, jeez what was up with pushing Brandon. In front of everyone! You embarrassed me, yourself and pretty much the whole school. We haven’t even had a first date and you’re already acting like you own me or something! I wasn’t flirting with Brandon, but so what if I was? We’re not married. We’re not even fucking going steady!”
Hanging his head, Harlan said, “I know! I know! I’m really very sorry. I don’t know how else to say it. I saw Brandon looking at you and I just kinda lost it, that’s all.”
Looking incredulous, I said, “That’s it? You just kinda lost it? Is that what happened when you hit Kasey? And Cindy? You just ‘kinda lost it’? Coach Riley excused this shit because you’re his best player. He has zero chance of getting into the play offs without you. And that’s too bad because you don’t deserve it.”
Even in the dark, I could see tears welling up in Harlan’s eyes. With a cry in his voice, he said, “I’m so fucking sorry, okay? Coach reamed inside and out tonight. Kurtz said tonight was the last straw. If I get out of line one more time, I’m off the team for good. He wanted to kick me off tonight, but Coach talked him out of it. I screwed up big time and I know it.
“No, let me finish. Kasey was the best girl any guy could want. Beautiful, sweet, caring and I screwed that up. She was going to leave me for Brandon. And now she’s gone and I can’t tell her how sorry I am. Cindy put up with me, but I screwed that up as well and she’s gone too. And now I’m screwing up with you. Look, I’m very very sorry. Please let me have another chance to prove I’m not this screw up.” He wiped away the tear that was running down his cheek.
I had no idea if he was being sincere or not. My inclination was to just kick him in the groin and walk away. But Cindy, the agent whose place I took, had stuck it out with him for the sake of the mission. It had cost her life. The wheels were spinning in my head during the few moments after Harlan had finished speaking.
I hadn’t known that Kasey was leaving him for Brandon. As hot-headed Harlan is, that would definitely be a motive to kill her. But Cindy wasn’t going to leave him so there was no motive. It wasn’t my job to arrest anyone, just finger who I thought was the killer. As unstable as Harlan was, I couldn’t say for sure it was him without more information.
I saw the headlights of Carl’s car turning into the school parking lot. I said, “Don’t make me regret this, Harlan. But okay. I’ll go out with you tomorrow.”
Harlan wiped his nose on the back of his arm and said, “Thank you, Melissa. I’m done screwing up.”
Carl pulled his car up a few feet from us and said through the window, “Are you ready, honey?”
“Yeah, Carl,” I said as I started to walk to the car.
I suddenly stopped and went back to Harlan and lowered my voice and said, “You hit me, or any girl for that matter, and I’ll break your arm.”
“You’re actually going out with that boy?” asked Sandy.
“Yes,” I said over the hair dryer’s roar as I brushed through my hair after getting out of the shower. “Don’t you believe in second chances?”
Sandy said, “I do, but I think he’s had too many second chances. I heard what happened at the game last night. How he reacted to another boy just looking at you. I mean, you’re a beautiful girl, Melissa. Boys are going to look at you. That’s just a fact of life. And if Harlan is going to off half cocked every time a boy looks at you…well, I’m just worried about your safety.”
I let that sink in for a moment. My foster mom just said I was a beautiful girl and I’m going to attract the attention of boys. Smiling, I came to the sudden conclusion, that I enjoyed having the attention of boys.
I said, “I really do believe Harlan will behave himself. He knows he acted like a total ass last night. I don’t think he wants to repeat it.”
“Carl and I are just worried that he’ll drag you down,” Sandy said. “Quite frankly we were expecting a handful when we agreed to be your foster parents. But you’ve been a great kid. I’d hate to see that boy ruin your hard work at staying out of trouble.”
I had to smile to that. I was supposed to be a “bad girl”, but I just couldn’t keep up that persona. I was growing true affection for Carl and Sandy. They really cared and truly wanted the best for me. I said, “I think I can handle him. I don’t have much time left to get my face on.”
Thirty minutes later as I was brushing on my gloss, I heard the horn of Harlan’s car honk. As I was taking a final look in the mirror, I heard Carl go outside. Since he’d complained about the boyfriend of the neighbor’s daughter honking his horn, I’m sure he went out there tell Harlan horn honking isn’t in his best interest.
A few minutes later, Harlan said, “Sheesh. Your dad is a real hard ass.”
“He’s not my dad. He’s one of my foster parents,” I said. “And I’m glad he’s a hard ass.”
“You’ve been in jail, right?” asked Harlan as we sped down the street. “As bad as I am, I’ve never been to jail.”
“You’ve never had to break a guy’s arm.” I said as I folded my arms. Harlan was quiet the rest of the way to Taco Bell.
We got our stuff and sat at a table away from the few others eating there. Harlan said, “I hope this was okay.”
I smiled at him and said, “Sure. This is fine.”
Harlan nodded and said, “Thanks for going out with me, Melissa. A lot of girls wouldn’t have after last night.”
“True, but a lot of other girls would have said yes,” I said.
Harlan laughed and said, “Everyone thinks I’m some kind of chick magnet. I don’t see it.”
I smiled and then let if fade. I studied the taco lying in front of me for a moment, and then said, “Just curious. As the third cheerleader to date you in as many months, do you have any thoughts on why Kasey was killed? Or Cindy?”
Frowning, Harlan said, “Again? Really? I’ve told the police everything I know.”
“You haven’t told me,” I said.
“Look, I really don’t know. Just before she was killed, she’d dropped me for Brandon. Don’t look at me that way! I don’t know if she got to go out with him or not before she died. Look, she was as real sweet girl who wouldn’t hurt a fly. The only enemy, if you want to call her that was Amber. She talks a good game, but I don’t think she’d actually hurt anyone.”
I smiled weakly and said, “Okay. I won’t bring it up again. I believe you.”
I didn’t see much to gain by continuing to beat this dead horse. Okay, maybe that’s not a good expression to use in this case. I’ve brought it up several times though and no matter what, I don’t think I’m going to get him to confess. To be honest, I think Harlan is a dead end. That’s probably a bad expression as well.
The date? I have to admit I felt weird being the girl. Due to my affliction, going out with girls never really happened. But in movies and TV shows, I’d always identify with the guy of course when a date was presented. It never occurred to me to consider the date from the girl’s side. It’s a strange ritual really. A guy spends his money to entertain a female he has some hopes of having sex with whether he’s conscious of this or not. The girl gets a free meal and movie with no obligation to even see him again. It seems that if all of society’s rules are followed, the girl actually comes out ahead in most cases.
After the movie, Harlan led me back to his car. After we got inside, I turned to him and said, “I had a good time tonight, Harlan.”
In the criss-crossing shadows of the parking lot lighting, I saw him smile as he said, “Me too, Melissa. I enjoyed being with you.”
We sat there in awkward silence for a few moments and then Harlan said, “Melissa…I…”
I turned to face him and suddenly his lips were pressed against mine. My first instinct was to push him away. I was being kissed by a guy! I pushed, but he just leaned in more and pressed his lips harder against mine. As his passion started to override my resistance, something odd happened. My thinking went from oh my God I’m being kissed by a guy, to oh my God I’m being kissed by Harlan! I stopped resisting and found myself closing my eyes and sliding an arm around his neck. I moaned as his tongue slipped into my mouth and I started to suck on it.
Before I knew it, Harlan was practically laying across me, wedging me against the passenger door, his kisses moving from my lips to my neck and back again. Through my top and bra, I felt his hand on my breast. Despite my nipples starting to stand erect inside my bra, I had the sudden insight that I needed to get back in control of things. I pulled his hand from my breast and turned my face from those very kissable lips of his and took a deep breath.
I was overwhelmed with emotion. I had certainly never been kissed quite like this before by a boy or girl. I wanted more. I wanted more of Harlan’s kisses, but I also wanted Brandon’s. And other boys as well. I discovered that falling in love is very easy and I wanted so much to be in love with Harlan. I fought that emotion down, trying to regain focus to my mission. Even armed with the knowledge of how he treats girls, I couldn’t help being drawn to him.
I glanced at the clock in the dashboard of the car and said with a breathy voice, “Oh, Harlan! You’re going to be late getting me back home!”
“What?” said Harlan as he pull away from nibbling my earlobe. He glanced over at the clock and said, “Oh shit! We gotta go.” He reseated himself in the driver’s seat and started the engine. A few seconds later we were roaring out of the parking lot.
“Oh, you’re back,” I said to Special Agent Turner who was seated on a park bench reading a magazine. I was behind her, leaning on the back of the bench. “I didn’t like that last guy so much that I gave my update to. All he did was look at my chest.”
Turner laughed and said, “Well, he’s still new. Speaking of new, do you have anything?”
I looked out across the park and said, “No. I’ve talked to everyone I can think of, asked questions, gave Harlan the third degree and I’ve come up with nothing.”
Sighing, Turner said, “We’ll give you one more week, Miss Cooper. If you still have nothing, then there’s no point in continuing this investigation at this level. I’ll have them pull the plug on this.”
I turned to Turner and said, “Oh, no! You can’t! I’m sure I can find out something, if you give me more time.”
Turner harrumphed and said, “We are observing you Miss Cooper. We think you’re getting too close to Harlan. He’s still our primary suspect, yet you feel, just like Cindy, that he had nothing to do with the murders. You, like Cindy are in love with Harlan and it’s affecting your investigation. You weren’t supposed to fall in love. That’s why we used a male.”
Frowning I said, “You made me a girl, remember? And Harlan does have some kind of charisma to him that makes him hard to resist.”
“Well, remember he likes to hit girls,” said Turner. “Both murdered girls were hit.”
Frowning I said, “He’s not going to hit me.”
“Cindy said the same thing, Miss Cooper,” said Special Agent Turner. “Alright Miss Cooper. Since you have managed to infiltrate into the school population with high success, I’ll give you two more weeks. Try to make Harlan angry with you and monitor his reaction.”
“Make him angry?” I said a little confused. “I don’t want Harlan angry with me.”
“Focus, Miss Cooper,” said Turner. “Remember why you’re here. We’ll contact you later.”
I watched Turner walk away across the park. I didn’t want to make Harlan angry with me. Smiling at the memory of our recent date, I had to admit that I really enjoyed having him like me. But Turner was right. I needed to provoke him into some kind of action. And sadly I knew just how to do it.
“But I thought you were Harlan’s girl,” said Brandon as we walked down the crowded hall towards class.
“He doesn’t own me,” I said. “I told him we’re not exclusive.”
Brandon smiled and said, “I’ve been wanting to go out with you since your first day. But Harlan seemed to latch on to you pretty quickly.”
“That did annoy me,” I said. “I just arrive and I’m automatically Harlan’s girlfriend? I might like you or someone else better.”
Grinning, Brandon said, “What are you doing Tuesday after practice?”
Grinning back, I said, “Nothing yet.”
Brandon said, “Well, how about something simple. I’ll pick you up after cheer practice and we’ll go grab a burger and then maybe go to the mall and play some video games?”
I smiled and said, “Sounds great! I love video games!”
“Great job, Brandon!” I laughed. “You got the high score!”
“Are you here with him?” asked an angry but familiar voice from behind me. I felt someone grab my arm and pull me back.
“Harlan!” I yelled. “You’re hurting me.” He let up on his grip slightly, but he still pulled me back away from Brandon
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” shouted Harlan.
Brandon stood up from his game and said, “Back off, Harlan. We’re just having some fun.”
Harlan pulled me behind him and stepped up to Brandon. “Yeah, I can see that. She’s my girl. Why is she with you?”
Brandon said, “She was starting to feel like she was about to marry you. She wanted a little freedom.”
“Bullshit!” shouted Harlan. “You’re just trying to steal her from me.”
“You don’t own me, Harlan!” I said. “We never talked about being exclusive. Brandon was nice enough to invite me to dinner and to hang out here at the mall.”
Eyes wild, Harlan scowled at me, and while still grasping my arm, shouted at me, “You’re my girl! You’re dating me!”
I jerked my arm free and said, “I’ll date whoever I fucking want to!”
Brandon took hold of my other arm and said, “The lady will date who she pleases.”
Harlan looked furious. The level of his jealousy was breath taking. On the one hand it offended me that he felt he was entitled to my attention. And on the other hand, it fed my ego that someone would so desperately want my attention.
Harlan pointed a finger in my face and loudly said, “This isn’t over!” He then stormed off.
Smiling, Brandon said, “Hey, sit on my lap. I’ll show you how to play.”
Smiling back I said, “Sure!”
“Melissa!” called a female voice from behind me in the crowded halls of GHS.
When I turned around, I saw Tiffany hurrying to catch up to me. She said, “Are you okay? I heard there was a fight at the mall over you last night.”
I shrugged and said, “Yeah, I’m okay. Harlan and Brandon were trying to decide who I date.”
“Harlan didn’t hit anyone?” Tiffany asked genuinely surprised.
“I think he’s trying to impress me by not hitting anyone,” I said honestly.
Tiffany laughed and said, “That’s a first!”
Friday night and another big game at Che Stadium. This was our homecoming game. The football coach was beside himself and nastier than usual. Coach Garner was her effervescent self.
We were down on the track that encircles the field when then players went running past us to warm up on the field. Joey stopped and started coming towards me and he didn’t look happy. I thought, oh great now what? Maybe if I pretend I don’t see him…
“Don’t turn your back on me, Cooper,” said Joey as he walked right up to me. “I just gotta know. What is it with girls like you? Do you think you’re too good to date guys like me? Just a bunch of stuck up little bitches! You only date the stars of the team, regardless of how good they are. Harlan didn’t score once last game! I got two touchdowns, but do any of you say yes when I ask you out?”
Amber walked up and said, “You’re wasting your breath on that one, Joey. She’s been Harlan’s girl since the second she walked into the school. She won’t give you the time of day!”
Joey frowned at Amber and said, “What are you talking about, bitch? You won’t go out with me either. You want into Harlan’s pants so bad it’s pathetic! In fact, you…”
“Fuchs!” shouted Coach Riley from the field. “Get your butt over here now. Stay away from those girls!”
Amber snorted. “I’m pathetic?” She looked straight at me and said, “You know what’s pathetic? No matter how badly Harlan treats his girls, they have to die rather than leave him.”
“If you feel that way Amber, why do you keep after him?” I asked.
Amber turned briskly away from me and said, “None of your business!”
We started getting the first of the big posters ready to haul to the other end of the field when Coach Riley stormed up to Coach Garner.
“Garner! How many times do I have to tell you to keep your girls away from my boys?” said a miffed Coach Riley.
Looking exasperated, Coach Garner said, “And how many times do I have to tell you my girls aren’t doing anything special to attract attention. Should I have them wear potato sacks?”
Riley said, “Maybe. Anything that will get me to state. I want to retire on a high note.” He turned and ran back onto the field.
During the game, Harlan looked over at me as we were cheering and he missed the snap and the other team took the ball. Coach Riley, throwing away all aspects of professionalism ran up to me and said, “Girl, if you cost me the game, so help me I’ll…” His voice faded away and he ran back onto the field.
Tears welled up in my eyes and I said to no one in particular, “What the hell am I supposed to do?”
Standing next to me was Tami and she said, “Just ignore the old bastard. He’s an old blowhard.”
I spent the rest of the game avoiding looking at either Harlan or Brandon, lest I got any of us, or all three in trouble. It was an especially long game. During half-time there was the homecoming queen announcement. I watched the girls in their evening dresses and wondered what it was like to be one of them. They were all wearing more make-up than I bet they normally wore, along with their gorgeous gowns and jewelry.
As I climbed down from the bus after it had brought us back to the school, I ran right into Harlan.
“Hey, babe,” he said. “Wanna go do something before you go home?”
I hesitated and said, “Well, I’d need to call Carl to let him know not to come get me.”
Harlan smiled and said, “Well, call him!”
We rode to the Taco Bell in silence. Once there and we found a place to sit with our food, Harlan cleared his throat as if he was going to say something, but then fell silent again.
Finally, Harlan said, “Babe…Melissa…I’m not sure why you’re staying with me, but I’m glad you are. I’ve been quite a screw up this year so far. I’m sorry I got you into trouble with Coach Riley. Trust me, he’s just not chewing on you.”
I smiled at him and said, “I kinda wonder the same thing!”
Harlan laughed and said, “At least we agree on something!”
After eating, we got back into Harlan’s car and drove around a bit, just chatting. Then he pulled his car into a darkened parking lot of a park a few blocks from my house. The same park I meet occasionally with Special Agent Turner.
Harlan turned off the engine as he slid an arm behind my neck. I just smiled at him as I leaned towards him to kiss. I let Harlan slide his tongue into my mouth and we just started to repeat our make-out session from before. Harlan kissed me passionately as he squeezed my breast. While we were kissing, my hand dropped to his crotch and I felt his raging hard-on.
In a way it surprised me. I found myself massaging and squeezing it through his pants. The kissing was making me really hot and bothered. On an impulse, I slowly unzipped Harlan’s pants and then slid my fingers inside his pants. I grasped his penis, but found it was still covered by his underwear.
I pulled his underwear to one side as best I could. I slid my fingers around his swollen penis. I had a curiosity and a sudden fascination with his cock. I wondered if real girls feel this as well. The last time I’d touched a penis of any sort was mine, while peeing standing up less than a half hour before I would lose it forever. I’d never used my penis for anything but peeing. I had never had a hard-on. I had no idea what it felt like, just like any other girl. It fascinated me that it was so hard, but also bendable. Running my hand up and down it was obviously giving Harlan a great deal of pleasure.
Feeling suddenly experimental, I bent down into Harlan’s crotch and licked his cock. I don’t know what I expected, but I didn’t like the taste at all. It dawned on me that I was tasting sweat as well as possibly urine. But I was already there and the response I got back from Harlan made me want to continue. Never having done it before myself, when Harlan ejaculated into my mouth, I was taken completely by surprise. At first I had no idea what that salty crap was in my mouth and I accidently swallowed it. When I realized I had just swallowed Harlan’s sperm, I wanted to throw up, but managed not to. I had just given Harlan what I had specifically told Special Agent Turner I did not want to do. And I knew I’d do it again.
Both of us breathing hard, we separated and leaned back in our seats. I heard Harlan zip up his pants. I had crossed a line and there was no going back.
“Okay, I think that does it for today,” said Coach Garner. “See you guys tomorrow.”
As I stood up, my cell phone rang. I rummaged quickly through my purse and found it laying at the bottom even though there is a pocket for it. The caller ID showed it’s Harlan. “Hey, Harlan!” I said as I answered the phone.
“Hey babe!” said Harlan through the phone. “Are you still wanting to go out this afternoon right after your practice?”
I made a face as if he’d said something utterly ridiculous. I said, “Duh! Practice just ended and I’ve already called Sandy and Carl.”
“Great,” said Harlan. “I just called to let you know I’ll be a bit late. I have to run an errand for my mom.”
“No problem babe,” I said. “Don’t be too late!” I closed the connection on the phone.
Coach Garner came up to me and said, “Did you give my suggestion that you try out for gymnastics any thought?”
“I have given it some thought,” I said honestly. “I think I’d like to try it.”
Coach Garner smiled and said, “That’s great. I really think you’ll do well. Oh! Wait up a second.” Coach sprinted over to a few gym bags lying on the floor. She picked up one and brought it back towards me.
Holding a bag out towards me, she said, “If you’re going that direction, can you drop this off at Coach Riley’s office? He left it out on the field this afternoon.”
I shrugged and said, “Sure. I’ll be going right by there on my way out.”
I took the bag and slipped the strap over my shoulder. I waved to Coach Garner and left the girls gym.
I knocked on Coach Riley’s door, but no one answered. His office was darkened, but still lit from hallway lights. I tried the door and it wasn’t locked. I opened the door and let myself in. The office was cluttered and there wasn’t a clear space to set the bag down. I didn’t want to leave it on the floor where he might not see it for days, so I placed it on his chair.
I knew I should probably leave, but I’d never been in his office before and thought I’d look at all the pictures covering the walls. Some of the pictures seemed pretty old showing Coach Riley as a young man. He was nice looking, in a rugged sort of way when he was younger. Two shelves contained a couple of rows of trophies. A closer look showed them to be coaching awards as the team trophies were proudly displayed in a case in the main hall.
The trophies were various sizes and the plaques on them dated back fifteen years ago up to five years ago. The most recent was a trophy was for winning state five years ago. There were no newer trophies. There was one other state trophy from about ten years ago. I noticed there was a play-off trophy for every year except for the last five years. I thought to myself Coach Riley has been on a losing streak.
Something caught my eye about the last state trophy. It had recently been wiped clear of dust. I looked at it a bit more closely and saw clinging to the tip of the football the figure on the trophy was holding as if ready to throw, was a hair. It was barely noticeable and seemed to be held to the trophy by a flaw in the metal.
My eyes went wide as I sucked in my breath. This trophy was fairly heavy and there was a hair trapped in a small piece of metal flash on what would be considered the tip of the trophy. Could this be the murder weapon? Here in Coach Riley’s office? That’s crazy, I thought. Just because there’s a hair on the trophy doesn’t mean anything. I looked more closely at the hair and that’s when I saw a tiny fleck of red in the football’s detail, small though it was. I set the trophy back down and tried to catch my breath and gather my thoughts.
“Okay, bitch! I need my money!” came a muffled voice from the hall just out of view of the office window. The voice was whispered slightly.
Then there was the sound of a girl crying. Through sobs she said, “I don’t have it yet!”
“Quiet bitch! You’re voice will carry,” snarled the male voice. The voice sounded familiar. “What do you mean you don’t have my money? Look bitch, I got you your crack on your promise to pay today. I have to either give my supplier the crack or the money. Right now I don’t have either!”
I tried to maneuver so I could see who these people were that were talking. But I didn’t want them to see me. The voice was so familiar.
Still crying, the girl said, “I’m sorry! I really thought I’d have it. Don’t make me go to the hotel again.”
The male voice said, “I need that money tonight. You know the drill. Go to the Belvidere and see what Raphael has tonight. There’s some business convention in town. I’m sure there’s a bunch of horny old men. You could make a thousand easy tonight.”
Still crying the girl said, “I’m tired of being a prostitute! Please let me find some other way.”
“No more crack slut until I get my money,” said the male voice muffled by the wall. “Clean yourself up and get. I’ll check with Raphael later to collect. Go. Now!” I heard the footsteps of someone running down the hall.
I have to see who this guy is. Oh my God, this has to be the prostitution ring. The guy walked past the hall windows and I ducked down so he wouldn’t see me. In trying to avoid being seen, I couldn’t get a clear look at the guy. He disappeared around the corner.
I needed to get this information to Special Agent Turner as quickly as possible. I looked around the top drawer of Coach Riley’s desk and pulled out a tape dispenser. I pulled a strip of tape out and tore it. I pressed the tape onto the tip of the trophy to try to get the hair and whatever the fleck of red was. On the tape I could see the hair and something. I carefully put the tape in my purse and set the trophy back on the shelf close to where it had been. I took out my phone and hit the button to dial Turner.
As I turned to leave the office, I stopped dead in my tracks. Standing in the door way was Coach Riley. Behind him stood Brandon. A shaft of cold shot down my spine. I had the phone to my ear and heard Turner pick up.
Coach Riley said, “Is that Harlan, honey?” I nodded and Riley continued, “Tell him you’re busy and hang up.”
Into the phone I said, “Babe? Hey, I can’t go tonight. I’m going to the dentist for an extraction. Bye.” I put emphasis on the word extraction. I didn’t hang up. I just set the phone down.
Riley said, “What did you put in your purse, little lady?”
I shrugged and said, “Nothing. Can I go now?” I started to walk towards the door.
Riley said as he held out his arm, “No. No you can’t.” He jerked the purse from my grasp and said, “Let’s take a look.” Riley and Brandon both stepped in the office and closed the door behind them. Keeping any eye on me, Riley took a look into my purse.
“Well, well. What’s this?” Riley pulled out the piece of tape with a hair stuck to it. “This is a funny thing to have in your purse.”
Shivering from a sudden wave of cold, I said, “It was you, wasn’t it? You murdered Kasey and Cindy. With that trophy.” Before he could answer, I pointed at Brandon and said, “And you! You’re a pimp and drug dealer!”
“You stupid little bitch,” said Brandon. “You just had to snoop. I guess you heard me talking outside the window. That’s just too bad. Cindy was snooping too and she had to go. Kasey, well, Kasey was just being annoying. When she told me to get lost when I tried to fuck her, well, I guess I just got a little angry. I tried to pin it on your boyfriend, but it wouldn’t stick. And now it’s your turn. Damn shame because I really wanted to fuck you first.”
Riley grabbed my arm and held it so tight it hurt. He said, “Yep, worst year for cheerleaders I ever saw.”
Brandon tore off a strip of duct tape from a roll in Riley’s desk and he slapped it over my mouth. “Can’t have you screaming or anything.”
Riley said, “Want me to hold her while you do the honors? I’ve hated this little cunt since day one. The way you and Harlan fight over her, you’d think she was a movie star or something. With her gone, we might actually have a chance to make state.”
Brandon said casually, “You want to waste her then? Seems like it’d bring you more pleasure.”
Coach Riley smiled and said, “That would give me a great deal of satisfaction just like that first Harlan bitch. She kept screwing up the game too by being a distraction.”
Brandon said, “Don’t forget that other girl was getting too close to our side business.”
I struggled against Brandon’s iron grip on my arms. Riley zip tied my hands behind my back. I tried to kick and step on Brandon’s feet to try to get lose. Riley walked over and picked up the trophy. Riley used the trophy to smash my phone. I hoped to God that Turner had heard most of that.
Brandon said, “Before you end her, mind if I fuck her first? She’s really hot. I mean, just look at the fire in her.” I tried to pull away from him.
Riley hefted the trophy and said, “You want her found with your DNA in her?”
Brandon said, “Harlan’s DNA was in Kasey and it didn’t hurt him.”
Riley laughed and said, “They were dating. They expected his DNA. Just like this one is probably just full of Harlan’s DNA.”
Frowning, Brandon said, “Come on. Let’s get this over with. My mom is making my favorite dinner tonight.”
I tried to scream and struggled against his grip. It was useless. I couldn’t over power him.
Riley said, “Hold her head down. I don’t want to hit her more than once.”
I fought again to break free. I kicked and tried to scream. I was all knees and elbows.
Riley snarled, “Hold her still, dammit!”
Suddenly the office door burst open and Harlan staggered in. “What in the hell is going on here? Brandon? Coach? What the fuck? Let her go!”
Brandon shouted, “Fuck! What now?”
Riley took a swing at me. I let my legs go limp and Brandon and I both started to fall and Riley struck Brandon’s shoulder instead. Howling in pain, Brandon tripped over me as I lay on the floor. Harlan took a swing at Riley catching him on the jaw and caused him to stagger backwards.
Harlan shouted, “Melissa!” Before he could say anything else, Brandon tackled him and they both sprawled to the floor Harlan’s head smashing into the side of Riley’s desk and his body went limp. I could see he was still breathing.
Brandon bent over and grabbed a handful of my hair and started pulling me up. I tried to cry out in pain, but the duct tape held fast.
Riley struck me across the face with an open palm. “Damn you, bitch! Look at the trouble you caused tonight.” Riley raised the trophy again.
The door suddenly burst open again as Special Agent Turner ran through the door, pistol drawn and pointed at Riley’s head. Three agents in tactical gear also burst through the door and I could see several more outside in the hall, their weapons drawn.
“Stop where you are!” shouted Turner as she moved closer to Riley. “Drop your weapon.”
Brandon started to take a swing at Turner, but one of the agents pushed the business end of his weapon against Brandon’s neck. Brandon stopped and looked back at me with a questioning expression. I just shrugged. Riley let the trophy drop to the floor and it broke into several pieces.
Brandon spat at me and said, “Fucking bitch!” One of the agents prodded Brandon towards the exit.
Coach Riley’s hands were cuffed behind him and he glared at me as he was led past me. He said, “I could have led the team to state this year if it wasn’t for your meddling.”
Another agent cut the zip ties that bound my hands. I turned toward Special Agent Turner and shouted, “Thank God you’re here!” I actually ran up and hugged her. Then I quickly turned and knelt next to Harlan’s still form on the floor.
I bent down and hugged and kissed his head, while crying, “Oh Harlan! Oh my God Harlan!”
A couple of EMTs managed to wheel a gurney into Coach Riley’s office. One of the EMTs said to me, “Please give us some room, Miss.” The EMTs lifted Harlan and carefully placed him onto the lowered gurney.
I was crying uncontrollably as they rolled Harlan out of the office. I started to hurry after them. Turner caught my arm to stop me. She said, “Let them do their job. Harlan will be okay and you can see him later.” She plucked a tissue from a box on Riley’s desk and handed it to me. She said, “Here. Your face is a mess.”
“I don’t care,” I said as I wiped the tissue under my eyes. “Please let me go with him.”
Turner smiled at me and said, “We’ll get you to the hospital in a few minutes. Good job, Agent Cooper. You solved both cases.”
“You should probably go talk to someone named Raphael at the Belvidere Hotel. He’s part of the prostitution ring,” I said, catching my breath.
Turner pulled out a radio and relayed the information about Raphael.
“But I didn’t really solve anything. After all these weeks, I just fell into it. It’s not like I did anything,” I said wiping the black rings around my eyes.
Turner smiled at me again and said, “I disagree, Agent Cooper. You spotted that hair and tiny spot of blood on that trophy. If that blood or hair belongs to either Kasey or Cindy, it will help convict Riley at least.”
I had a sudden realization and said, “This ends the mission, doesn’t it? Please let me stay here until graduation.”
Special Agent Turner shook her head slowly and said, “Can’t do that, Agent Cooper. Do you think we invested all those tax dollars in you for just one op?”
“But…but, you don’t understand!” I pleaded. “Coach wanted me to go out for gymnastics and I want to stay a cheerleader. Not to mention prom! I started looking at prom dresses…”
“There’s approximately three weeks until the Christmas break,” Turner said. “Agent Cooper, we always intended to give you at least two weeks to wind down the op here. You’ll have time to say good-byes to everyone. Don’t forget, you’re not really a student here. You’re not really a cheerleader. You’re not a girl. So sorry. No gymnastics and no prom. We hired you specifically so you wouldn’t fall in love with a boy. And stringing Harlan along wouldn’t be fair to him, now would it Agent Cooper? How would he feel knowing he was actually kissing a twenty-three year old man?”
I sighed, “Oh, Harlan! But I’m his girlfriend!”
Turner just shook her head and said, “No.”
I stood there for several long moments with a nagging thought. Finally, cocking my head to one side, I said, “Have you been calling me ‘Agent Cooper’?”
Special Agent Turner grinned as she said, “Yes ma’am. The brass decided they were going to promote you to full field agent if you figured this mess out. You did and there you are.”
I grinned back and said, “Thank you. But...shouldn’t you be saying ‘Agent Peterson’?”
Looking around the room before answering, Turner said, “I think we can agree that Paul Peterson doesn’t exist anymore. Maybe he’ll come back after we’re done with Melissa Cooper.”
Looking puzzled, I said, “Aren’t you done with me now?”
Grinning wide, Special Agent Turner said, “No way, honey. Like I said a minute ago, we didn’t spend all this money to make you Melissa Cooper for just one op. We have another mission lined up for you. We’ll give you additional training such as weapons handling, and self defense.”
“Another mission, huh?” I said. “I’m up for that. Can I go see Harlan now?”
Special Agent Turner laughed and said, “Go to the girls room and fix your face. I’ll drive you to the hospital myself.”
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