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Infiltrate retribution, p.3

Infiltrate_Retribution, page 3

 part  #2 of  Exposed Series

 

Infiltrate_Retribution
 


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  Cody. And his friend Jonah. But I could

  barely process what I was seeing.

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  j u d i t h g r a v e s

  They both stood frozen in place. Jonah

  had his arms outstretched, reaching for

  Cody, though not in a violent way. This

  wasn’t a middle-of-the-class throwdown.

  It was something else. Something way

  worse.

  “Let me have that,” Jonah pleaded,

  motioning for Cody to hand something

  over.

  But what?

  I peered through the bodies that had

  shifted into an instinctive spectator circle

  around the action. Slipped between a few

  kids. And then I saw it.

  Cody held a broken thermometer in

  his hand, with the sharp, jagged edge

  pressed against his own throat. A bead

  of blood slipped down his neck, the

  stark red shocking against the white and

  chrome surrounding us.

  “I need to,” he mumbled. “I need it to

  stop. I can’t live like this.”

  This couldn’t be happening.

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  i n f i l t r a t e

  Not right in front of me.

  Not again.

  Skirting the wall of students, I

  approached Cody from behind and to

  the side. Jonah shot me a panicked look,

  shaking his head wildly to hold me off.

  It was enough of a distraction that Cody

  lowered the makeshift knife a few inches.

  He turned my way.

  This was my only chance.

  I held my breath and charged,

  knocking the thermometer out of his

  grip. As if released from a spell, the others

  jerked into action. A girl snatched up the

  weapon and handed it over to a shaken

  Ms. Scott, who was using her cell phone

  to call the office for assistance. Two boys

  now restrained Cody in a concerned but

  firm clasp.

  Knowing Cody was contained and

  more help was on the way, I stepped back

  toward the exit. Several kids watched me

  go, probably freaked that I’d taken such

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  j u d i t h g r a v e s

  a risk and wondering why I didn’t stay to

  see what happened next.

  But I’d had enough for one day.

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  SIX

  “You’re such a diva.” Jace threw the

  words at a very animated Jo, who caught

  them from across the marble countertop

  of the island unit smack dab in the

  middle of Jace’s oversized and rather

  industrial kitchen.

  “And you’re a Jackson Pollock gone

  bad,” she replied with a decidedly unroyal

  sneer. Always with the art references.

  Jace laughed. “Is that an insult?

  Because I’m sure any Pollock is worth

  a fortune.”

  “There’s no accounting for taste.”

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  j u d i t h g r a v e s

  A dark eyebrow rose. “You’re trying to

  tell me you don’t believe Pollock was one

  of the most innovative painters…”

  And on they went, with Jo

  backpedaling because she was an artist

  herself and, of course, appreciated

  Pollock, but had talked herself into a

  corner.

  Usually these two provided endless

  opportunities for amusement, but the

  craziness of the day was sticking in my

  gut. I wasn’t in the mood for I-want-

  to-kiss-your-face-off-but-for-whatever-

  reason-I-won’t banter.

  It was cute. But under the

  circumstances? Unacceptable.

  “Newb!” I glared at Jo. “Silver Spoon,”

  I snarled at Jace. “Can we please just let

  Sir Bentley call this meeting of headcases

  to order?”

  Bentley sat at the end of the island,

  hidden behind his laptop. As usual.

  At the mention of his name, he peered

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  i n f i l t r a t e

  over the screen. “I like the Sir, Raven.

  That works for me. Everyone please use it

  in the future.”

  Jace’s hand moved with swift

  precision as he smacked the back of his

  brother’s head. “Careful, egghead. You

  sound an awful lot like—”

  He stopped himself at the look on

  Bentley’s face, but we all filled in the

  blanks.

  The one thing that got Bentley’s

  back up? Anything to do with Jace

  and Bentley’s doctor father. And being

  compared to him? Not cool. Now that

  man was a bona fide mad scientist. He

  made good old Frankenstein seem like

  a preschooler forging mutants out of

  mismatched lego pieces.

  Bentley hopped off his stool and

  stood to his full height. “You had to go

  there, didn’t you?”

  Jace held up a hand. “I’m sorry, that

  was out of line.”

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  j u d i t h g r a v e s

  “Oh, a lame apology from Jace

  Almighty and everything’s okay?” Bentley

  closed his laptop with the formality

  of a spaghetti-Western sharpshooter

  holstering his sidearm.

  Jo and I exchanged a worried look.

  Jace was Bentley’s older brother, his

  protector. They joked, they might get into

  heated debates, but they didn’t outright

  fight. But we’d all been under increasing

  pressure now that more and more kids

  were contacting us and wanting our

  help taking down their own big bads. It

  was a responsibility we all felt compelled

  to meet, but the retribution gig wasn’t

  without stressors.

  Ripping each other new ones wasn’t

  the solution. Sometimes it felt like this

  team of ours was hanging together by

  threads. Ever since we’d rescued Jo’s

  friend Amanda from an undercover

  fight ring, we’d all been on edge. But we

  needed to get our act together. People out

  there were counting on us.

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  i n f i l t r a t e

  I slapped my hand on the cold marble.

  “Is there a full moon I don’t know about?

  Would everybody please just chill and

  focus on the end game?”

  “Raven’s right,” Jo said, hands on her

  hips. It didn’t escape my notice that Jace

  was getting focused all right. On Jo’s curves.

  I rolled my eyes. Guys. They were so

  predictable.

  “To answer your question, Raven,”

  Bentley said from his perch back behind

  his laptop. Thankfully, he’d moved on and

  back to business. “According to nasa’s

  online Sky Events Calendar, the next full

  moon will occur in seven days. There’s

  also a blue moon, or two concurrent full

  moons in one lunar cycle, set to appear

  next month.”

  Bentley’s timing, innocently pretending

  to answer my clearly rhetorical question,

  was perfect. It was hard to resist the smile

  pulling at my lips.

  “Th
ank you, Bent.” I noticed Jo and

  Jace fighting grins as well.

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  “Anytime. Now, if you could all take

  your seats. I’ve got a few potential cases,

  but one is time sensitive, and I suggest we

  start there.”

  Weird how we’d gone from one

  random kid contacting Bentley, and us

  agreeing to work as a team, to these

  meetings. Here was where we evaluated

  and deliberated and then selected which

  cry for help seemed the most desperate.

  The most worthy.

  And, frankly, the most fun.

  Sometimes revenge really was sweet.

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  SEVEN

  And sometimes revenge was just plain

  boring. Ugh. Stakeouts were the worst.

  I’d taken what I thought was going to be

  a case I could sink my teeth into, yet here

  I was, only a few days in and chomping at

  the bit for some real action.

  According to Bentley, Jonathan

  McNair’s brand-new stepmother, who

  was only a few years older than his own

  sixteen years of age, was trying to kill him.

  She was doing this, Jonathan claimed,

  so she could inherit all of his middle-

  class, working-stiff father’s fortune.

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  Which, Bentley admitted, was pretty

  measly. The guy worked at a recycling

  plant.

  Still, Jonathan was convinced

  stepmommy dearest was poisoning

  his food. She’d made no secret of her

  disregard for his love of video games and

  cosplay. Said he’d never get a girlfriend

  that way, and she wasn’t going to let him

  live in their basement until he was thirty-

  five. He knew she wanted him out of the

  way as soon as possible.

  Then he’d started to feel off. He’d

  been getting worse every day since she’d

  suddenly developed a fixation with

  bulking him up. According to our guy,

  this was a ploy to get him and his father

  out of the kitchen while she prepared

  complex meals.

  Gone were the days of his father’s

  super-garlicky, super-spicy, super-good

  spaghetti and meatballs. Now Jonathan

  could hardly pronounce the ingredients

  his stepmother used in her dishes.

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  i n f i l t r a t e

  Jace, our resident boxer and fitness

  guru, was familiar with a strict diet, but

  even he scarfed down a greasy hamburger

  now and then. He’d had no interest in

  taking on this case, and Jo was recovering

  from her last one.

  So here I was, parked across the street

  from Jonathan’s place, my wheels for the

  evening a black Mazda3 Sport—not flashy

  enough to get noticed on the streets of

  this neighborhood, but with the guts to

  make the risk worthwhile.

  Once a car thief, always a car thief.

  Besides, I would return it to the

  parkade as soon as I was done. I didn’t

  steal for keepsies anymore—just

  borrowed here and there.

  I jogged across the street, careful to

  keep to the shadows, and slunk around to

  the side entrance. Jonathan had promised

  to leave the door unlocked that night.

  They’d gone to the movies, a tradition

  started by his real mother that he had

  insisted his father uphold.

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  j u d i t h g r a v e s

  The handle turned easily. I was kind

  of disappointed. I needed to keep my

  lock-picking skills at their prime.

  My phone buzzed in my pocket.

  Bentley, checking in.

  “Yo.” I spoke as I made my way to the

  kitchen.

  “Yo back,” Bentley said. “Jonathan has

  texted me a thousand times wondering if

  you’ve found anything yet. Are you in?”

  “Yeah.” I began opening cupboards,

  looking for a bag of pills or vial of some

  toxic liquid. “I’ve got a ton of Tupperware

  without lids, your basic canned goods and

  the normal spices.”

  A pop-down tv was mounted under

  one of the cupboards. For kicks, I turned

  it on. The laugh track from a sitcom

  echoed through the room.

  “Is someone there?” Panic laced

  Bentley’s voice.

  “Nope, just put the boob tube on for a

  little mood setting.”

  “You’re odd.”

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  i n f i l t r a t e

  “Why, thank you.” I opened the pantry.

  Blinked in awe at the amount of product

  I saw on the middle shelf. “Bent, text

  Jonny boy. Ask him what kind of

  symptoms he’s been having.”

  “You found something?”

  “Just do it.” I ended the call, confident

  I’d cracked the case. Thank god they

  weren’t all this easy or I’d be out of the

  retribution gig in a heartbeat.

  This wasn’t even challenging. Another

  gut-bursting round of laughter from the

  tv. I couldn’t get sympathy anywhere.

  My phone pulsed.

  “His guts have been in knots,”

  Bentley said in my ear. “Anything he eats

  comes out as liquid. Number one and

  number two.”

  Ugh. Not a great visual.

  “She’s not trying to kill him.” I sighed.

  “She’s on a health kick. Looks like she’s

  been adding bran to everything. There’s

  enough here to unblock a T. rex after an

  all-you-can-eat Triceratops buffet.”

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  Bentley laughed. “I’m thinking you

  went through a dinosaur phase when you

  were a kid. I’m right, aren’t I?”

  He was, but I’d never admit it. Our

  resident hacker already had too much

  potential blackmail material on me. “Tell

  Jonathan we’re done. He can handle it

  from here.”

  “It’s a crappy job—” Bentley began.

  “But somebody’s got to do it.” I finished

  with a laugh of my own.

  Then the laughter died in my throat

  as a montage clip on the screen drew my

  eyes to the mini tv. Photos of a young girl.

  And a guy about my age. I moved closer.

  He looked familiar. The haggard faces of

  two tearful parents filled the screen. What

  were they saying? A murder-suicide?

  The reporter began filling in the details.

  “In a tragic series of events, fifteen-year-old

  Cody Fisher ended his life after taking

  that of his twelve-year-old sister Emma.

  The parents discovered their children

  upon arriving home from work…”

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  i n f i l t r a t e

  I should have stayed. I should have

  made sure Cody was okay. That they’d

  followed up properly. This was on me.

  All the way.

  “Raven? You still there?”

  “Bentley,” I choked out. “
I need you

  to do me a favor. Please.” He must have

  heard the desperation in my voice.

  “Anything.”

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  EIGHT

  By the time I pulled up in front of the

  East Hastings Community Kitchen to

  pick up Jo, Bentley had hacked into my

  school’s server and accessed the records

  on Kendra and Cody. It was just too weird

  that two kids from my school had killed

  themselves in the same week.

  “Both of them had been sent to the

  school counselor, Mrs. Chappet, for help

  dealing with test-anxiety issues,” Bentley

  informed us during a conference-call

  update. “Unfortunately, the electronic

  trail ends there. I haven’t been able to

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  i n f i l t r a t e

  scare up any other details online, but I’ll

  keep digging.”

  Jace was on the line too. “If Chappet

  is old school, there might be handwritten

  files with more information in her office

  somewhere.”

  It was as good a lead as any.

  “Jo and I will look into it,” I said as

  Jo approached the car. She opened the

  Mazda’s passenger door and climbed

  inside.

  “You borrowing this one too?” She

  glanced around the hatchback’s slick

  interior.

  “I’ll have it back by morning. Pinky

  swear.”

  We peeled away from the curb.

  Jo volunteered plenty of hours at the

  kitchen in exchange for groceries. The guy

  who ran the place, Clem, was ex-military

  and looked out for Jo and other teens

  who just needed someone to give them a

  break. Recently, while we were helping Jo

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  find Amanda, we’d learned there was a lot

  more to Clem than we’d thought. A good

  thing—we needed everyone we could get.

  “Thanks for this,” I said, keeping my

  eyes on the road.

  “My pleasure.” Jo lowered the

  passenger window and wove her hand

  through the rush of air. “We both know

  you need me to watch your back.”

  “Riiighhht,” I drawled. That wasn’t

  why I was dragging her along. I might

  not need her assistance to get inside my

  school and do some digging around in

  filing cabinets. But if I was being honest

  with myself, my head was seriously

  messed up—I wanted Jo around to keep

  me in the here and now.

  I was wrecked after not once but

  twice failing to help kids who deeply

  needed it. When Supersize died,

  I’d promised myself I would do whatever

  I could, whatever it took, to not feel like

  that again. And yet here I was, the same

  raw mixture of guilt, regret and rage

 
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