FBI agent Grace Lasky was growing impatient watching Alex and her friends.
Two hours ago, she was forced to move her car fifty yards closer to keep them in sight when they moved as a group onto a heavily wooded trail on the other end of the hilltop clearing adjacent to Henderson's RV Park.
It wasn't difficult to figure out that Alex was conducting her own investigation into the bombing of David Watt's trailer, but the bigger question was "why?" Grace supposed it was because Dave saved Alex and her parents' lives by going to the authorities when they were kidnapped by Danielle Atron. Dave was her friend and she was just trying to repay the favor. Grace's admiration for the teenager from Paradise Valley increased, and she silently scolded herself again for ever having anything to do with Vince Carter's plan a year and a half ago to expose Alex Mack and turn her over to Danielle Atron.
Her ponderings stopped as she watched the teens scour the trail through her mini-binoculars, but as their search continued, they moved out of sight again.
"Damn ..." she sighed, frustrated. Grace knew she would have to move closer to keep an eye on them, so pulled her car up the road even further. She didn't want to get too close, because an hour ago, she nearly gave herself away when Alex's group came back to their cars to take a break from their search. Luckily for Grace, they didn't spot her. She narrowed the distance by another thirty yards, but knew she wasn't going to be able to observe them without getting out of the car. Before exiting, Grace scooped up a black, pocketbook-sized leather zip-up pouch off the front seat and slung it over her left shoulder. After quietly shutting the car's door, she made her way to a congested group of small trees which supplied excellent cover. She peered down the wooded trail through her mini-binoculars from her new vantage point and saw her quarry.
"There you are Alex Mack" she whispered triumphantly.
It suddenly occurred to Grace what would happen if Alex did see her? What Grace did to her before was unforgivable, and if Alex discovered her presence and reported what she knew about Grace to her superiors, she could very well lose her job and maybe even face criminal charges! But Grace didn't care anymore. She joined the FBI to do the right thing, and she accepted the fact that if she had to forfeit her job with the FBI to do the right thing, then so be it. She was determined to complete this assignment and keep anyone from harming Alex or her family. She owed Alex that.
Grace watched the teens move further down the trail and out of sight again, and realized she was going to have to follow them on foot. She looked around her for the best way to approach them without being seen, and noticed a long hedge of thick bushes which rounded the edge of the clearing. It gave her a perfectly disguised route to the trail they were on. Grace activated the vibrating ringer on her cell phone just in case Agent Black called and began to make her way through the dense thicket.
"This is absolutely fruitless" moaned Robyn. She was scratching the skin on her neck and sneezing because of all the plants and pollen around her. "Alex, I know we agreed to help you search this place, but I don't think we're going to find anything. That is except for an allergic reaction to everything out here. Does Poison Oak grow this time of year? Or Poison Ivy?".
"Robyn may be right Mack" added Louis. "I know your powers told you there were clues up here, but maybe they're just not here anymore?"
"Let's not give up yet guys" interrupted Nicole. "This is important to Alex, so let's keep searching. If someone tried to kill Dave, then we owe it to him to find out who". Alex appreciated her friends' help, but she knew they were growing tired and frustrated. None of them had Alex's amazing abilities to ‘see' psychic clues like she did; they just had to take her word for it.
It was tedious, time-consuming work, especially since Alex wasn't using her powers to search the area. She was worried that she may eavesdrop on her friends' thoughts accidentally, and as Annie warned her, it wouldn't be right. A couple of times, Alex experimented and tried to telepathically communicate only with Annie, but she was in too close proximity of her friends and all of their thoughts flooded her mind instantly. It made her a little dizzy and gave her a sensation of listlessness when several different minds invaded her's all at once. She reminded herself that was something she needed to work on.
A cold, late October night was also beginning to fall, and the temperature began to drop. It was unseasonably cold for Paradise Valley this year. Alex's sister Annie stood up, placed her hands on her waist, and bent backwards to stretch her back.
"Alex" she started. "I know what you saw, but Louis may be right. The papers said the FBI searched the entire area surrounding the trailer park with a fine-toothed comb after the bombing, and it's very possible they already found the clues you saw in your visions".
"Maybe ..." Alex agreed hesitantly, not wanting to give up.
Ray looked hopelessly at his best friend. "Maybe they're right Al, maybe that clue you saw just isn't .....". But Ray never finished his sentence as a powerful gust of cold, October wind blew down the trail they were on. Seconds before it hit, Alex erected a telekinetic force-field around herself to keep the cold blast off of her, but Nicole, who wasn't wearing a windbreaker like everyone else, shrieked as the wind bit into her exposed arms and neck. When they took a break over an hour ago, everyone who wasn't wearing a sweater or a sweatshirt donned their windbreakers because the temperature outside had begun to drop, but Nicole absentmindedly left her's behind, and now she was paying the price for her forgetfulness.
Alex immediately erected a force-field around Nicole too, and her friend gave her an appreciative smile as she watched the odd affect of distorted air around her keeping the cold gust at bay. Alex's telekinetic force-fields were of a electromagnetic origin Annie once explained, and could only be seen from a few feet away, having the appearance of water rippling outwards from one spot after a pebble had been dropped into it. Alex could mentally erect these fields by simply looking at a particular spot in space, and then the field would magically manifest itself outwards from that spot to whatever size or shape Alex could imagine.
A cascade of falling orange, amber, and brown leaves were blown from the surrounding trees by the howling gale, and engulfed the teens. But in the midst of the surrounding maelstrom of debris, an object which was whisked into her line of sight caught Alex‘s attention; a small, white piece of paper, just like the one she saw in her vision the day before!
At the same moment, Ray noticed Alex's gaze and followed it right to the tiny paper she was watching. As it passed near Ray, she telekinetically pinned it on the ground one foot in front of him. With it furiously fluttering in the unpredictable currents of air, Alex found it hard to zero in on the scrap and draw it to her, so she decided just pinning it to the ground was the best thing to do.
Everyone else finally noticed the scrap of paper Alex was focusing on, and they exchanged glances amongst themselves. The wind passed and Alex absently dropped her force-fields, but held the tiny piece of paper firmly against the ground, afraid that a rogue gust might carry it off. Ray looked at Annie with a "what do I do?" look.
"Go ahead Ray, pick it up" instructed Annie. Ray bent down to do so, but Nicole spoke up. "Wait! If that's the piece of paper Alex saw in her vision, then wouldn't touching it be contaminating evidence? It may have fingerprints on it". Annie privately commended Nicole on her quick thinking.
Annie always like Nicole Wilson. She was as bright and observant as she was and she considered her a ‘kindred spirit' in an intellectual sense.
"Good thinking Nicole" complimented Annie, walking over to the paper while digging into the satchel hanging on her shoulder. From the bag, she retrieved a pair of tweezers and a small plastic baggie. She stopped in front of Ray, picked up the piece of paper of with the tweezers when Alex released her telekinetic grip on it, and deposited it into the small bag.
Alex rolled her eyes. It never ceased to amaze her how her older sister was prepared for practically every contingency. "What else have you got in there Annie? The kitchen sink?" she asked sarcastically, referring to Annie‘s satchel. "Don‘t be ridiculous Alex" quipped Annie. "If we'd have needed that, I would have been sure to pack it". What was unsettling is that Alex couldn't tell if her sister was teasing or really serious. She rolled her eyes again.
Everyone grouped into a tight huddle to examine the scrap Annie was holding up in their midst.
Grace positioned herself behind a thick stand of trees on a bend in the trail about seventy-five feet away from the teens. She began watching them again just in time to see Alex's sister Annie pick up what looked like a tiny piece of paper and place it in a small plastic bag. She was showing it to the others who had huddled around her. Her curiosity piqued, Grace adjusted the focus on her mini-binoculars, but couldn't see anything through the red-headed Russo girl's back.
"What the hell have you found?" she whispered to herself aloud. Grace knew Alex and her friends were just a bunch of teenagers who didn't have the FBI training she did, but she couldn't take the chance they may have found something the FBI crew may have overlooked when they searched the area after the trailer bombing.
Grace was determined not to underestimate the teens. Alex, her sister Annie, and her best friend Raymond Alvarado were able to fool Danielle Atron and hide Alex's secret world from her for four years, so Grace knew they were clever and resourceful.
Alex was even cunning enough to somehow discover Grace was a spy in league with Vince and make her look like a complete fool in front of him. Grace couldn't help but recall the incredible television news interview she saw when studying the case file of this assignment that Alex and her family and friends made the day after they managed to stop Danielle Atron's plans.
In that interview, they recounted many adventures Alex and her friends experienced during those four years of hiding from Paradise Valley Chemical, but to Grace's unending relief, they never said anything about their encounter with her.
Grace had to get closer, but not just to see them better, but so she could hear them. She was sure that they somehow stumbled upon some sort of clue. She had to know what it was.
Behind her was about ten feet of dense thicket, then a steep inline which descended nearly sixty feet to the rear property line of Henderson's RV Park. Grace pulled the black leather pouch off her shoulder and slowly unzipped it. She pulled out a small pistol-gripped device with a grapefruit-sized dish attached to it. She released a clip on the grip and swiveled the collapsible dish forward until it clicked into position. Retrieving a wire from the pouch next, she plugged the connector on one end into the pistol grip, and placed the other end, an earplug, into her ear. She pointed the compactable listening device at Alex's group and pulled the trigger on the grip.
"Damn" she thought, hearing nothing but incoherent babbling. "I can't pick up what they're saying from here. Must be all the microwave interference from the trailer park. I've got to get closer".
Carefully, Grace edged closer to hear what the teens were talking about.
Alex pinched the baggie between her fingers and concentrated on it, trying to activate her psychic ability. A cold rush ran through her head, and she saw a repeat of the images from the day before when Brad Patterson nearly ran over her on his back. The gloved hands, the explosion viewed by the bomber from this very trail, and the floating piece of paper fluttering in the air as a an unknown vehicle sped off.
"Whoa!" Alex gasped, quickly handing the scrap off to Nicole to clear the images from her mind. The images were powerful and caused her momentary lightheadedness. "That's the same piece of paper I saw in my visions alright" she assured her sister and friends. "I just got all the same images from it that I saw yesterday".
"Well then ....." said Nicole, turning the baggie around and around, inspecting it closely. "At least we know it's the right one". She squinted to read the print on the paper. "It looks like a receipt of some kind" she said. "But it's hard to make out the print on it. The ink looks faded. It must have rained on it".
Then Louis in turn took it from her to look at it. "If it rained on it, you might as well forget pulling any fingerprints off of it".
"Great" complained Alex, throwing her arms up in the air. "I see a vision of something that isn't even going to help us. What good is having premonitions if they aren't even useful?"
"Don't panic yet Mack" advised Louis, holding his hand up for dramatic pause while examining the scrap of paper. "I said we probably couldn't get fingerprints off of it, but I didn't say it still wasn‘t an important clue". Alex‘s eyes widened in surprise, as did everyone else‘s.
Alex was impressed with the change in her friend Louis Driscoll over the last week ever since his carelessness almost cost her and her parents their lives. After happening upon Alex morphing, he openly discussed her powers on a cell phone with Ray later that same day and the call was monitored by PVCP security. It didn't take long before Alex and her parents were Danielle Atron's prisoners.
Louis was devastated he almost made his friend pay, and swore he would never do anything as careless again. So far, Louis was demonstrating a completely serious attitude since Alex revealed to him earlier that morning that her powers returned, even over her older sister Annie‘s vehement objections. She knew Louis was doing everything he could to prove himself and that he could be trusted.
"So what do you mean Louis? How is it a clue?" asked Robyn anxiously.
"I mean....." he began. "I recognize some of the legible numbers on this receipt that haven‘t been eroded, and they are a model number for a smoke detector".
"A smoke detector?" Annie said incredulously. "Are you sure Louis?".
"Sure I'm sure. I remember this number right here" he said, holding up the baggie and pointing to a line of faded, light blue numbers on the paper. "SD1552. It's the ‘Smoke-fighter' brand. I couldn't forget it if I wanted to. My dad had me price smoke detectors with all the hardware stores around town two weeks ago when he replaced the old ones in the front offices at work".
"This ..." Louis held the scrap up and shook it for effect. "This is the brand we had in the offices before and decided to buy again; the SD is for Smoke detector. We bought a dozen of them for fourteen ninety-five apiece".
"So what do you mean Louis? How is a smoke detector a clue?" prompted Alex, becoming frustrated. Annie was quietly perplexed, but realized Louis knew his electronics very well from working for his father‘s electronic and novelty firm and was getting at something significant. She waited patiently as he continued.
"Do you guys remember what the FBI's official report said in the paper after the bombing?" Everyone paused for a moment until Annie's eyes suddenly brightened and she spoke up. "That they think the bomb was set off from another location? That it was set off by remote control!". Louis smiled and pointed in acknowledgement at Annie. "And Alex's premonition was of someone, presumably the bomber, sitting in some sort of getaway car on this very trail, watching the explosion from a distance. Hence, a remote control device and a radio controlled detonator".
Alex, Ray, Robyn, and Nicole were completely lost, but Louis knew Annie was on the same track he was. "Capacitors!" yelled Annie. "Exacta-mundo" added Louis, exchanging a high-five with Alex's sister.
"Now I'm totally lost!" exclaimed Robyn, who turned and began to circle the outside of the huddle in exasperated fashion. Ray felt like doing the same thing, but he was desperately trying to keep up with the conversation that only Louis and Annie seemed to comprehend. Louis took a deep breath to explain.
"Listen. Alex's powers just confirmed that this receipt is a bonafide clue. What I think is that someone bought one of these SD1552 model smoke detectors to use it's capacitors to build a home-made remote control and detonator for the bomb that blew up Dave's trailer. Capacitors are vital in such devices. If the FBI is running checks, they won't suspect someone using a smoke detector for spare parts" Louis explained matter-of-factly. Robyn stopped pacing to listen closer.
Then Annie expanded on Louis' explanation. "That means whoever the bomber is, probably didn't have any capacitors to complete the remote or detonator and had to buy some without being too obvious, which also indicates that he is someone who is afraid of being suspected in the first place. When they sped off from this trail after watching their handiwork, the receipt for the smoke detector somehow blew out of their car, and the FBI never found it".
"And if the bomber had the receipt with him the same day of the bombing, there's a good chance that he bought the smoke detector the very same day. We may have a date to work with" Nicole assessed.
"And there are only three hardware stores in Paradise Valley that sell the Smoke-Fighter brand, and all I have to do is look them up on my computer at work" Louis said smugly.
Grace had had a hard time getting into position to listen to the teens. They were still deliberating over a piece of paper they had found and she was trying to move to a place close enough where her listen device would pick up what they were saying.
Over the last ten minutes, she tried three times to listen in on them, but for some reason, she couldn't hear anything but a static return. She couldn't understand why her microphone wasn't working, because she was sure she cleared far enough away from any interference that was coming from the trailer park behind and below her to get a clear sound. Something else nearby was causing the interference, and for the life of her, she didn't know what.
As she moved to within forty feet of the teens, Grace made her way along a precarious ledge about four feet wide, and to her horror, her left foot slipped on a small patch of slick, black mud. She dislodged some debris which rolled through the brush behind her, and then down the hill into the trailer park below.
Grace gasped silently, afraid that she might have given herself away, but so far, the teens didn't seem distracted. Then her blood ran cold when Alex peered in her direction.
A cold rush ran through Alex's head again, and she saw a flash of white light followed by a distant image of herself, her sister Annie, and Ray, Robyn, Nicole, and Louis standing in a group on the very trail they were on! When the numbness cleared from her head, Alex looked in the direction she deduced she saw the image from.
"Annie" Alex said to her telepathically, startling her older sibling. "We're being watched".