A Stranger in Lawndale
a multi-part story by Belle Book

Chapter Four: Danger Zone

Two days later --

Ms. Li couldn't believe what she was hearing. After all her years of hard work making the school as safe as she possibly could, this was the thanks Superintendent Cartwright was going to give her!

"But you can't just fire me! I've done so much for Laaawndale High!" Ms. Li protested.

"That's what I thought too," said Superintendent Cartwright. "That's the only reason we've kept you here since 1987, in fact. But when I saw what happened at Lawndale with Ultra Cola (1), my eyes were opened. I then talked to various people around Lawndale such as history teacher Anthony DeMartino and Mrs. Helen Morgendoffer, and what I learned wasn't pretty. Although it's a good idea to be concerned with security, you might be going overboard on it. Worse yet, it seems you're more concerned about personal aggrandizement and school image than with the welfare of your students. What we heard from Mrs. Morgendoffer about how you had a poster made by her daughter and a friend of hers altered against their will and entered in the school art contest without their consent, forcing them to deface their property (2), sealed the deal. As a result, everyone on the board agreed that we should look for a new principal after the school year was over. We decided to wait that long in order to minimize the turmoil for the teachers and students which will come from having to adjust to a new principal."

Ms. Li saw her whole life crumbling around her. Before she became a high-school principal, she once worked for the CIA, in their Counter-intelligence section. She went into that line of work after it became painfully clear in high school that she didn't have the natural talent to be a star ballerina. She had to find some other line of work, and while she was wondering what she should do, she came across an fictional book dealing with the exploits of a world-class spy in the high school library. She was hooked on an espionage career after that and once she graduated from high school and college she went to work for the CIA. She worked there until 1987, shortly after the President at that time and the leader of the then-Soviet Union began a policy of thawed relations between both countries. She became so disillusioned that she left the CIA and moved to Lawndale to become a high-school principal. This was because while she was still in the CIA, she had a boyfriend for a few months until her focus on counter-intelligence caused him to dump her, claiming that she was actually obsessed with it. Shortly afterwards, she learned that she was pregnant. She couldn't keep a child while she was so focused on her duty, so she gave the girl up for adoption right after birth. However, she kept in touch with the adoptive parents -- the Blum-Decklers, who lived in Lawndale. She wanted to keep an eye on her daughter since she no longer had a career in the CIA, hence the move.

She had been a good principal -- hadn't she? She just wanted to keep the students safe, hence the purchase of so many surveillance instruments. Also, she believed that sports were better for the school than academics because careers in sports paid a lot more money -- especially in the pros, thus she focused secondarily on sports. And now it was all taken away from her. Thanks to Helen Morgendoffer -- and her daughter Daria, no doubt.

"Please, Superintendent Cartwright," Ms. Li almost pleaded. "Give me another chance."

"I've given you enough chances, Angela," Cartwright said, having the gall to look almost sad as he said it. "It's time for you to move on. I'm sorry."

Numbly Ms. Li got up and allowed Cartwright's secretary to escort her out. But there was only one thing on Ms. Li's mind now: payback for what Daria and Helen Morgendoffer had done to her.

She'd make them pay. One way or another, she'd make them pay.

It was lunch time, which meant it was pizza time. And Jane Lane was sure her best friend, Daria Morgendoffer, was looking forward to it. Or at least, she thought Daria would be looking forward to it. But Daria was picking at her pizza slice a little.

"Thinking about how many days it'll be before you head out to have a vacation with Tom and a bunch of other teens whom you've never seen before and may never see again? (3)" Jane asked. She suspected Daria was thinking about having to go away for a few weeks on a Reality TV game show and figure out who was the Mole, the saboteur in the game. Daria wasn't too happy about having been tricked into applying.

"I wish that was all I was thinking of," Daria admitted. "But no, yesterday Quinn came back from her shopping trip with the rest of the Fashion Fiends. And she told me that her friend Stacy got a boyfriend -- and the boyfriend seems to be a total hottie."

"And this total hottie isn't dating Quinn?" asked Jane. "The girl guys fall over themselves to impress? Is the world coming to an end?"

"That's what I thought -- until Quinn started talking about how the guy looked," Daria explained. "Then I became worried."

"What's so worrisome about the look of a total hottie?" asked Jane.

"How about coppery red hair and golden brown eyes?" asked Daria. "Does that sound familiar to you?"

Jane frowned for a moment, and then remembered. Her brother Trent, his infatuation with a girl named Rachel, her hair which Trent described as a copper river, her golden brown eyes, and Trent's sickness which began after Rachel became his lover as well as his girlfriend. And Daria's discovery (with the aid of Andrea, who apparently was an empath) that Rachel wasn't even human but was a kitsune, a fox that could shapeshift into human form. (4)

"That can't be Rachel," Jane whispered. "Why would she take a male form?"

"It probably isn't Rachel," Daria agreed. "But it's probably another kitsune. I don't know if I should try to help Stacy or not. She's not a friend of mine but she's not a total bitch like Sandi or totally vacuous like Tiffany and she's Quinn's friend. Besides, I failed to save Casey Adams from Rachel (5), so I could make up for my failure by saving Stacy from another kitsune."

"Assuming that the kitsune in question is like Rachel and isn't simply interested in Stacy," Jane said. "We don't know -- Andrea told you that the motives of kitsune vary. For all we know, he could genuinely be in love with Stacy."

"Yeah, I suppose that might be the case," said Daria but she didn't seem entirely convinced. Jane couldn't blame her. Daria had been the one who was hostile to Rachel from the beginning. At first, Jane simply assumed it was just jealousy of Rachel and Trent's infatuation with her, but it wasn't the case -- or at least not solely the case -- at all.

"Do you know the name of the guy?" asked Jane. "Just in case we have to sic some dogs on another kitsune."

"As a matter of fact, Quinn told me," Daria said. "He's named Derek Powell. Apparently he arrived here only a couple of days ago --"

At that point, they heard the door of Pizza Place (it had changed its name from Pizza King in Daria's senior year) open. Then they heard Stacy's voice say, "Thanks for taking me out for some pizza, Derek!" Obviously Stacy and her new boyfriend had just arrived. Since Jane was facing the front door, she moved over to get a look at the couple -- and her hormones went into overdrive.

Stacy was leaning on the arm of the most gorgeous guy Jane had ever seen. He was tall and slim, with very red hair which the light in the pizzeria shone on, revealing golden highlights. He was wearing an royal blue short-sleeved shirt which revealed lightly-muscled arms, and green pants. His face had a pleasing oval shape to it, a very fair complexion with a hint of an ivory sheen at his cheekbones, a slightly upturned nose and finally a finely-drawn, warm-looking mouth. But the most arresting thing about him was his eyes. They were golden brown and really attractive, although they were focused on Stacy. Despite what Daria had said about the guy, Jane smirked appreciatively at the sight of him.

The young man then spoke to Stacy. "You're welcome, Stacy," he said in a warm, melodic voice which was especially intriguing to Jane. This guy seemed perfect -- except that he might be a kitsune in human form.

"I take it the presumed kitsune has arrived," Jane heard Daria say. "And I heard Stacy with him. Obviously he hasn't drained her of her energy -- yet."

Jane took a good look at Stacy. She had a lovely glow on her face, different from the glow in Trent after meeting Rachel but still obvious. However, she wasn't as obviously animated as Trent. Then again, it was so rare for Trent to be awake enough to be animated that any sign of animation would be noticeable. And there was no sign that she was exhausted, unlike Trent after the night at the Zon.

"It looks like Derek hasn't done anything to hurt Stacy," said Jane. "There's no sign that she's exhausted. There's just a lovely glow on her face. That's all." Then she remembered something -- something that her brother told her when he came back a couple of days ago from his practice session at the Zon. "I just remembered something!" she told Daria. "Trent told me he picked up a young man by the same name as Stacy's boyfriend a couple of days ago, when he was driving to the Zon for a practice session with Mystik Spiral -- near the Hargrove's Woods apartment complex. The young man was new in town and needed a ride to the bank and then to an auto dealer to pay for a new car. This is probably the same guy!"

"Hmm," said Daria, thoughtfully. "It sure seems like he's planning on staying here for awhile. Certainly longer than Rachel did."

At that point, they hear Derek placing an order for a pan pizza -- and reassuring Stacy that she can take the cheese off of her slices if she so wished. Jane and Daria peeked out from behind their booth and saw Derek and Stacy take their pizza to a booth on the other side of the pizzeria.

"Let's go over there," Daria whispered to Jane. "I think we need to make sure that this guy really is a kitsune. If he is, you distract him while I warn Stacy. Or maybe you should talk to Stacy while I try to figure out what this young man's up to."

"Okay," said Jane, smirking. "Besides, it would be cool to see Stacy's reaction when he's talking to one of us."

With that, she stood up and followed Daria to the other side of the pizzeria, where Derek and Stacy had gotten into a booth and were beginning to eat their pizza.

Daria didn't quite know what to do. Quinn's description of Derek reminded her so much of Rachel's appearance, both when Trent first described her in his song and then when she actually saw Rachel before going to the Zon. And Rachel's intention was to seduce Trent and drain him of his energy, which led to Daria's desperate effort to save Trent by leading Upchuck (and the hunting dogs) to Jane's place so as to force Rachel to revert to her normal form and thus save Trent. It was quite possible that Derek had a similar motive.

On the other hand, she really hadn't gotten a good look at Derek's eyes. She'd gotten a pretty good look at Derek's hair as he walked with Stacy to their booth. Although his hair was clearly shorter than Rachel's, it too seemed a little more red than normal coppery red hair would look on someone, and the highlights were also more golden. What's more, just like Rachel, Derek's hair was a little too red -- although it wasn't dyed either. Guys didn't dye their hair as much as girls; besides from what Daria saw, the color went all the way down to the roots and the highlights shimmered too much for his hair to be dyed. But although she had seen that Derek's eyes were the same shade as Rachel's, she couldn't tell if his eyes had round pupils or if they were more elliptical -- or if they dimly reflected any light that shone into them.

The only way she could find out was to approach Derek. And if the evidence revealed that he was a kitsune -- well, then she'd have to figure out if she should warn Stacy right away or try to figure out what Derek was up to first before warning Stacy.

So Daria headed over to the other side of Pizza Place, followed by Jane. As they approached, they heard Stacy talking to Derek.

"Tomorrow's our first rehearsal," Stacy said. "I'm really excited about it!"

"So am I," Derek replied. "I'll be having quite a bit of fun playing Berowne -- especially when he's chiding the King and his fellow lords over betraying their oath when he himself betrayed it as well." He chuckled at that.

By this time, Daria and Jane had reached the booth were Stacy and Derek were sititng. Stacy was eating a slice of pizza with the cheese taken off. Another slice was nearby, with the cheese on it. Derek was eating a slice of pizza, also with the cheese on it.

"And where exactly are you two playing?" asked Daria. "It can't be in Cashman's."

Derek and Stacy looked up in surprise. Then Stacy spoke. "Oh! Daria Morgendoffer! I didn't realize you were here!"

"Obviously not," said Daria. "Jane's here as well."

"I figured," said Stacy. Then she turned to Derek. "Derek, this is Quinn's sister, Daria Morgendoffer and her best friend, Jane Lane," Stacy said. "Daria, Jane, this is my new boyfriend, Derek Powell."

Derek stood up -- and despite Daria's suspicions, her eyes widened and she had to fight back the surge of hormones as he smiled down at first her, then Jane. Then he held out his hand. "I'm pleased to meet you both," he said warmly.

Jane shook his hand first. And then it was Daria's turn. She looked at Derek's eyes as she extended her hand out. And she got a good look at the pupils. They didn't seem to reflect any light, perhaps because no light was shining into them. But they weren't round. They were elliptical.

As she gingerly shook his hand, Daria knew. Derek was a kitsune. Now she had to figure out what to do next.

"Don't be afraid Daria," Derek said, smiling in a seemingly kindly way. Or was it really kindly? "I won't hurt you or your friend."

Before Daria could respond to that comment, she suddenly heard the door slam open. Pulling her hand out of Derek's and turning, she saw Ms. Li standing in the doorway. But the instant she saw Ms. Li, she got a bad feeling that something was seriously wrong. She'd never seen Ms. Li outside of school, and as far as she knew, Ms. Li never frequented a pizzeria.

"Something's wrong," she heard Derek whisper behind her. She turned, and saw Derek looking straight at Ms. Li, his golden-brown eyes intently fixed on the principal. "Whoever she is, she's got an odd look in her eyes."

"That's Ms. Li, the principal of Lawndale High," Daria said before turning back. Derek was right. Ms. Li did have an odd look in her eyes. And what was that bulge underneath the suit part of her pantsuit? Was that --?

Suddenly, she saw something out of the corner of her eye. She turned. Derek had stepped between her and Jane. Daria looked back at Ms. Li and noticed that the older woman had seen them. Ms. Li smiled -- and a chill went up and down Daria's spine. As she reached towards the bulge --

"A gun!" Derek suddenly cried out -- and suddenly he was right in front of her and Jane. "Get down, everyone!" he called out. "I'll deal with this!"

Before Daria could react, Jane pulled her down onto the ground, and there they lay. Thanks to years of developing a poker face, she showed no reaction, although inside she was really scared. Why did Ms. Li bring a gun into Pizza Place? And why did she smile the way she did when she saw Daria, Jane and Derek? It can't have been in reaction to Derek -- she doubted the principal even knew the guy. No, it had to be a reaction to seeing her and Jane. Was Ms. Li actually planning on shooting them?

Daria didn't know. But she was afraid that might be the case. And if that was the case, she had to depend on a kitsune to save them. Great! The story of my life! she thought.

The instant Derek had seen Ms. Li, his instincts told him something was very wrong. First, there was the fact that there was something really wrong with her smell. Even though he was in human form, Derek's senses were far keener than a human's, and he detected something dangerous in the smell coming from Ms. Li.

The second thing he noticed was an odd look in her eyes. It was more than just anger; he somehow knew it. It was more like -- a desire for revenge. And then he thought he saw something underneath her pantsuit. He moved forward to get a better look at it, thus attracting Ms. Li's attention. When she smiled at Daria and Jane, Derek realized that his intuition about the look in her eyes had been right. Ms. Li did want revenge -- against Daria and Jane. And then, he realized what the bulge underneath her pantsuit was: a gun.

Derek reacted totally on instinct, yelling for everyone to get down and saying that he'd deal with her. And he was going to have to deal with Ms. Li -- but not unless everyone was safely hidden. He didn't want everyone to see what he was going to do. He was going to use his hypnotic powers to take control of Ms. Li's mind and convince her that she'd gone to the wrong place. And then he'd have to send her somewhere else -- like the police station. Luckily, he'd learned the address for the police station, so he could plant the address in her mind while convincing her it was the address for Pizza Place and send her there.

Glancing around to make sure that everyone had gotten under a counter or a booth or on the ground, Derek then turned back and faced Ms. Li. Her gun was turned on him now, but he barely noticed. His eyes were fixed on hers, and he was concentrating on taking control of her mind and making her believe she was actually at the police station.

Ms. Li wasn't pleased with the strange young man who alerted everyone to the fact that she had a gun. Not only did he alert everyone, he stepped in front of Daria & Jane! That was the only reason she turned the gun on him. How dare he!

As she aimed the gun, she realized that his eyes were fixed on hers. She noticed that his eyes were an oddly golden brown. Suddenly, an equally odd reddish glow seemed to envelop her surroundings -- and in the center of it was the young man and his eyes.

Relax, the young man seemed to say. Relax. And as he spoke, an odd wave of warmth washed over her -- and began to fill her.

Ms. Li frowned. Something weird was really going on here. But she didn't know what -- and the strange warmth was filling her even more, tempting her to give in to the young man's hypnotic words. Hypnotic!

In that instant Ms. Li realized what was going on. But she was getting so tired, the warmth was more and more tempting, and his voice was so soothing. I should fight back, she thought. But she was losing the strength to fight back. And the more she tried to summon her strength, the more it seemed to desert her.

She didn't have the strength to fight him anymore. Her hand was so heavy. She had to lower the gun. And she did.

This isn't Pizza Place, the young man's voice said in her head. This is the police station.

Ms. Li frowned as the reddish glow faded and she saw -- a bunch of cops! She paled and began to pull away. She had to get out of here! But where could she go? Where was the real Pizza Place?

Suddenly, without any real thought, she remembered the address. Of course! That's where she needed to go! She must've forgotten the address in her anger and frustration and gone to the wrong place!

Ms. Li backed towards the door, opening it as she got there and stepping out. Once outside, she turned and ran for it.

Derek sighed in relief as Ms. Li exited out the door. He'd managed to hypnotize Ms. Li and get her out of there without any harm done to anyone there. But now he had to alert the cops so that nobody there would be hurt.

He turned to the counter. There was no sign of anyone behind it. But he heard a young male voice asking, "Is she gone?"

"Yeah, she's gone," Derek said. "But I think you'd better call the police station. I think she might be headed there, and in any case they need to lock her up."

The guy behind the counter emerged. He was a black-haired boy about 17 or thereabouts. "Thanks!" he said as he turned to the phone so he could call the police station and give them a heads-up.

As Derek turned back to see if Daria and Jane were all right, he suddenly heard the sounds of someone hyperventilating. He turned towards the source -- and his eyes widened as he realized it was coming from underneath the booth where he'd left Stacy!

"Stacy!" he cried out as he rushed to the booth and looked underneath. Stacy was curled up, her face chalk white. She was clearly hyperventilating, having a lot of trouble breathing. He had to calm her down!

"Stacy, please. Calm down," he said quietly as he got down underneath the booth and next to Stacy. "She's gone. It's all right. I'm here." He pulled Stacy into his arms and was rewarded by her holding on tight. He began stroking her back as he whispered, "Breathe deeply and slowly. Breathe ..."

He could hear Stacy trying to take deep breaths in an effort to calm down. Slowly but surely, her breathing calmed and she began to relax, much to Derek's relief. He held her gently but tightly as he whispered reassurances to her. And as he realized that he had to tell her the truth about himself now.

It's a little sooner than I planned, he thought. But if he didn't do it, Daria surely would, since he suspected she'd figured out who he was. There was no real choice. He had to tell Stacy.

As Derek headed over to Stacy, Jane got to her feet. As she helped Daria to her feet, Jane glanced over at the nearby booth. She saw Derek get down and try to calm Stacy down, even going so far as to embrace her and to stoke her back.

"Well, it looks like my suspicions are accurate, Jane," Daria said. "Derek Powell is a kitsune."

"Well, your suspicions about Derek's identity may be right, but if you're suspicious that he's using Stacy, that suspicion may not be true," Jane said.

"What?" asked Daria, her eyes widening sightly.

"Take a look," said Jane. Daria looked over at where Jane was pointing, to where Derek was soothing Stacy. She seemed to have calmed down.

"Am I seeing things or is Derek actually concerned for Stacy?" asked Daria.

"You're not seeing things," said Jane. "I think Derek really cares for Stacy. It's still a good idea to tell her that he's a kitsune, but he might not be such a bad guy after all. After all, he got rid of Ms. Li."

"I'll bet he messed with her mind somehow," said Daria. "Then again, considering what she was probably going to do to us, I'm not complaining. Which reminds me -- if she was going to shoot us, why?"

"I'll bet something happened to her that set her off," said Jane. Then she noticed Derek helping Stacy out from underneath the booth as the guy behind the counter approached them.

"Ah," said Daria. "One of Quinn's entourage. What are you doing here, Joey Jeffy or Jaime?"

"It's Joey," Joey said. "I needed some money and decided to get a summer job. I applied here and got it. I just wanted to say that I was on the phone with the police. They're prepared for Ms. Li to show up and they'll handle her. But why did she go ballistic on us like that?"

"You got me," said Jane. I figure something happened to cause her to snap, but I don't know exactly what."

"But we'll probably find out soon enough," said Daria.

Derek sat down next to Stacy, getting his slice of pizza as he did so. This was the hardest thing he'd ever had to do. Perhaps that was one reason why he hadn't wanted to tell her right away. But he had to tell her right now.

"Are you feeling better, Stacy?" he asked. Stacy looked better, but he needed to make sure.

"Yeah," Stacy said. "Thanks." She smiled warmly at him.

Derek took a deep breath before saying, "Stacy, there's something I have to tell you."

Stacy looked curiously at him. "What?" she asked.

For one brief instant, Derek felt the temptation to back out. But he pushed past it, asking, "Have you ever heard of kitsune?"

Stacy looked confused. "No," she said. "I never have. What are they?"

Derek explained, "Let me start at the beginning. The indigenous religion of Japan is called Shinto, which means The Way. Shintoism is probably the closest religion to nature worship. Everything has a spirit or kami -- even inanimate objects."

Stacy nodded. "Go on," she said.

"Among the kami are kitsune, which are foxes. If a fox lives long enough, they can become kitsune -- especially if they were born while a kitsune was in fox form. They have superior intelligence and all sorts of magical powers," Derek explained. "The most common power is the ability to shapeshift into human form. I am a kitsune, as is my sister, Rachel."

1. A reference to "Fizz Ed."
2. A reference to "Arts N Crass."
3. A reference to my earlier fanfic "Mole? Somebody Get Me a Dermatologist!"
4. A reference to Rey Fox's fanfic "Kitsune."
5. A reference to Rey Fox's fanfic "Curse of the Misery Chick."

To be continued,
Belle Book