Chapter Two: The Girl of Steel
I believe it is the nature of people to be heroes, given the chance.
- James A. Autry
Trent glanced out the kitchen window and saw Jane sitting in the old gazebo in the back yard. He grabbed a couple of sodas out of the ‘fridge and walked out the back door to join her.
“What’s up?” he asked, sitting and offering her a can of cola.
“The leaves of that tree have over seven hundred shades of green,” she answered in a far off voice. Absently, she took the cola from him and opened it.
“I wish you could see things the way I do, Trent.” she said. “God, everything is so beautiful.”
“You could paint it, then I could see it.”
“I’ll try.” She breathed deeply. “Every plant in the yard smells different. Even if they’re the same kind of plant, there’s a little bit of difference.”
“Does it get distracting?”
“No, I sort of have to concentrate to notice stuff like this. Normally I don’t.”
“I think it has to do with . . . you know.”
“I wonder what else I can do.”
“Dunno.” Trent grinned. “Maybe shoot laser beams out of your eyes, like that guy in the X-Men comic.”
Jane rolled her eyes. “That’d be a stupid power. Of course, I guess it’s better than ‘freeze breath,’ which was your last suggestion.”
“Hey, I’m trying to think outside the box.”
Jane put one arm around her brother’s shoulders and hugged him. “You’re an idiot,” she said warmly.
Jane turned her head sideways and narrowed her eyes. “Quinn is walking down the street, about a half a block up. Probably time for us to head to school.”
“On a Saturday?”
“Yeah, Jodie wanted to talk to the newspaper staff. She decided that our first meeting shouldn’t be during school hours.”
“Cool. Need a lift?”
“Sure.” Jane stood and shook her head, shutting off all the extra sensory input. “Go open the door for Quinn, I’m gonna run upstairs and grab my jacket.”
Quinn reached up to knock on the door, but it swung open just as her knuckles grazed the wood. Trent stood in the door frame, smiling slightly at the surprised look on her face.
“How . . . how did you get here so fast?” she stammered.
“I live here,” Trent replied, looking amused.
“Uh, yeah.” Quinn took a deep breath. “Is Jane home?”
“Yeah, come on in.” Trent stepped aside and motioned for her to enter. “I’m gonna give you guys a lift to the school.”
“No problem.” Trent smiled slightly again. “I remembered pants today.”
“You certainly did,” Quinn answered, blushing.
“Alright you crazy kids,” Jane said, jogging down the stairs. “Are we ready to hit the road?”
Quinn turned in place and headed for the door. Unfortunately, she was distracted by Trent’s reminder of his previously pantsless state and managed to walk directly into the door frame by mistake.
“Yoiks, and away,” she muttered, blushing again and rubbing her forehead.
“Alright everyone, thanks for coming,” Jodie said with a smile. She looked around the room and felt deeply gratified by the turn-out. She’d never been this successful in drumming up support for an extracurricular activity before, although she did have Quinn Morgendorffer to thank for recruiting most of the present staff.
“What’s the drill, Jodie?” Jane asked.
“Well, Sandi volunteered to do a fashion column. Stacy will be handling the sports page.”
Sandi and Stacy smiled from their seats.
“Jane, you’re going to be our main photographer and Tiffany is going to be your back-up.” Jodie opened a box and pulled out a pair of battered cameras. “I’m afraid we can’t afford any really good equipment.”
“It’s ok,” Jane said looking the cameras over. “I’ll use my Dad’s old camera. There’s a whole bag of special lenses and stuff for it, and it’s got more features than you can shake a stick at.”
“Great!” Jodie said with a smile. “Then I can give a camera to Mack.”
“Yay,” Mack said wryly.
“Don’t complain. You just got promoted from gopher to associate photographer.”
“Meaning what, exactly?” he asked.
“Meaning that when you’re not running errands for me, you get to run errands for Quinn or Stacy,” Jodie answered with a smile.
“I was afraid of that,” Mack grumbled.
“What’s my job?” Quinn asked.
“I remember what we agreed to, Quinn.” Jodie said warily. “You’re getting what I’ve decided to call the city beat. Anything newsworthy, bring it to me and it’ll go into the draft of the newspaper. I can’t promise Ms. Li won’t kill your stories if she doesn’t like them, though.”
“Try to find things that are relevant to the high school.”
“I’ll do what I can.”
Jodie sighed, not altogether reassured. “Now, I’ve got some good news.”
“What?” Stacy asked.
“Starting this year, working on the newspaper is going to count as a social studies credit and we get one period a day in the computer room.”
Everyone in the room cheered.
“The bad news is that we have to be supervised by a member of the faculty. We’ll be working with Mr. DeMartino.”
“Better than Mr. O’Neill,” Quinn said, shaking her head.
“That’s what I thought,” Jodie answered. “Ok, we’re going to spend Monday through Thursday working on each issue. Friday will be editing and final draft, which will then be sent to the printers. The new issue will be out on the following Monday.”
“Everybody got that?” Jane asked with a smirk.
“If anybody didn’t, get with me later,” Stacy said, scribbling industriously in her notebook. “I’ve been taking notes.”
“Stacy is an excellent secretary,” Sandi said proudly.
“Yeah,” Tiffany drawled.
“Oh, you guys!” Stacy said, beaming at her friends.
“Well, well!” someone said from the door. A young, red haired man was leaning in the open doorway with his arms crossed. “Someone called a meeting of the loveliest ladies of Lawndale and didn’t inform the Chuckster?”
“This is a staff meeting for the Lawndale Lowdown, Charles.” Jodie said, looking annoyed at the interruption.
“The newspaper?” Charles sauntered into the room, nodding and smiling to each of the girls. The Fashion Club huddled in a protective clump, trying to stay as far away from him as they could without leaving the room. Jodie maintained her neutral expression, but both Jane and Mack favored him with a healthy glare. Quinn watched the interplay with interest and curiosity.
“Yeah, the newspaper,” Mack said, stepping behind Jodie and putting one hand on her shoulder.
“I find myself moved to exercise my first amendment rights,” Charles said, glancing over at the Fashion Club and winking at them.
“Eww,” Tiffany said, “Upchuck.”
“I don’t know if we have a place for you, Charles.” Jodie said. “We’ve pretty much got a full staff.”
“I do excellent camera work, and I’m a decent writer.”
“Look,” Mack said, coming out from behind Jodie and glaring down at Charles. “She said we didn’t have a spot for you.”
“Wait a minute,” Quinn said. “Put him on the city beat with me.”
“What!?” Jane exclaimed. “Can I talk to you privately for a moment?”
“Ok.” Quinn and Jane stepped out into the hallway and pulled the door shut.
“Quinn, I know you’re off on this whole ‘be nice to people’ kick, but you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into here.”
“Then tell me,” Quinn shrugged. “What’s so bad about this guy?”
“This is,” Jane struggled for the words, “this is Upchuck we’re talking about here. Lowest of the low, slimiest of the slimy, creepiest of the creeps, he’s desperate for any kind of female attention. Rumor has it he likes to sit in treetops and take pictures of girls through their bedroom windows. He’s a class A freak job.”
“So, he’s over the top and flamboyant,” Quinn said, “and he’s been on the wrong end of the rumor mill. He’s kinda cute, too. I don’t know why he wouldn’t get attention from girls.”
“Because he talks like a character in a badly written romance novel. Did I mention that he’s creepy?”
“Look, the guy just needs a chance to prove that he can act like a civilized human being . . . or to prove he can’t.” Quinn suddenly grinned and then continued, “Plus, if I keep him busy tracking down stories he won’t have time to harass anybody, right?”
“You’re a braver woman than I, Gunga Din.” Jane said, shaking her head. “I don’t want to work with Upchuck.”
“Fine, he can take pictures for me when you’re busy doing something else. If I send him out on a lead it’ll be something that he can take his own pictures on. Or I can send Mack with him.”
“What did Mack do to piss you off?” Jane asked.
“Just wondering,” Jane answered, opening the door and walking back into the classroom.
“What’s the verdict?” Mack asked, still looming over Charles.
“She’s got a soft spot for freaks,” Jane said, shaking her head. “We keep him.”
“There are going to be more leads than I can track down on my own,” Quinn explained, glaring at Jane. “And having another photographer will come in handy.”
“I offer you my humble thanks,” Charles said, bowing slightly towards Quinn. “What’s your name, my emerald clad enigma?”
“I warned you,” Jane muttered.
“Quinn,” she answered, grinning slightly at Charles’ performance.
“Ah, a fair and noble name for a fair and noble beauty.” Charles gave her what he probably thought of as a seductive smile. “You won’t regret your decision, my scarlet tressed seductress.”
“Oh, God.” Mack muttered, covering his eyes with one hand. The Fashion Club members were all looking at Quinn with horror and sympathy, and Stacy looked like she was about to pass out.
“You’re funny.” Quinn chuckled. “You remind me of Giacomo.”
“Who?” Charles asked, blinking in confusion.
“King of Jesters, and Jester of Kings!” Quinn said, grinning at him. “It’s from a movie, you’ll have to see it.”
“As you wish.”
“And on that note,” Jodie said loudly. “This meeting is adjourned.”
Quinn walked out into the parking lot and headed over to Trent’s car. She opened the passenger door and dropped into the seat next to Jane’s brother. She pulled the door shut and looked over at him. Trent was asleep.
She smiled quietly and watched him breathing. He looked so peaceful and innocent, his hands still on the steering wheel and his head leaned back against the seat. Quinn’s reverie was broken by a sharp knock at her window. She blushed, embarrassed to have been caught staring at Jane’s sleeping brother. She turned in her seat and rolled down the window so Sandi Griffin could lean in and peer inside.
“Is that Trent?” she asked.
“Yeah,” Quinn answered. “He gave us a ride down here.”
“Oh.” Sandi examined Trent. “He’s kind of cute. If you like pale, skinny guys.”
“I’ll be sure to tell him you said so,” Quinn answered dryly.
“Anyway,” Sandi said, tossing her hair. “Jane told us why you volunteered to work with Upchuck. I wanted to tell you that the Fashion Club appreciates your selfless sacrifice.”
“You’re welcome,” Quinn said, smirking at Sandi.
“We’ll see you on Monday.”
“Sure. See you then.”
As Quinn started rolling her window back up, she saw Jane leaving the school building. Jane exchanged a few words with Jodie and then headed over to the car. Glaring at Quinn when she saw the redhead sitting in the shotgun seat, Jane climbed into the back of the car.
“So, enjoying your alone time with Trent?”
“Yes, his snoring was very romantic.”
“You’re building quite the harem, aren’t you?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Well, you’re mooning over my brother.”
“I am not,” Quinn protested, glancing nervously at the sleeping Trent.
“You’ve got Joey, Jeffie, and Johnnie running errands for you all over school,” Jane continued.
“The third one is named Jamie,” Quinn said, starting to get irritated. “It’s not my fault they want to do things for me.”
“I suppose it wasn’t your fault that the assembly turned into a riot, either?”
“I guess that could be partially my fault,” Quinn said defensively. “But I didn’t think high school students would react so strongly to Churchillian speech patterns.”
“And now you’ve got Upchuck panting after you,” Jane finished. “Not that he wouldn’t have anyway, but you didn’t have to encourage him.”
“Jane, are you jealous?”
“What? No, of course not. Don’t be stupid.”
“I’m not stupid,” Quinn answered, glaring at Jane narrowly. “Look, you’re a pretty girl. You want a guy, go get one. You can have one of mine, they mostly get on my nerves anyway.”
“Thank you for your generosity,” Jane said dryly before reaching over and smacking Trent on the back of the head.
“Wha? Huh?” he said, looking around in a daze. “This stuff isn’t mine, officer. I swear.”
“What are you talking about?” Quinn asked.
“Huh?” Trent rubbed his eyes and glanced around. “Oh, cool. It was a dream. You girls ready to go home?”
“Yes, please.” Jane growled from the back seat.
“Whoa. What’s eating you, Janey?”
“A little green eyed monster,” Quinn muttered.
Jane shot Quinn a dirty look. “Green eyes, red hair, superior attitude.”
“You know what? I think I’ll walk home,” Quinn said, getting out of the car. “Thanks for the ride down here, Trent.”
“Uh, no problem.”
Quinn walked off down the street as Jane got out of the car and moved to the front seat.
“What was that all about?” Trent asked.
“It’s her. She’s just so . . . so . . . .” Jane sighed, and suddenly looked defeated. “Mostly me being an idiot, I think.”
“Should I try to catch up to her?”
“No, let her go. I’ll call her later and apologize.”
“Nah.” Jane slumped down in her seat and thought about how little she really knew about Quinn. They’d become close friends quickly, and Jane still hadn’t even been to the younger girl’s house. She knew that Quinn lived with her aunt, had a mysterious older sister named Daria, and that she had odd mood swings that seemed to be triggered almost at random.
“So home, then?”
“Can you drop me off at the library?”
“Sure.” Trent cranked the car and headed towards downtown Lawndale.
Sandi was walking back to her car with a spring in her step and a song in her heart. Things were finally starting to turn around and go her way, whether her parents liked it or not. She wasn’t a scared little girl anymore and she wasn’t going to let her Daddy run her life, or ruin it.
She heard a car door slam loudly, and turned to look for the noise. She saw Quinn marching off down the sidewalk with a wrathful expression. Jane was moving from the back of her brother’s car to the front, and wore a similar angry look.
Sandi dithered a moment, wondering if she should go try to talk to them and find out what the fight had been over and maybe try to mediate. She decided not to, afraid that she might draw their anger onto herself and destroy the very fragile friendships she’d made with the two girls. She sighed to herself and continued on to her car.
Jane would never be her best friend again, she’d lost her chance at that when Quinn moved to Lawndale. It made Sandi sad, but she couldn’t really blame Jane or Quinn and she liked the redhead’s self-assured attitude. It was too bad she wasn’t more fashion conscious, or she’d have made a great vice-president for the Fashion Club. Not that there was anything wrong with Tiffany or Stacy, but sometimes Sandi felt like she needed a trustworthy lieutenant, somebody she could share her work load with and not worry about them trying to steal the club.
Sandi climbed into her car and sighed sadly to herself. It was all well and good to rail about not obeying her parents, but things weren’t that simple. What her parents wanted, they got. Sandi’s mother wanted her daughter to have a prestigious car to drive, so now Sandi drove a fancy convertible. Sandi’s father wanted her to associate with prestigious people, so he introduced her to Tiffany and Stacy. She had been happy walking to school with Jane, but that didn’t matter to her parents.
Cars and people are nothing but status symbols to them, Sandi thought to herself. She sat in her car for a few minutes, considering the problem. Slowly, she began to wonder if maybe her parents were right, and that her rebellion was based on an idealized view of human relationships. Thinking gloomy thoughts, she cranked the car and left the school parking lot. Lost in her thoughts, she almost didn’t see Quinn striding up the sidewalk ahead of her.
“Hey, need a lift?” she asked, slowing the car.
“Yeah, sure.” Quinn answered. Sandi stopped and Quinn got into the car. “I live just a couple more blocks down.”
“Cool.” Sandi put the car in drive and glanced over at her passenger. “So, you and Jane had an argument?”
“Yeah.” Quinn sighed. “It was something stupid, but we both got really mad.”
“Don’t lose her over something dumb.” Sandi said, and then looked surprised at her own comment. “She’s . . . special.”
“She said you guys used to be friends,” Quinn said, “and your parents screwed it
“I let my parents screw it up,” Sandi said bitterly. “She was my best friend, and I’ll probably never be that close to anybody ever again.”
“I’m jealous of you, Quinn.” Sandi admitted. “But I’m also thankful. If you hadn’t drawn her out of her shell she’d never have accepted my apology. We’ll never be as close as we were, but she’s my friend again and that means a lot to me.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Say that you understand, and that you won’t hurt her like I did.”
“I do, and I won’t,” Quinn answered, “and this is my house. You want to come in for a soda?”
“No, thanks.” Sandi said sadly. “I have to go home and have a fight with my dad.”
“Ok,” Quinn said, at a loss for what else to say. “Thanks for the lift.”
Sandi parked and watched as Quinn unlocked her front door and went inside, and then backed out of the driveway and onto the road.
“It does mean a lot to me,” Sandi murmured to herself. She nodded once and pulled away from Quinn’s house, ready to face down her parents.
Instead of looking up what she’d come to the library for, Jane spent a couple of hours going through the microfiche records of the Lawndale Sun-Herald, reading about the big meteor shower in 1993. There was apparently a lot of property damage, and eight people died. Jane didn’t recognize any of the names, but she still felt a sick sense of guilt.
All the scientists quoted in the paper talked about how unusual the meteors were. That they had seemingly popped up out of nowhere, and no one had spotted them until just a few hours before they entered Earth’s atmosphere. How strange it was for that many meteors to survive entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. This sort of destruction from a meteor shower was unheard of, except possibly in Earth’s distant past. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that the freakish meteors were somehow connected to her arrival. The death and destruction wasn’t her fault, but she was still responsible for it.
Luckily for the residents of Lawndale, most of the shower had landed at an abandoned quarry outside town. Jane frowned as she half remembered something, and started scanning ahead through the newspapers. She discovered that if she concentrated on watching the newsprint she could clearly read the headlines as they flickered past.
Finally, she found the story she had vaguely recalled. Last year a company had bought the old quarry and started mining it again. They’d discovered the meteor fragments contained an unusual gemstone and they were hoping to find a use for the unearthly substance.
According to the story, the stones were slightly radioactive but the dosages were low enough that they couldn’t harm the human body without prolonged exposure. The stones were crystalline and green, resembling an emerald when cut into the proper shapes. The story mentioned that there were stones of other colors, but nothing specific was said about them.
Jane sat back from the computer and considered this new information. If those green rocks came from the same place she did, then studying them might tell her more about her own origin.
She pulled her cell phone out of her jacket pocket and called home. After a few rings, Trent grunted into his end of the phone.
“Trent,” Jane said quietly, glancing around for the librarian. “Wake up a minute.”
“You want me to come pick you up?” he asked sleepily.
“No, I’m going to walk down to the quarry before I come home. Didn’t want you to worry about me.”
“Yeah, ok.” Trent yawned. “You need a lift, gimme a call.”
“Good night, sleeping beauty.”
Trent mumbled something incoherent and hung up the phone.
Jane slipped her phone back into her pocket and looked around the library. She walked over to a computer and sat in front of it guiltily. With a sigh, she pulled up the website for the Daily Planet, and clicked the link for the archives. She typed ‘Morgendorffer’ into the search window, and put her finger on the ‘Enter’ button. After a moment she pushed the button and waited.
The first headline that popped up made her eyes go wide with shock. She clicked the link and started reading the story. Jacob and Helen Morgendorffer, wealthy socialites gunned down by a junkie in an alley in the theater district of Gotham City. Jacob had been the director of marketing for a mid-town advertising firm, and Helen was a lawyer working in the office of Deputy D.A. Harvey Dent.
They were survived by daughters Quinn and Daria Morgendorffer. Daria, the oldest daughter, was with her parents when they were murdered. She was removed from the scene and taken to a nearby hospital where the doctors found her to be unwounded. The murderer remained unidentified and at large.
The story was accompanied by a black and white photograph of a young girl, captioned ‘Daria Lynn Morgendorffer, Orphan.’ The girl was wearing a child-sized evening gown, now heavily stained with her parents’ blood. She had long, dark hair and her face was set in a stoic expression. Her eyes couldn’t be seen, only the flash from the camera reflected off the round lenses of her glasses.
“Poor kid,” Jane muttered. She scanned the next few stories, but they all read alike. The daughters were given into the custody of their maternal aunt, Amy Barksdale. The murderer was still unidentified and at large. The stories got shorter and shorter as they faded towards the back of the paper.
About a year later there was a new story, the headline reading ‘Orphans Shocked by Inheritance.’ Apparently the girls’ paternal grandfather had been a pioneer in the defense industry in the fifties and sixties and had left behind a substantial amount of money when he died. Jacob, claiming to be estranged from his father, refused the money and without his knowledge it was placed into a trust for his eldest child, to be paid out upon Jacob’s death.
It had taken the lawyers weeks to track down Amy Barksdale and the Morgendorffer sisters as they had moved to the small town of Highland, Texas. Neither Ms. Barksdale nor her lawyers could be reached for comment.
After that there was nothing. The reporters stopped sniffing around Highland like somebody had flipped a switch. Likely, the switch had been labeled ‘threat of litigation,’ Jane thought with a frown. The murderer was never identified, never found, and eventually forgotten. Forgotten by everyone but his victims.
Jane closed the browser and shook her head. She glanced out the window and saw the sun was starting to slide towards the west. She hurried out of the library, intent on reaching the quarry before dark.
“Mom?” Sandi asked, pushing the front door closed. “Dad?”
“In here, honey.” her mother called out.
Sandi made her way into the dining room, where her mother was having a light meal. Linda Griffin closely resembled her daughter but looked older, frailer and more care worn.
“How was your day?” she asked.
“Productive,” Sandi answered, sitting across the table from her mother. “I’m the official fashion correspondent for the Lawndale Lowdown.”
“That’s lovely, dear.” her mother answered with a smile. “When will you be taking over as editor?”
“Probably not until next year or the year after. The current editor is top notch, and frankly I have no desire to compete with her.” Sandi paused thoughtfully. “Although as busy as she is she might be persuaded to step down on her own.”
“You shouldn’t wait too long.”
“I’ll do what I think is best, Mother.” Sandi snapped. “Which happens to include hanging out with Jane Lane again.”
Her mother opened her mouth with a sharp retort, but held back when Sandi’s father walked into the room. Tom Griffin was a tall, handsome man with a boyish face and clean-cut brown hair.
“What’s all this, Alexandra?” he asked pleasantly. “I thought I told you not to associate with the common rabble.”
“She is not common rabble,” Sandi said, banging the table with her fist. “She is my friend. I’m almost an adult and I’m tired of being dictated to.”
Tom looked at his eldest child, his face stern but calm. The silence stretched on, becoming more and more uncomfortable, until at last he looked at his wife and said, “Linda, I need to talk to Alexandra privately. Please leave.”
“Tom,” she said hesitantly.
“Why are you still here?” he asked, his voice gone cold and hard. Linda immediately stood and left the room. Meanwhile, Sandi had leaned back in her chair in total shock. Her father had always been mild mannered and retiring, giving his wife a free hand to run the house and raise the children. He’d never spoken like that before, and Sandi was unsure what was coming next.
“You are correct, and I apologize,” he said simply. “You are becoming an adult and it’s time that you began to exercise the privileges and responsibilities that go along with that status.”
“Um, ok.” Sandi said. “Daddy, are you mad at me?”
“No, Alexandra.” he said with a smile. “I’m not mad at you.” Sandi found the smile to be less than reassuring.
“Ok, so what changes?”
“Well, first of all your mother and I will stop ‘dictating’ to you, as you so elegantly put it. Go where you want with who you want,” he paused and held up a finger, “but in return for that we expect you to stay out of trouble and maintain a decent grade in school.”
“Ok.” Sandi glanced nervously at the door her mother had used to leave the room.
“Don’t worry. I’ll inform her of the new situation later tonight.”
“Secondly, I’m going to increase your allowance. Your responsibility to match will be to go along with me to one business meeting a week.”
“I don’t mind doing it, but why?”
“My job is dangerous, Alexandra.” he answered. “You’ll need to know as much as possible if you have to take over for me.”
“Daddy, you’re an accountant,” Sandi said with an air of confusion. “How dangerous is accounting?”
“I’ve got a meeting scheduled in an hour and a half,” he answered. “Wait until then and you can find out for yourself.”
Jane casually jogged past the ‘NO TRESPASSING’ sign and up the short gravel drive to the quarry. She paused to examine the area in the last twilight of the dying day. There were a few dump trucks and bulldozers scattered around, in addition to a few other heavy vehicles she couldn’t name.
Her boots crunched on the gravel as she wandered between the yellow giants. Ahead, she could see the scarred and ravaged hillside which was slowly being devoured to supply construction materials to the corporations of Lawndale. Jane sighed and felt a moment of sympathy for the eco-activists she saw on the news from time to time.
She started walking towards the cliff face, searching the ground for meteorite pieces. About halfway across the stony clearing she had a sudden dizzy spell and stumbled, almost falling.
“Whoa,” she muttered, rubbing the sides of her head. “I hope I’m not coming down with something.”
She rubbed her eyes and glanced around, and saw what must be one of the meteorite chunks a few feet away. It reminded her of the day Ms. Barch had brought those special rocks to class. The ones that looked dull on the outside, but were full of sparkling crystals.
The meteorite chunk looked about the same, but the crystals were all a dull green color. Jane walked over to the extraterrestrial stone and her vertigo got worse. She lost her balance and collapsed to the ground, her face inches from the crystal shards.
“Full of crystals,” she muttered, losing track of her thoughts. “It’s so pretty and full of crystals.”
As everything faded to darkness, the last thing she saw was the sparkling green light reflecting off the crystals.
Quinn sat in her room and fumed. The nerve of that Jane Lane, to imply that Quinn was somehow deliberately leading on a parade of boys. She certainly hadn’t done anything to draw their attention, and it wasn’t her fault if Jane couldn’t land herself a boyfriend.
She lay down on her bed and stared at the cracks in the ceiling, thinking back to the day of that damn assembly. Maybe Jane had a point. Maybe she had drawn a little more attention than she’d originally intended to, and she certainly hadn’t done anything to dissuade her admirers.
But it felt so good to have people see her in the hall and smile, or wave. She’d never had guys be interested in making her happy before. She’d been so lonely in Highland, so lonely for so long that she’d forgotten she was alone. Now people liked her, respected her, admired her, she was popular and she had friends.
Except that her best friend was pissed as hell at her. Jane was her first real friend, and the only friend that really knew her and accepted the dark currents that flowed through her personality.
Quinn thought about the conversation she’d had with Sandi and sighed, knowing what she had to do. She got up from the bed, walked over to her desk, and picked up the phone. She dialed Jane’s number and listened to the phone ring.
“You need a ride?” Trent said when he picked up.
“No thanks,” Quinn replied, “but I’d like to talk to Jane, if she’s there.”
“Oh, hey Quinn. She isn’t here, she said she was gonna walk down to the quarry.”
“When was this?”
“About six o’clock.”
Quinn looked at the clock on her nightstand. “Dammit, Trent. It’s almost nine. She’s been there for three hours and it’s dark outside. That place is dangerous, why didn’t you go get her?”
Trent laughed. “I’m not worried about Janey. She can take care of herself.”
Quinn scowled into the phone and then slammed it down. She dropped into her chair and jerked her boots on. Trent may have no concern for his sister, but Quinn wasn’t about to sit around and let something bad happen to her friend. If you don’t take care of the people close to you, they leave. That was a lesson Quinn had learned all too well.
Quinn jogged down the stairs and immediately noticed that all the lights were off. “Amy?” she yelled. There was no answer.
She walked through the dark living room and into the kitchen. When she flipped on the lights, she saw a yellow legal pad sitting in the center of the kitchen table. She walked over to read the note written on it.
Got called in to the hospital, should be home a little after midnight. Hope your newspaper thing went well. Hotdog stuff in the ‘fridge.
LEAVE ME TWO HOTDOGS OR SUFFER!
Quinn glared at the pad with irritation. Of all the nights for Amy to get called in to work, it had to be a night that Quinn really needed the car. She could walk over and try to get Trent to give her a ride to the quarry, but if she couldn’t convince him then she’d just be wasting time.
She grabbed the pencil on the table and added ‘A- Gone to quarry with Jane. Should be home before you are, but leaving a note just in case. love -Q’ underneath her aunt’s note. She dropped the pencil back onto the table and headed for the front door.
It took Quinn longer than she thought it would to walk out to the old quarry, and her feet were aching by the time she arrived. She was surprised at all the heavy moving equipment scattered around, since Jane had mentioned once that the quarry had been shut down a long time ago.
She pulled a flashlight out of her jacket pocket and shined it around. “Jane?” she called out, hating the nervous quiver in her voice.
Her boots crunched loudly on the gravel as she wandered around searching. She shined her light under all the big vehicles and into the cabs but didn’t see anyone. Quinn was starting to halfway expect Jane to lunge out from behind something and scare the life out of her. In a way, she was hoping for it because then she’d know Jane was alright. At least, she’d be alright until Quinn brained her with the flashlight.
Quinn walked out of the cluster of vehicles and waved her light across the broken stone field leading up to the quarry’s cliff face. The light was reflected back by dozens and dozens of green crystals, scattered all over the area. Quinn’s light came to rest on a dark lump near one of the clumps of crystal. The lump seemed to be Jane shaped, and Quinn ran over to check.
Jane was unconscious, and her face was dark and sticky from a bloody nose. Quinn rolled her over onto her back and checked her pulse. She found it, but it was weak and thready. The light reflecting off the crystals gave Jane’s face and hands the same ugly green color she’d had the day she passed out in the hall at school.
“Jane?” Quinn said, lightly slapping Jane’s face. Jane muttered something but didn’t wake up.
Quinn lightly ran her fingers through Jane’s hair and down the back of her neck, checking for injuries. When she didn’t find any, she stood and grabbed her friend under the armpits and lifted. The plan was to drag her back to the main road and flag down a passing car. Jane was a skinny girl, but dragging any amount of dead weight is hard work and Quinn wasn’t in the best physical shape. She got Jane into the lee of the nearest dump truck and collapsed with exhaustion, panting and covered with sweat.
Quinn leaned against one of the huge tires and tried to gather her strength for a second stint of pulling. She had only been sitting for a few minutes when she heard Jane groan and try to sit up.
“Jane, are you alright?”
Jane glanced around, confused and disoriented. Everything was black and she couldn’t tell what direction the voice had come from. “Quinn, is that you?”
This time Jane was able to follow the sound of the voice, and saw a nearby shadowy lump that was probably Quinn. She tried to focus her eyes to see better and nothing happened. That frightened her.
“Quinn, what’s wrong with me? I can’t see.”
“It’s dark,” Quinn answered, and then flicked on her flashlight. “Is that better?”
“Not really,” Jane said. Maybe it was just because she’d gotten sick. Maybe her cool new sensory abilities were just screwed up by her pounding headache.
“Your nose was bleeding. I guess you tripped and hit your head or something.”
“What made you decide to come out here?” Quinn asked, and then added guiltily, “Was it because of the argument we had?”
“No, I wanted to check out some meteor fragments that landed out here when I was a kid.”
“Oh. Those green crystals?”
“Want me to walk back out there and grab you a couple?”
Jane was on the point of saying yes when a thought occurred to her. She’d gotten really sick twice in the last couple of weeks. The first time had been when Sandi was waving that emerald necklace at her, and then tonight. What if Sandi’s necklace wasn’t emerald after all? What if it was the crystals that were making her sick? It was a big leap of logic, but if they came from the same place she did then maybe she was more vulnerable to their radiation than humans were.
“Nah, I don’t feel up to geology anymore. Thanks anyway.”
“Ok. Do you think you can walk? I don’t think I could drag you much farther.”
“Not yet.” Jane sighed and tried to sit up again. Quinn grabbed her by one arm and pulled her up, giving Jane one side of the big tire she was already leaning against.
“Thanks.” Jane tried to look at Quinn’s face, but she’d turned the flashlight back off and the moon was on the other side of the truck. “Quinn, I kinda need to make a confession.”
“I found out what happened to your parents. I read about it at the library today.” Jane waited for Quinn to answer, but the younger girl said nothing. After a moment, Jane continued. “You’re probably mad at me. I’m sorry, I know I shouldn’t have snooped into it.”
Again, Jane waited for Quinn to say something. She could hear the younger girl breathing, and then one very quiet sob. Jane tried to put an arm around Quinn’s shoulders, but she stood abruptly and started to walk away.
“Quinn, please don’t go!” Jane said. “I’m sorry, I’m really sorry. I didn’t think it would be so bad, I was wrong.” Jane heard Quinn’s boots returning across the gravel.
“I trusted you,” Quinn said angrily.
“I won’t tell anybody, I swear.”
“I was four years old when it happened.” Quinn’s voice floated through the darkness, flat and emotionless. “I don’t remember anything else about my early childhood, but I remember that night very clearly. It sticks out in your mind, you know? Having the police bring your big sister home, still covered in your Mommy and Daddy’s blood.”
“Oh, God. Quinn.”
Quinn made a derisive noise. “Don’t have sympathy for me, think about how it must have been for her.”
Jane bit her lip and said nothing.
“We went to live with our Aunt Amy in Texas, and things slowly started to get better,” Quinn continued, her voice growing more bitter. “Then I lost my sister, too.”
“When she moved to Japan?”
“She said she had to, that she had to keep a promise. Daria never breaks a promise. Never.”
“Quinn, I’m sorry.”
“You’d have found out eventually anyway. After all, it’s right there in the library for anybody to read.”
“I’m an orphan, too.” Jane said quietly.
“Your parents being out of the country all the time doesn’t make you an orphan,” Quinn snapped.
“Vincent and Amanda Lane aren’t my parents. Trent told me just before school started.”
Quinn sat back down, leaning against her side of the tire again. “Where are your real parents?”
“I don’t know.” Jane pulled her legs up and rested her chin on her knees. “But I’m pretty sure they’re dead.”
The girls sat in the silence of shared misery for a long time, until the quiet was interrupted by a car engine. Headlights slashed through the darkness, then faded away as the car engine died. A car door opened and closed.
“Quinn?” a woman called out. “Jane?”
“Ah, crap. I’m grounded for life,” Quinn muttered.
“Amy.” Quinn stood and helped Jane to her feet. “Over here, Amy.” she yelled.
Tom and Sandi parked in the lot next to the building he worked in and went inside. They took the elevator to his floor, then walked down the hall to the office of Griffin and Rowe, CPA and Tax Law. Her father unlocked the door and motioned her inside.
Sandi glanced around the tastefully decorated waiting room and saw that her father’s partner was already waiting for them. Cindy Rowe, Stacy’s mother, was short and athletically trim with a mass of curly brown hair. She was dressed casually today, wearing slacks and a blouse.
“Hi, Sandi.” she said with a smile.
“Hello, Mrs. Rowe.” Sandi answered, trying to match the smile and not quite getting there.
“Cindy,” Tom said, locking the door behind him. “Alexandra will be sitting in on the meeting today, can you grab an extra chair?”
“Do you think that’s wise?”
“I do. Please put the extra chair to my right.” He turned his cold smile towards Cindy. “Symbolic, don’t you think?”
“If you say so, Tom.” Cindy replied, walking towards the offices in the back. “Some of them aren’t going to like it.”
Sandi followed her father into the back, to a conference room beyond the spartan office space he shared with Cindy. The conference room was occupied by half a dozen middle-aged men, most of whom were sipping drinks while they waited.
“I was becoming concerned, Mr. Griffin.” one of the men said. “Who is the lovely young lady?”
“I’m sure you were, Angier.” Tom answered dryly. “And as you well know, the lovely young lady is my eldest child. Her name is Alexandra, but you’ll call her Miss Griffin. Do you understand me?”
“Yes,” the man replied, his eyes glittering with anger.
“I see that you do understand, good.” Tom turned away and walked to the head of the table.
“Your father has the most amazing set of iron testicles.”
Sandi jumped and turned to look at the man who had spoken. He was older than the other men in the room, with steel grey hair and a deeply lined face. He looked dangerous though, as if old age had yet to rob him of his strength and vigor. Even though he was probably old enough to be her grandfather, Sandi felt the tidal pull of the man’s charisma.
“Jim, I’ll thank you not to corrupt my daughter quite yet,” Tom called from his seat. “Ladies, gentlemen, please be seated so that we may call this meeting to order.”
Sandi took the seat at her father’s right hand and watched as the men in the room found their seats. Cindy spent a minute standing by a side table and fiddling with something that looked like a stereo, and then took her seat opposite Sandi.
“Any old business, Mrs. Rowe?” Tom asked.
“Excellent, on to new business.”
Sandi sat through the meeting with a feeling of shock and confusion. These people were criminals, and her father was their leader. Her father was an organized crime boss, using his accounting office as a front. The meeting sounded like a regular business meeting, except instead of being about stock prices and potential investments it was about drug dealing, gun smuggling, prostitution, and other illegal activities.
The longer she sat and listened the less shocking the activities sounded but the more surreal the situation became. Her first reaction was to call the police, to report everything she was hearing. Then she realized that some of the most important and influential businessmen in Lawndale were in this room. There was no way the police would believe a sixteen year old girl over them.
Plus, the leader of the group was her dad. Now she understood why her mom was able to quit her job as a news anchor, why Sandi and her brothers always had anything they wanted handed to them on a silver platter. The more she thought about it, the more she liked the idea of being a mafia princess. She wondered if Stacy knew what her mother’s real job was, and doubted it.
Before she knew it, the meeting was breaking up and she was following her father back out to the car.
“So,” he said as they were buckling their seatbelts, “now do you understand?”
“Yeah, I think so.” Sandi looked thoughtful. “I feel like there’s this whole part of my life that I never knew anything about.”
“Does it scare you?” Tom asked, starting the car.
Sandi thought for a moment before answering. “No,” she stared out the window, watching the buildings glide past, “some of those people didn’t seem to like me very much, though.”
“You mean Angier Sloane.”
“He had this idea that he was going to replace me someday.” Tom smirked. “By bringing you in, I’ve pretty much dashed his hopes.”
“This is crime. What if he kills you?” Sandi swallowed. “What if he kills me?”
“He hasn’t got the guts for it. Even if he did, he knows that Jim would kill him before his ass ever reached my chair.”
“The old guy? He seemed nice.”
“He does seem nice, doesn’t he?” Tom smiled fondly at his daughter. “He isn’t, but that’s another thing. You want to stop for a bite to eat while we’re out? I skipped dinner.”
“Sure, Daddy.” Sandi settled back in her seat and watched the cars go by in the other lane. She saw a red, older model Lexus zip by them; the driver obviously in a hurry. They went by too fast to tell for sure, but Sandi thought that the passenger looked a lot like Quinn Morgendorffer.
“I really appreciate the lift home, Ms. Barksdale.” Jane said from the backseat.
“It’s no problem, Jane.” Amy replied. “But I’d really like to take you to the hospital and have you checked out.”
“I feel fine, now.” Jane said with a shrug. She did feel fine, and she felt better every minute. She had been testing her senses by listening to the individual valves opening and closing in the engine of Amy’s car, until she’d been distracted by seeing Sandi and her dad drive by in the other direction.
“You’re passing out and having nose bleeds,” Amy said sternly. “That is in no way fine. But, I can’t make you go if you don’t want to.”
“Thanks, Ms. Barksdale. I’m sure it’s just an allergic reaction.”
Amy sighed and then said, “Well, at least call me Amy. Ok?”
“Sure, Amy.” Jane smiled. “You know, I think you may want to drop some fuel system cleaner in this thing, one of the valves sounds a little clogged.”
“Amy, watch out!” Quinn screamed, pointing at the red jeep headed towards them. It was weaving dangerously back and forth across the center line and moving well above the speed limit.
“Shit!” Amy yelled, trying to dodge the oncoming vehicle. She managed to evade the jeep, but lost control of the car in the process. The red sedan swapped end for end twice, and then slid off the road and struck a tree with a sick crunch.
Jane tried to clear her head and shake off the vertigo and nausea induced by experiencing the accident with her senses enhanced. Her vision cleared, and she found herself in the back floorboard, wedged in behind Quinn’s seat. She could see Amy slumped over in her seat, unconscious and being held up by her seat belt. Jane struggled upright and turned to check on Quinn.
Her best friend was leaning against the car door, her face covered with a mask of bright red blood. Her hair was matted down in the sticky fluid, which seemed to be coming from an injury on her scalp. Jane glanced from the blood spattered star on the windshield to Quinn’s unbuckled seat belt and cursed venomously under her breath.
Jane grabbed the handle of her door and tried to push it open, but it refused to budge. Gritting her teeth, she put her shoulder into the stubborn door and it gave way with a metallic screech. As she stepped out of the car, the door came completely free from the car and Jane tossed it aside. She tried to open Quinn’s door and the handle popped loose in her hand. With a frustrated growl she dug one hand into the socket, grabbed a hold, and pulled. With a second metallic shriek, this door came free also and Jane dropped it to the ground next to the first.
The scenery blurred slightly as Jane dropped to her knees and caught Quinn before she could topple out of the car. Carefully, Jane lifted her friend back into the seat and tried to find the source of all the bleeding.
“Don’t,” Amy muttered, her voice weak. “Don’t move her. Might have neck injuries, back injuries.”
“She’s bleeding all over the place,” Jane answered, nearly in a panic.
“Scalp wound. Maybe concussion.” Amy focused a little more and tears started down her cheeks. “Oh, God. Quinn.”
“I don’t know what to do,” Jane said, feeling her own eyes beginning to tear up.
“Right.” Jane fumbled her phone out of her pocket and dialed the emergency number. When the operator answered, Jane quickly told him where the car was wrecked and that one of the passengers was seriously injured. The operator told her that he was sending an ambulance and Jane snapped her phone closed. She looked up, and saw Amy was still staring at Quinn and crying.
“Can’t we do something?” Jane asked.
“I don’t have the equipment to deal with a head injury,” Amy said quietly. “Even if I did I wouldn’t trust myself to treat her, since I don’t know if I have any injuries myself.”
Jane took one of Quinn’s hands and found it like ice. “She’s really cold.”
“Wrap your jacket around her. She’s going into shock.”
Jane quickly pulled off her jacket and tucked it around Quinn. She knelt back down and waited, wondering what she should do next.
“I promised I’d look after her,” Amy murmured. “Daria is going to kill me.”
“I don’t think anybody can blame you for a car wreck,” Jane said. “Especially when it was the fault of that idiot in the jeep.”
The sound of a siren could be heard in the distance, getting louder as it came closer.
“Just hang on,” Jane said, hoping Quinn could hear her. “They’re almost here.”
A few minutes later, the ambulance pulled up and the driver killed the siren. A pair of police cruisers showed up a few seconds later. The paramedics pulled Amy and Quinn out of the vehicle, the macabre scene illuminated by the red and blue strobes on the emergency vehicles.
“What happened, Miss?” a police woman asked Jane.
“There was a jeep, it was all over the road,” she answered, watching the paramedics work. “Hey,” she shouted, “I need to go with you, I need to keep an eye on my friends.”
“I’ll drive you to the hospital,” the officer said. “Just as soon as I get all the information from you. I promise.”
“Thanks.” Jane ran her hands through her dark hair, unknowingly smearing herself with Quinn’s blood. “I’m Jane, by the way. Jane Lane.” She stuck one hand out to shake with the cop.
“Officer Montoya,” she answered, looking at Jane’s hand dubiously. She reached into her patrol car and pulled out a canister of hand-wipes. “Here you go, Ms. Lane.”
Jane looked at the wipes quizzically, then at her own hands. With a sigh, she took the canister and began cleaning herself up.
“Thanks,” she said, handing the canister back.
“You’re welcome,” the officer answered. She nodded slightly and tossed the wipes back into her car.
Jane smiled a little, but the expression faltered as the ambulance driver cut the sirens back on and quickly pulled away from the scene of the accident.
“Tell me what happened, Ms. Lane.”
“We were driving, they were going to drop me off at my house on their way home. There was a red jeep, going really fast and weaving all over the road. Amy tried to dodge him and lost control of the car. After that, everything is a blur.”
Officer Montoya nodded, taking notes as Jane spoke. “What happened to these doors?” she asked. “Looks like they got wrenched off the frame after the accident.”
“Uh, yeah.” Jane said, thinking quickly. “I did that. I saw how bad Quinn was hurt and panicked. Must have had a pure adrenaline surge.”
“Ok.” Montoya said, looking at Jane dubiously. She tucked her notepad back into her pocket. “That’ll do for now, so lets get you to the hospital. I’ll want a lot more details later, ok?”
Jane sat and waited patiently while Montoya called in the description of the jeep. Afterwards, the drive to the hospital was quiet and Jane was thankful for that. She had a whole lot of things to think about, not the least of which was the survival of her new best friend.
Sandi lay back on her bed and was warm and content. She felt like she was the luckiest girl in the whole world. A closet full of beautiful clothes, a great car, and a group of good friends she could count on. Her stomach was comfortably full of the Chez Pierre dinner she had shared with her father, a celebration of her induction into the organized crime syndicate of Lawndale.
Really, most of her father’s operations were in nearby Gotham City, but Lawndale was a nice little suburb and made for great camouflage. Sandi smiled to herself, still delighted with the idea of being a mafia princess. Her former fears had faded, and her thoughts of going to the authorities were forgotten. This, she knew, was the very golden door-knocker of opportunity.
She reached over and grabbed her phone off the nightstand. She knew she’d have to be careful what she said, but as a teenage girl she had to gossip . . . there was a rule. She dialed Jane’s number from memory and waited while the phone rang.
“Hello?” The voice was male, and sounded a little defensive.
“Trent? This is Sandi Griffin. Is Jane around?”
“Oh, hey Sandi,” Trent answered. “You’re not gonna yell at me too, are you?”
“No, why would I?”
“Oh, Quinn got real mad earlier because Jane wasn’t here.”
“Jane isn’t home?”
“Nah, she went down to the quarry. She’s still not home, so I guess Quinn went and got her.”
“Ok, cool. Thanks, Trent.” Sandi started to say goodbye, but then reconsidered. “It’s really nice to talk to you again.”
“Yeah, you too. Oh, one more thing.”
“Don’t hurt my sister again. Understand?”
Sandi pulled the phone away from her ear and looked at it in shock. Returning it to the side of her head she said, “Trent, I didn’t mean to. It wasn’t my fault.”
“Yeah. Talk to you later.” Trent hung up the phone.
Sandi sighed and tried Quinn’s house. The phone rang several times, until it was picked up by an answering machine.
“Hi!” said the woman’s voice on the recording. “You’ve reached Barksdale and Morgendorffer, Private Investigators. We’re on a stake out right now, so leave a message and we’ll get back to you right after the car chase. Ciao.”
“This is Sandi, I was calling for Quinn. I guess I can talk to her at school Monday. Um . . . good luck with the car chase. Bye.”
Sandi hung up and looked at the phone wryly. Currently batting zero for two, she dialed again and listened to the phone ring on the other end. After a moment, it was picked up.
“Hello?” a woman said.
“Hi, Mrs. Rowe,” Sandi said, “this is Sandi.”
“Oh, hi!” Cindy answered. “You want to talk to Stacy?”
“Yeah, but I need to ask you something first.”
“Sure thing, hon.”
“Does she know?”
“No, and I’d appreciate it if you kept it that way.” Cindy sighed quietly. “She’s a good girl, Alexandra. She’d hate me if she knew.”
“Ok, I won’t tell her anything. Can you put her on?”
“Stacy!” Cindy shouted, after pulling the phone away from her face. “Phone, sweetie. It’s your friend Sandi.”
“Sandi?” Stacy said, picking up the extension in her bedroom. Sandi heard the line click as Cindy hung up.
“Sandi, why are you calling so late? Is everything ok?” Stacy paused a moment, her voice trembling slightly. “Did I mess something up today?”
“No, of course not. I just had a really great evening and I needed to talk to somebody about it.”
“Oh!” Stacy said. “Well, what happened?”
“Well, my parents agreed to start treating me more like an adult. I get a bigger allowance and they even agreed to get off my back about being friends with Jane.”
“That’s great!” Stacy said, then suddenly sounded upset. “You’re still going to hang out with me and Tiffany, right?”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“Well, I know that your dad was making you do it before. You, uh, you never would have picked us as friends otherwise, Sandi.”
“I probably wouldn’t have,” Sandi answered with a sigh, “and I’d have been missing out. You and Tiffany are really good friends, Stacy.”
“Yeah, and I think that Jane and Quinn are going to fit in ok with the Fashion Club, even if they really aren’t member-grade material.”
“I hope so,” Stacy said wistfully. “They’re both smart and cool. Hey, did they have a fight today after the meeting?”
“Oh, I think it was just a little argument.”
“Oh, ok.” Stacy said. “Oh, I was going to ask you . . . what, Mom?”
Sandi sat on her bed and tried to hear what Cindy was saying to Stacy, but she couldn’t quite make it out.
“Yeah,” Stacy was saying. “I know a girl named Quinn, she’s in my classes at school. She’s what?”
Sandi’s heart jumped into her throat when she heard the words ‘accident’ and ‘hospital.’
“Oh, God.” Stacy said, nearing hysteria. “Sandi! Mom said that she saw it on the news! There was a car wreck, and Quinn is in the hospital! Sandi? Sandi!?”
Stacy looked at her phone in shock as the line went dead.