The Breakfast Court was a small cafe in the front of the mall where many of Paradise Valley's early birds got their first coffees and donuts to start their day. A dozen and a half umbrella-topped tables dotted a circular patio bathed in the early morning sunlight, and huddled beneath one of the larger tables were Alex and her sister, Ray, Louis, Robyn, Nicole, and Grace.
Ray looked at his watch and sighed loudly for all to hear. "Well, it's ten after nine, and we are officially 'hooky' from school". The group met up only moments before, Grace being the last one to arrive. She had gotten up early to do some early-morning scouting before meeting with her friends. Alex had driven her jeep, giving her parents the impression she was driving to school today. Louis brought his Mustang convertible, and with Grace's car, it gave Alex and her friends three vehicles to use.
Alex and Annie raised some questions when Grace arrived in a new, white convertible. She explained how an FBI courier appeared at her hotel room yesterday evening to retrieve her agency-owned sedan, and that her new car was a rental she acquired with her own money. She also had to give up her gun and all of her FBI credentials to the courier as well. Grace was confident in what they had to do today, but felt exposed without her FBI authority.
"I've been in detention more times than I can count, but I've never 'skipped' school" Louis said after finishing his sixth donut. "I guess there's a first time for everything. Anybody up for watching 'The Breakfast Club'?". Everyone knew Louis was only trying to break the tension at the table which was thick enough to cut with a knife, but he also had no intention of taking anything lightly around Alex again. Just two weeks ago, his careless mouth nearly cost his friend her life at the hands of Danielle Atron.
Alex focused on Louis and concentrated. "Nice try Louis" she said to him with a private telepathic message. "But I don't think anyone bought it, especially Robyn".
He looked at her quietly and shrugged. Robyn Russo, Alex's pretty red-haired friend, appeared to be a nervous wreck.
Annie noticed something was said between them, but didn't pry. Whatever it was, was their business. If she was going to insist Alex respect other people's privacy by not mentally eavesdropping, she had to respect her when she decided to telepathically communicate privately with someone else besides herself.
"So Grace..." Annie opened. "You said you did some scouting. What did you find out?". Grace was sipping on a hot cup of coffee when she asked, and set it down with calculated coolness. Even though she was dismissed from the FBI two days ago, it was apparent to everyone at the table she was focused. Her FBI training was taking over, and it sent a slight, but noticeable confidence through the group, even the terrified Robyn.
"Enough to know we can pull this off if we play it right" she answered Annie in a serious, monotone reply. "All of our subjects are where I hoped they'd be at this time of the day. Gino Lawless is catching up with paperwork in his hotel room as we speak. He's pretty predictable, and he should be there for the next couple of hours before heading out to PV Chemical. He still has several things to finish up out there after the fire that destroyed the evidence shed".
"And Vince?" asked Alex, a slight shudder crawling up her spine at the mere mention of his name. "Home..." replied Grace. "...and I'm a little surprised he was there too, but he is. Probably laying low after his little 'adventure' in your garage yesterday".
"So, I suppose we're ready to get underway now?" Nicole asked directly, tired of waiting. "It looks that way. Is everyone up for this?" inquired Annie. Everyone, including Robyn, offered an assuring nod to Annie and Grace. "Very well then" continued Annie, looking across the table. "Louis, did you get the two-way radios from your father's warehouse?". Louis nodded. "Check. They're in my car. I did exactly like you said yesterday. I have a radio and one back-up for each of our groups. All of them work on the same frequency and we can stay in touch for up to about three miles from each other. We'll have to use cell-phones for longer ranges". Louis Driscoll's father owned an electronics business in Paradise Valley, and having worked at his father's warehouse since he was fourteen, he found such items to be easily accessible.
Annie turned to Nicole and Robyn. "Did you guys prepare all the food supplies we're going to need?". Robyn, still feeling overwhelmed by what they had to do, didn't answer. Nicole took the hint and responded for them. "Yes, but it wasn't easy keeping them hidden from our parents. Everyone has a stash of food and drinks to keep them supplied throughout the day" she reported.
"Good work. Grace and I have gathered everything we'll need to pull off our end of this plan, so I suppose it's time we got going" instructed Annie. After Grace paid the waitress, they rose as one from around the table and made their way into the nearby adjacent parking lot where their cares were parked in a row.
Louis took the radios out of his car, and after double-checking to make sure they all functioned properly, he place a pair of them in each car. Robyn and Nicole also distributed the small styrofoam coolers among the vehicles they bought from a convenience store yesterday, packed full of food and drinks. Grace opened her trunk and gave everyone a pair of the powerful, yet small pairs of binoculars she used for surveillance.
Then it was time to split up. Grace gave out the instructions. "O.k. We have everything prepared, so we need to get underway. Let's do as we planned yesterday. Annie, Alex and myself are team one. Ray, you and Robyn are team two, and Nicole, you and Louis are team three". She scanned the teens before her.
"Team three, go to Vince's house and keep him under surveillance. We've got to keep all our bases covered, and keeping an eye on Vince while the rest of us are carrying out our part of the plan is important. Radio in once you've gotten into position like I showed you; and don't let him spot you".
"Gotcha boss" responded Louis promptly. He and Nicole turned and hurriedly departed in the direction of his Mustang.
Alex realized her powers were needed elsewhere, but it still bothered her that Nicole and Louis were going to be anywhere near Vince without her around. She felt like they needed her protection, and Alex almost wished there were two of her again to keep an eye on Nicole and Louis as well as help Annie and Grace. She watched them get into his Mustang, crank it up, and drive away.
Grace's gaze then fell upon Ray and Robyn. "Remember team two, we're counting on you to be our eyes today when we're in Gino's apartment at the Paradise Arms" she pointed out. "Gino should be there until around ten, so that gives Alex time to work some of her 'magic' before he leaves. When Gino leaves for the plant, you're going to have to keep tabs on him while we're inside".
"What about the other FDA agents working with him? Won't they spot you snooping around?" asked Ray as Robyn fidgeted nervously beside him. "They'll already be at the plant" she assured him, knowing their routine precisely. "So we should have open access to Gino's computer when he leaves".
"That is if Alex can pull off what we were practicing half the night" interjected Annie, placing a supportive hand on her younger sister's shoulder. Alex's face contorted with tension, but she knew what Annie was talking about was crucial to their task.
"Care to try again?" Annie challenged her, pointing to Robyn. Robyn's eye's widened in bewilderment, wondering what Annie was instructing Alex to do. They had discussed a lot of the plan yesterday when they met inside the mall, but this part Robyn didn't know about yet. For all she knew, Alex was about to levitate her a mile in the air. Annie, Grace, and Alex kept this part of the plan between them because they weren't sure it would even work. They figured there was no reason to get everyone's hopes up because it could all but ruin their plan's chances at success if it didn't work.
"Huh?" Robyn choked, taking a small step backwards. "Relax Robyn, I'm not going to hurt you or anything" promised Alex. Alex squinted in concentration at her friend, and Robyn suddenly heard a slight ringing in her ears, and a barely noticeable lightheadedness. She knew Alex was psychically probing her, as she felt a sensation akin to someone opening a door inside her mind and entering. It was a painless feeling, but a bizarre one nonetheless, causing goosebumps to erupt all over her neck and shoulders.
Alex abruptly stopped probing. "Titanic" Alex grinned at her friend. "What?" Robyn asked, perplexed. "The password to your computer at home..." Alex explained. "...it's Titanic". Robyn's mouth gaped, looking around at the others.
With no denial from Robyn, Grace and Ray were genuinely impressed. A wild hunch Annie and Grace had seems to have paid off. A year and a half ago, when the Mack family took a camping trip out to the desert, Annie took Alex out into the field to really let loose with her powers and test their strength. One of the things she had Alex do was test her telekinetic ability on objects even when she wasn't looking directly at them. It was a successful test, so when Grace suggested Alex use her powers to get the passwords for Gino's computer and his FBI access, the Mack sisters spent several hours last night practicing it.
Just as she could manipulate an object with her telekinesis which wasn't in her field of vision, they discovered with the proper amount of concentration, Alex could latch onto a particular thought in someone's mind with her telepathic power and retrieve it.
"'Titanic'..." Annie couldn't help but chuckle. "I should've known it would be named after some sort of disaster". Robyn's face turned red with embarrassment, and Annie noticed. "Sorry Robyn, I was just kidding you. I didn't mean to offend you". But amazingly, Robyn's expression seemed to grow calm again.
"Alex was able to get my computer password from my mind just by concentrating on it? That's how you intend to get into Gino's computer and get into the FBI files?" she asked eagerly. Robyn was beginning to have some hope after all. Maybe they could pull this off without taking any chances that would place them in serious danger.
"As long as we can get Alex within ten feet of him. That seems to be the range of her telepathic ability" Annie replied with a shrug. The group went quiet for a moment, pondering what they were about to do, but Grace decided to break the silence. They were wasting time; it was time to act.
"Let's do it" she said.
Louis and Nicole parked along the curb half a block down from Vince's house. The south end of the street had several houses, but the north end was mostly undeveloped. To their left was a heavily wooded area, and directly to their right, past the curb, was a small roadside park which contained a playground for the local neighborhood children. Grace told them yesterday when they met at the mall that parking here during the day was sure not to attract any undue attention.
"You can still see the police tape where Grace's partner was ambushed in his car" Nicole said edgily, pointing down the street past Vince's house. Louis looked up to see the bright, yellow tape in the distance, stretched around the area where Agent Black was nearly killed by Vince's henchman several days ago.
"Creepy..." Louis described. "Well, Vince 'is' a creep" added Nicole with a hateful sneer. Louis lifted the spyglasses Grace gave him and peered through them at Vince's house. "...and hopefully, we'll nail him and whoever else is involved in all of this. I mean, trying to blow up Alex's house was really extreme" Nicole continued as Louis carefully examined Vince's property through the spyglasses.
"Well, his garage door is open..." he pointed out. "...his car is in there, and his jeep is parked behind it on the driveway, so that means he's still home". Nicole shrugged. "Then it looks like it's going to be a waiting game. Just be ready to go if he leaves" she instructed. Louis lowered the spyglasses and looked at Nicole.
"Nicole, do you think we're going to really be able to pull this off? I mean, we are going up against some pretty powerful people here". His voice was serious, but it was evident to Nicole that he had his doubts. "I don't know why Louis, but something just tells me that as long as we have right on our side, we're going to win" she answered confidently, trying to bolster his confidence.
The silvery puddle flowed rapidly across the street and over the curb onto the neatly, manicured front lawn of the Paradise Arms Hotel, entering into hiding behind the front hedge of the hotel. With a squish, the puddle sucked into itself and expanded upwards into a thick column which quickly spread out and formed into a crouching Alex Mack.
Wearing a pair of loose-fitting jeans and a baggy, dark gray, long sleeve shirt, Alex's hair was secured in a tight bun under a matching dark gray knit ski hat. A pair of black sneakers completed the ensemble. She looked above her towards a ground-floor bay window overlooking the front lawn. She had reformed with a walkie-talkie gripped firmly in her left hand, and raising it to her mouth, she pushed the talk button.
"O.k., I'm, in position...over" she whispered into the radio. "Roger" came Grace's barely audible response. As Grace instructed, Alex had turned her walkie-talkie's volume down where it could only be heard from about a foot away. For some reason, the radio didn't work when it was morphed, so Alex had to reform to confirm to Annie and Grace that she was in position.
Fortunately, her extraordinary morph-radar sensed everything around her before she arrived under the window. "I sensed Gino still in the hotel room, so I'm going in... over". Alex didn't want to chance flowing in through the cracks around the window sill, as she worried about being spotted by Gino. When she was morphed, she sensed he was sitting at a desk in the front room looking over some papers, but she couldn't chance that he'd sudden turn around and see her. She needed to find a more discreet way to enter the hotel room. Lowering the radio to her side, Alex looked along the tunnel of space behind the hedge, and saw nothing in front of her.
Placing her right hand against the wall to steady herself, she turned her head to look behind her. Fifteen away was a drainpipe. "Paydirt" she thought with a grin, turning back to face forward again. Concentrating on morphing and going backwards at the same time, Alex felt the familiar, hot tingling flush of her body's entire molecular structure begin to liquify. Still in human appearance, her head and upper torso wobbled like jell-o, and abruptly elongated backwards, arced towards the ground, and began flowing in direction of the drain. The rest of her body followed dutifully with the same effect.
Morphing in this manner fascinated Alex. Her morphing ability was more powerful than ever, and she felt like she could do almost anything with it. It suddenly occurred to her that stretching and contorting her human appearance instead of transforming it immediately into a silvery state was probably a pretty startling scene for an onlooker, but right now, speed was of the essence. With snake-like precision, she blended from a gooey-looking, bluish-gray-clothed human girl, to a slivery tube several feet in length and the diameter of a garden hose.
In seconds, Alex was inside the pipe making her way towards Gino's apartment.
Moments later, after using her morph-senses to navigate through several connecting pipes, Alex's puddle-form quietly oozed up through the louvers in the cover of the shower drain in Gino's apartment. Reaching out with her senses as well as seeing everything about her with panoramic vision, Alex knew the bathroom was empty. She sloshed over the curb at the bottom of the stand-up shower out into the bathroom, crossing the floor to the door.
The door was closed, but Alex effortlessly flowed underneath it and found herself in an outer hallway. At one end was the bedroom, and at the other was the main living room and kitchen. Gino was still in the living room at his desk. Alex instantly willed herself to become smaller, and her puddle-form collapsed into itself from the size of a bathmat down to the diameter of a basketball. Being smaller made it easier to navigate the hotel room without inadvertently bumping into anything and drawing attention to herself. She couldn't believe she could be as clumsy in her morph-form as she was in human shape.
Alex suddenly sensed movement. "Uh uh!" she thought, sensing Gino unexpectedly rise from his desk and start towards the hall. Alex willed herself to become transparent, and faded into invisibility just as Gino rounded the corner. The FDA agent walked towards her position, his foot rising to step directly on her!
With a thought, Alex skillfully molded herself into a circular ring, and Gino stepped harmlessly in the middle of it, contacting floor as her invisible, donut-shaped morph-form safely encircled his foot. He walked to the bathroom door, opened it, and entered.
"Whew!" she sighed in relief, mentally patting herself on the back for her quick thinking as she filled the middle of her puddle back in. She sensed Gino by the sink in the bathroom, and heard him turn the faucet on. He was preparing to brush his teeth.
Then it occurred to her this may be the opportunity she was looking for. "If I'm going to do this, I have to do it now!" she convinced herself. She wished she could use her psychic ability when she was morphed, just like she could speak telepathically to others when she took on droplets-form, but her telepathy seemed to be extremely limited then. Would she and Annie ever solve and understand all the bizarre affects of her powers?
Alex's puddle became visible again and erupted up from the floor into an upright column. She reformed into a teenage girl within seconds. Alex leaned her back against the hallway wall beside the bathroom door. Luckily, Gino had pushed the door closed behind him. She gently rested her head against the wall, closed her eyes, and concentrated on Gino's Lawless' mind. Just as she and Annie practiced the night before, Alex focused on Gino's passwords to his computer and the FBI's files.
Alex felt a trance-like state come over her as she touched Gino's thoughts. In her mind, she experienced visions of flying at breakneck speed through bright, twisting tunnels. Over the sink in the bathroom, Gino felt what Robyn did when Alex probed her mind earlier; a lightheadedness accompanied by a slight ringing in his ears.
He stopped brushing for a moment to take a look at himself in the mirror. "I'll be glad when this assignment is over, it's wearing me to a frazzle" he mumbled aloud, contributing his sudden spell to exhaustion brought on by the PC Chemical Plant investigation and the incidents following it. He finished brushing his teeth, wiped his mouth on a hand towel, and turned for the door. In the hallway, Alex's eyes opened in realization that she had completed her task, but was in danger of being spotted!
Gino walked out of the bathroom into the hall and abruptly turned when something to his left caught his eye. "What the...?" he stammered, looking down the empty hallway and into the bedroom at the end. He could have sworn he saw movement just past his arm as he exited the bathroom. Gino ran his fingers through his dark, curly hair and shook his head in exasperation. "God, do I need a vacation..." he groaned, turning back towards the living room. Switching off his computer, Gino grabbed his coat off the back of the desk chair and left through the front door.
As the door clicked close, the hallway wall stretching from the bathroom door to the bedroom appeared to begin melting. A paper-thin liquid film covering the entire area began to materialize and flow into one spot, taking on a silvery texture as it did. It massed into one area and moved outwards from the wall into a thick, gooey, vertical column centered in the hallway floor. In seconds, Alex reformed into her human self again.
"Whoa..." she gasped, using her right hand to steady herself against the wall. "That was totally freaky". As Gino was exiting the bathroom, all Alex could do to hide herself was wish she were part of the wall she was leaning on. Her body instantaneously morphed, squishing against the wall and spreading out over it until she was transparent thin. It felt like she had been sucked backwards all at once into a hundred huge vacuum hoses. "Note to self, don't try that again without preparing myself first" she scolded herself. "Man, what a head rush!".
She realized she was still holding her walkie talkie in her left hand. She raised it up and clicked the talk button. "O.k., Gino left and I have the passwords. Come to the front door, over". Grace's voice promptly responded. "Affirmative, over". Alex couldn't help but roll her eyes and grin at how silly this cloak and dagger routine seemed, but she quickly dispelled the emotion. This was very serious business, and there was no room for taking it lightly.
Robyn pointed towards Gino's car pulling out of the Paradise Arms. "There he goes Ray!". "I see him..." he acknowledged, cranking up Alex's jeep to follow. Robyn depressed the talk key on the walkie-talkie. "This is team two, we're following objective A, over". Grace answered back. "Roger team two. Keep in touch, over".
Gino's car pulled out onto the highway in the direction of the plant, and Ray and Robyn followed from a discreet distance. "I sure hope they get whatever it is they're looking for" Robyn said to Ray. "I guess I'm still pretty confused about exactly what they're hoping to find".
"I'm not exactly sure either, but don't worry Robyn" he replied. "With Alex's powers, Annie's super-brain, and Grace's FBI connections, they'll find what they're looking for".
"I wonder how the others are doing?" Louis suggested to Nicole as she sipped on a bottle of spring water from the cooler in the back seat. The vinyl driver's seat of his Mustang crunched as he squirmed to get comfortable. Nicole lowered her water and looked at her watch. "According to what Alex said on the radio a minute ago, they should already be in Gino's apartment by now, and Ray and Robyn are following Gino. At least they're experiencing more excitement than we are" she answered dully.
"The only thing is, do we actually 'want' any more excitement than them?" he chuckled apprehensively. "Good point..." she agreed, but her attention was suddenly piqued as she looked ahead. "Heads up Louis..." she indicated, pointing past the car's windshield. Louis looked and saw Vince walking down his front walk to the driveway where his dirt-caked jeep was parked. Getting in, Vince cranked it up and pulled out of his driveway.
Nicole picked up the walkie-talkie resting between the front bucket seats and spoke into it. "This is team three, objective B is on the move. We're following, over".
"Roger team three, out" answered Grace. Louis cranked up his car and followed Vince as Grace instructed him. She knew Vince would be a lot more wary of being followed, and determined that he wouldn't know to look for Louis' red Mustang.
"Well, whether we like it or not, we're getting our fair share of excitement now" Louis pointed out to Nicole.