Lawndale is chosen as a ‘testing-ground’ for a new governmental electricity-saving plan. Daria & Co. suspect that something is amiss here, and are proven horribly right.
Comment: this story is completely unrelated to another one of my fics, “Families”.
Daria (and associated characters and locations) is copyright © 1997-2000 MTV Networks. If any characters didn’t appear in the MTV’s series, they’re mine.
Jane and Daria were walking through the streets of Lawndale, towards the Dega street. “You know,” Daria said nonchalantly, “that Dega street almost acts like a magical line.”
This was said so unexpectedly, that even Jane, who by now was used to Daria’s speeches, only stared. “What are you talking about?” she asked.
“You see,” Daria said in her trademark voice and facial expression, “in many mythologies – at least the sophisticated ones – there’s some sort of a border-side line or a physical border between the worlds.”
“Okay, there’s a border between this world and the next.”
“Elaborate. Are we talking about the dead?”
“More like undead, I suppose. Remember when everybody in Lawndale High thought that we were invaded by aliens?”
“Yeah, and Mr. DeMartino got dragged-away in handcuffs. That was cool!”
Daria looked sidewise at her friend. “Maybe it’s just the fault of my parents, raising me social-wise,” she said, “but I was taught that when people are dragged away screaming in handcuffs, then things become really wrong.”
“Please. This is Lawndale, amiga, things are always wrong here.”
“I meant wrong as in Hamlet-type: ‘Something is rotten in Denmark’.”
“Oh, that old chestnut?” Jane waved her hand dismissively, “we aren’t really into this; not since the 3 Js came to a conclusion that the whole thing was staged by Horatio who was working for Fortinbras, Polonius and Laertes were trying to destroy the whole dynasty by themselves as well, and the old king died because he found-out that his wife and brother were cheating on him behind his back.”
“The 3 Js came-up with this?” Daria said incredulously.
“Yup. And they got proof, especially about the last part. Remember, how one of them wrote about Mercutio and Romeo?”
“And that’s where we cut-off this line of thought and will try to return to the roots,” Daria shook her head. “What we were talking about in the beginning, again?”
“You were comparing the Dega street to the netherworld, I believe.”
“Ah yes. That. Well, Jane, why not? There is living space on the other side of it, right?”
“Yeah. But we shouldn’t go there. People there are bad.”
“Exactly. People here are good, people there are bad. The criminal element, I presume, even though this’d be a wide shot for Lawndale.”
“People here are good and real, people there are bad and hide away from the day as if they weren’t people but ghouls, see?”
Jane blinked. “That was your point? This sucks. You're destroying my fledgling aspirations.”
Daria shrugged. “What can I say? My theory isn't perfect, anyways. See, this between-world border should have a guardian, like Cerberus or Garm. Nobody like that is evident here.”
“Hey, maybe there’s one on the other side?” Jane suggested. She now liked Daria’s theory and was unhappy with the flaws.
Daria shook her head. “Big difference. In myths, the guardian is supposed to keep the living from bothering the dead.”
“And here he keeps the dead from bothering the living?”
“You don’t know it. See, in myths, the dead are also unable to harm the living, while vice-versa isn't far out. If the guardian acts in reverse here, then the above rule also works in the reverse.”
There was a pause. “Daria, let me get this straight. Are you saying that if Dega street was some sort of a border keeping the natural separate from unnatural, supernatural, whatever, then not only it’d be guardian-less, but we’d be also open to an attack from the hostile dead?”
“Hostile dead. That’s a cool one. Maybe you should offer it to Trent as a band’s name.”
“Too much resemblance to Grateful Dead,” Jane shook her head. “As a lawyer’s daughter you should know about how easy it is to arouse the copyright hoopla.”
“Why, there were precedents in the past?”
“Not exactly,” Jane said sheepishly. “It’s just that our other siblings – under our I mean me and Trent – often got into scrapes with the law, and most unpleasant they were, too.”
“Care to share?”
“Sorry, amiga. Not till you marry my brother and become a Lane, at least through a hyphen, all of those sordid little tales will remain a Lane family secret!” Jane wiggled her eyebrows and tried her best to look ominous.
Daria just sighed in despair. “Jane, get a move-on with the program, already: “I've gotten over Trent. Besides-“
“You're a brain?”
“No, he sleeps almost all the time. I don’t like that idea; I like the idea of a man-“
“We're here! Come on, you metaphysical-“
“Hmm. Metaphorical Jane. I like the sound of that. Maybe it should be my artistic alias.”
“You need to have an artistic self in order to require an artistic alias.”
“Anyways, we’re here.”
“Oh, just here-here. We’ve got a lot of free time on our hands, you know?”
“If this is about Trent, Jane, the God help me, but I will kill you, and throw your remains to the dogs!”
“Whoa there, girl. Actually, Trent asked me to come here for some moral support, and-“
“You, realizing that with you it’ll be most likely immoral support, brought me along, so that my dowdiness would counterbalance your spunkiness?”
Jane blinked a couple of times and cleaned her ears. “Er, right,” she said. “I had something that’s a little bit more different from your version, but seeing how you’re using the long words on me, makes me understand that you’re cranky – with me, and that’s bad, ‘cause that means-“
Daria was ready to yell “Just go already!” when Trent’s voice reached their ears:
“…so, Monique, will you marry me?”
“But of course!”
For a short period of time, the two girls stood in a silent tableau. Then Jane saw Daria starting to wrap-up the sleeves of her coat while all the time looking at her look an ox at a red cloth.
Acting quickly, Jane raced-off to confront Trent.
“Trent!” she yelled, when she reached him and Monique: “why’d you call me?”
“Oh, that,” Trent said. “See, I was kind of nervous about asking Monique to marry me, so I wanted your moral support. But the guys found-out about it, and I ended not needing your support at all. Sorry.” He paused. Now if you excuse me, we got to go.”
The Mystik Spiral and the Harpies left.
Jane turned around and saw that Daria was upon her. “Look!” she hurriedly said. “This took me by surprise as much as it did you!”
Daria exhaled. “Jane, I heard it all, so I’m not angry with you anymore.”
Daria grasped her by the shoulders and began to shake her like a fruit-tree. “But I will say it again: all Lanes are crazy!”
“Excuse me. Did you say – ‘Lanes’?”
Daria stopped shaking Jane and both girls turned around. Looking down on them was a rather scary-looking man. The rather… descending lighting in the bar made his skin appear stone grey, and the fact that he seemed to be wearing exclusively black didn’t make him look any better, either. But he didn’t look sickly at all; quite mean and healthy yes, but not sickly.
“Yes?” Daria said. “I said Lanes. Why do you ask?”
“Do you have a sister?”
“Two of them,” Jane admitted.
“Is one of them named Penny?”
“She’s in South America right now.”
“Not anymore. We left on the same flight, and she has something of mine!” the man roared. “Where can I find her?!!”
“She isn't here,” Jane squeaked. “If you leave your phone number—eek!” The man grasped her by the jacket’s collar and pulled her to his eye level. It was when occurred to Daria – a little late, perhaps – that the man was taller than them by head, neck, and torso, and had muscles on his arms that could rival Jesse’s.
And now he was approaching the point to blow-off steam and had Jane in his arms – and not lovingly. Apparently, Jane also reached the same conclusion, as she began to squeak: “Look mister Penny isn't here; I don't know when she’ll be here; I don’t know about you and your problem with her; I'm innocent, I’m telling you; innocent!”
The man looked at Jane still obviously pissed. “I should just break-off your hands and be done with it. But I won't. You know why? ‘Cause Penny Lane won’t be able to hide from me – and do you know why is that true?”
“Why?” Daria asked deadpan.
“Because she has no choice but to come here!” the man laughed. Then he put Jane onto the floor and stalked-out.
“Let’s get out of this snake-pit,” Daria hissed to Jane.
“Roger,” Jane nodded, and the two girls left.
Monday came. On Mondays, Jane had the art class of Ms. DeFoe in the first period, and she was particularly happy about it this Monday. Not after the near brush with physical damage on Sunday…
“Jane, are you okay?” Ms. DeFoe’s voice shook Jane out of her reverie.
“Eh, why do you ask?”
“Your artwork – it’s showing.”
“My artwork? Hmm… you’re right, it is showing – something.”
Actually, Jane’s painting was showing a row of columns, connected by triangular arches above, arch after arch after arch; column after column after column; no floor, walls, or ceiling (though the ceiling was hinted at by some triangles that were heading upwards); nothing but white-blue columns and arches on black-blue background.
“You're right, my artwork is showing something,” Jane admitted. “But how’d you’d guess I was bothered?”
“Jane, you’re drawing in Norse style. You use this style only when you’re on autopilot and do not want to think about the immediate.”
Jane sighed. “Sorry, Ms. DeFoe. It’s just that my brother Trent is getting married to a girl – just like that – and I don’t know till last minute. Then I ran into some guy who’s in a really bad mood…”
The PA system flared to light: “Attention, students of Laaaaaaawndale Hiiiigh,” Ms. Li’s voice came over the PA speaker. “This is your principal speaking. The classes are cancelled due to a city assembly. Classes please form neat assembly lines and go to the city square. Ms. Li out.”
“Now Monday is shot to hell too,” Jane mumbled.
Now whatever Ms. Li believed, when the students were faced with an assembly meeting of any sorts, their assembly lines were anything but neat, and were anything but lines. Honestly, the students formed a shapeless, lineless, classless torrent and friends just pooled with each other. Naturally, Daria and Jane were together, near to Jodie and Mack.
“Attention, please!” the mayor, a neat, orderly man was standing on the podium. “I have an announcement to make. After many months of careful choosing, the “All-Mariene” electric company has decide to perform the first electric lighting minimization plan here, in Lawndale!”
“What is he talking about?” Jane asked Daria. Daria’s mother Helen was a lawyer in Lawndale’s biggest law firm – surely she’d know something.
Daria looked thoughtful for her. “I remember now. The “All-Mariene is a government-sponsored company aimed at saving America’s spending on street lighting and such – electricity-based.”
“It is run by-“
“…Mr. Melvin Borschenko and Mr. Ronald Zalman!”
“-them,” Daria said, pointing at the three figures that now came into light. Jane looked at them as the mayor went on. “The “All-Mariene’s” plan consists of them installing 2 giant solar-powered lamps at the two ends of Lawndale. The lamps will collect solar energy during the day, transforming it into light energy during the night. If this succeeds, then electric lights will become obsolete in Lawndale!”
“I told mom yesterday, and I’m telling you today,” Daria was saying her own speech. “This sounds like a white elephant and nothing else. Both the government and Lawndale are going to be f*cked.”
“Daria, stop chatting and look at the duo who made it possible.”
Daria looked. Mr. Melvin – the CEO of “All-Mariene” – was a long, thin man in a dark purple suit, with black hair and brown eyes. He looked kind of disdainfully at the assembled people before them, staring at them from the other end of his long nose.
Mr. Ronald – his number one assistant – was slightly shorter than his superiour, who was as tall as a basketball player, though nowhere as muscular. Unlike his superiour, however, Mr. Ronald was built like a thunder god, looking at everybody in such a fashion that made Jane think of Evan from the tracking team – disdain for everyone, or almost everyone. And, like Evan, Mr. Ronald Zalman was handsome.
“Meet the new Emperor and Darth Vader of electricity,” Jane told Daria.
Daria rolled her eyes. “Jane, shut up and look behind them, will you?”
Jane did. And her heart froze. For behind the CEO and his assistant, stood their last night’s ‘friend’. He was still dressed in dark clothing, and Jane now saw that he wore some sort of a stiff collar on his neck, like a guard. “Who is he?” she whispered.
“Gregory Rogg, the security chief,” Jodie spoke suddenly from Daria’s other side.
“How do you know that?” Daria asked. “How do you know him?”
“I met him yesterday.”
“Yesterday, near the mall,” Jodie explained. “He was learning Lawndale’s layout, and we two chatted.”
“So what’s he like?” Daria asked nonchalantly. “He looks kind of scary, especially near Ronald Zalman.”
“True,” Jodie nodded. “But he’s nice and funny once you get to know him.”
“Do tell,” Jane said wryly, remembering the Sunday night. Back then, Gregory Rogg was anything but nice and funny. “So does your father know about you flirting with an older man?”
“Jane, I wasn’t flirting with him!” Jodie said, blushing.
Daria and Jane exchanged looks. Not noticing them, Jodie continued.
“See, me and my father were shopping yesterday for Rachel’s birthday, and I accidentally ran into him, and he got upset, and I apologized, and he accepted my apology, and the father saw us, and we had to explain it all to him, and possibly our school may even help with the construction of the lights. Isn't this exciting?”
“Do you know that you’re sounding like Ms. Li?” Jane asked.
“Okay, now you’re sounding like Quinn. I don’t need that.” Jane paused. “What other impersonations can you do?”
“Jane, be serious,” Daria said slowly. Then she turned to Jodie. “So where will the big lights be built?”
“Oh, light #1 will be established near the entrance to Lawndale, while light #2 – do you know the ‘no-man’s-land-strip’?”
“No, do tell,” Daria said, curious.
“There’s a long strip of empty land not far from our school. Apparently, somebody once won it in cards – in the 1860s – and it remained undeveloped. Now it is going to be used for construction!” Jodie again looked like somebody from Fashion Club – only with odd tastes.
Jane looked at her friend, but Daria’s eyes were half-clouded. She was doing some really hard thinking.
“So what do you think?” Jane asked Daria as the assembly was finally over and the citizens of Lawndale were dismissed. “What do you want to do with this God-given free afternoon.”
Daria shook her head. “This free afternoon didn't have anything to do with God, if I’m any judge.”
“Whoa! What brought this on?”
“Jane. Please tell me that you didn't smell the smell of a criminal act wafting from this whole ‘solar lamps’ thing?”
Jane sighed miserably. “Yeah, I did kind of sort of. Still, we could’ve run into Gregory Rogg on his bad time…oh, whom am I kidding! Anyone associated with any older sibling of mine minus Trent’s is trouble.”
“Explain this deduction to me, Lane.”
Jane sighed. “See, when I was little, Summer would bring home boyfriends – like this guy only younger – and Wind would bring home girlfriends – who often had brothers like that – and there’d be trouble. And they all lived on the other side of Dega street too,” Jane added thoughtfully. “You know Daria, your last night’s theory about Dega street being a border of some sort may be correct.”
“Then this border needs some sort of a border guard,” Daria tapped her chin. “Hmm…”
“Hey! What are you looking at?”
“The company’s pamphlets. They’re interested and quite truthful.”
“Oh really? Can I see them?”
“Sure. Have a shot.”
Jane did. And after a short while she gave-up. “What is this stuff? All numbers and words. Yes, words, but I can’t make no sense of them.”
“I can. General sense.”
“Then explain it to me, oh goddess of words and numbers.”
“This is the technological data of the project ‘Two lamps’. It’s the plain, unvarnished truth as far as I can read,” Daria said nonchalantly. “And this truth is copied straight from the original, the whole thing is put down pat.”
“Then why can’t we with the IQ less than 70 make sense from it?”
“Because it isn't calculated for those with the IQ less than 70,” Daria said evenly. “Even I am going to need a calculator in figuring some things out, and figure them I ought, because something seems wrong to my gut.”
“Can I tag along?”
“It’s a free country. Do what you want.”
Some time later, Jane was re-thinking this generous offer of Daria’s: Daria was openly planning on doing nothing else but work with the pamphlets, the library’s computer, some maps of Lawndale, and a calculator. Unfortunately, this left Jane with nothing better to do than to look around the library for some books on art. Suddenly she heard some familiar voices behind her: Jodie – and Gregory Rogg! Jane stood still and eavesdropped.
“So, Mr. Rogg,” Jodie was saying, sounding now more like Stacy Rowe than Quinn. “It’s very nice of you to help Ms. Li talk Mr. Borschenko into letting us help and visit and stuff – especially since Mr. Zalman was so much against him.”
“Pay no attention to Mr. Zalman, Jodie, especially if I’m around,” Rogg’s own voice was easy and carefree – young, even. ‘Hey, he isn’t old,’ Jane realized. ‘He’s just a couple of years older than Trent, if they aren't coeval. ‘Course, he has better built than Jesse.’
“‘Mr. Zalman’ likes to think that he alone knows how to run things,” Rogg was continuing to say. “That’s not true.”
“True, but he is Mr. Borschenko’s assistant, and you’re not.”
“Mr. Zalman suffers from a big ego,” Rogg said firmly. “Don't worry, Jodie, he won't cause you any trouble.”
“If you say so, Mr. Rogg.” ‘Yup, definitely Stacy Rowe impression,’ Jane thought.
“You're welcome, Jodie. And please, call me Gregory.”
“Very well…Gregory. Excuse me please, I've got to run some errands for the School Council. Good-bye.”
Jodie scampered-off, leaving Gregory Rogg alone. Jane could clearly see from her hide-out, how his face reddened from anger. Suddenly he slammed his fist on a table. “Curse Penny!” he snarled. “When I re-meet her, I'll rip her legs out starting from the ear canals and down!”
“Excuse me,” Jane appeared from her shelter. “It’s me, the girl from last night?”
“I remember you. What do you want?”
“Look, I've been thinking about your problem with Penny last night, and, if it’s a monetary problem, me and Trent can scrape you probably a couple of hundred dollars, and give them over to you.”
Rogg snorted. “Kid, did I scare you this much?”
“Don't kid me, you’re not this old – certainly not by Jodie’s standards?”
“How do you know?” Rogg said quietly.
“We were standing together in the assembly,” Jane said. “She told us how you two met. Do you like her?”
“Yes,” Rogg replied, then shrugged. “It’s not the point. The point is that Penny doesn't owe me anything really – in person.”
“Then why the anger?”
“’Cause we hired her as a part of security staff, to wit, part of my staff – I’m the head of security, you know?”
“Really?” Jane couldn’t believe her ears. “Penny landed a job?”
“Why the incredulous tone?”
“Because the members of my family could never hold to a real job for long.”
Rogg shrugged. “I don't know about that, kid.”
“My name is Jane.”
“Very well, Jane. Thank you for your offer, though.”
There was a pause, as Jane continued to look over Rogg. “So, where are you from?” she asked. “Can't quite pin you down.”
“My father is from Ireland; mother is a Rumanian Gypsy. Naturally, you can’t pin you down.”
“And your bosses?”
“Zalman’s parents are Jews from Germany. Borschenko’s father came from Smolensk and fought in WWII. After that he married his mother – she’s from England – and came here, to America.”
“Ah, America, the land of opportunity,” Daria spoke from behind Jane. “So did you two make-up for last night’s?”
“Daria!” Jane whirled around. “How long have you been here?”
“Since you two started to talk about Penny,” Daria said.
Rogg chuckled. “Don't fear girls, I won’t harm your sister.”
“We're not sisters,” Daria said.
“You aren't? Sorry. It’s just that you two acted like sisters last night.”
“Let’s leave last night alone,” Daria mumbled. “It’s not the best topic right.” She paused. “Can I ask you a kind of a work-related question?”
“Why not, what is it?”
“Who did the pamphlets?”
“Why, the bosses themselves, of course.”
“Mhm. And what did your bosses do before they came to Lawndale?”
“They established some heat-electric generation plants in Alaska,” Rogg said. “They were working for the government for a long time; why, Borschenko is a congressman and will become a senator if this project works. He’s certainly rich enough for that.”
“M-hm. And Mr. Zalman?”
“Hooked-up with Borschenko during the Alaska stage. Me, I'm government-assigned to them; my cousin Arielle is in NASA.”
“So your bosses wrote the pamphlets?”
“Yup.” Rogg’s phone rang. “What? Really? I'll be right over.” He turned the phone off. “Sorry to break and run, girls, but Penny Lane did make an appearance at my office at last. Now if you excuse me-“
“Can I come with you?” Jane quickly said. “I really need to talk to Penny – family stuff.”
“And I want to tag along too,” Daria added.
Rogg shrugged. “Why not?”
When Rogg, Daria and Jane finally came at “All Mariene’s” office and went to Rogg’s office, a wiry, twenty-something, woman was waiting for them. “Mr. Rogg!” she said quickly. “Sorry that I'm late.”
“Sorry doesn't cover it,” Rogg shook his head. “You're late.”
“Not yet! I came five minutes short!”
Rogg shook his head. “Look, there’s somebody who wants to speak to you too.”
“Oh? Who?” then Penny saw who. “Jane? How’s it going?”
“Now good, last night bad,” Jane said. “He wanted to break-off my hands!”
“He can get carried away sometimes,” Penny admitted.
Jane glared and pulled her sister to the side, leaving Rogg and Daria alone.
“Sorry that the sisters’ meeting didn’t pass to your expectations,” Rogg turned to Daria, who was eyeing him thoughtfully.
“Say, Mr. Rogg, is there anyway me and Jane can work for here – not for free, though.”
“Trouble in the money land?” Rogg asked.
“You could say that?”
“Unless you’re into security…nah. Such matters are Ronald’s stuff. Here’re the coordinates of his office.”
“Thanks,” Daria said. She went over to the Lane sisters, grasped Jane by the arm, and dragged her away, leaving Penny alone with Rogg.
“So why are we doing this?” Jane asked.
“Hopefully, getting employed,” Daria replied.
“Why? You said something was funny here.”
“True. And this is why we’re going undercover, as well as earning some cash along the way.”
“Ah! Allowance wars in Morgendorffer household?”
“Watch it Lane. You didn’t know what allowance was until I told you.”
“Ouch! That struck a nerve! Hey – we’re here.”
Daria knocked on the door. “Who is it?” a deep voice came from the other side. “If you’re on business, then come in.”
“Darth Vader of electricity indeed,” muttered Jane. “If I see a hint of a sword in there, we’re out of here, Morgendorffer!”
However, there was no hint of a sword in Zalman’s office, as Daria and Jane took a good look at it. They took a good look at Zalman himself, too, and decided that though Rogg said that Zalman was Jewish, Zalman looked definitely Norse, or German, or whatever. Not Jewish at all.
“So Rogg sent you here, telling you that you can get hired?” Zalman muttered, looking at the two girls downwards. He could do that, because if Rogg was as tall as Daria standing on Jane’s shoulders, then Zalman was a couple of inches taller than Rogg. “Why that Irishman! First his people are tardy, now he does practical jokes!”
“This isn’t a joke, Mr. Zalman,” Daria spoke firmly. “We're really interested in some jobs here for cash.”
“Oh really? What can you do?” Zalman asked, curious.
“She understood what you wrote in that pamphlet with your boss,” Jane said.
“Oh really? What is written there?”
Daria began to explain. Again, Jane felt as if some foreign language was spoken: the words were all there, but she could make no sense; the theme eluded her comprehension. Zalman, on the other hand, listened attentively to what Daria said, and when she finished, nodded:
“Good, very good. And what does your friend do?”
“Jane is a rent-a-cop,” Daria said cheerfully. “Just ask the Taylor family.”
“Hmm. I see. Tell you what: come here tomorrow and maybe me and Mr. Borschenko can get you two jobs. Minimal wages, you understand?”
“Works for us,” Daria said, and she and Jane left.
Once they were outside, Jane turned to Daria: “Spill. What you were telling Zalman? What was written in this pamphlet?”
“Home, Jane, home.”
“Yours or mine?”
At home, Daria began to speak. “This is a white elephant, Jane, a shady enterprise.”
“All of the numbers and words in the pamphlets, Jane, speak of how it is probable and possible for the lamps to work, Jane. It still leaves a possibility/probability that they won’t. But no one can be sure till they’re turned-on. And that leaves a not-estimated amount of time with lightless Lawndale at night. And if “All-Mariene” fails to succeed, guess where it leaves Lawndale?”
“Think of where it’ll leave “All-Mariene”. No government likes failure; Borschenko can't afford to.”
“Think not of others’ misery, Jane, think of your own well-being. Furthermore, do you not smell the stench of crime from there? This Borschenko clearly got dirty hands, even you know that.”
“Okay, so let suppose that we’ll uncover something big. What then, who can we trust? Trent and Monique don't count; this leaves whom? Jodie – Rogg has her in his hand; Quinn – let’s keep the Fashion club out of this. Who’s left?”
Daria shrugged. “The thing about white elephants, Jane, is that they’re elephants made out of flies. Such elephants are never too dangerous. And besides – the lamps may work. Let’s not be so negative.”
“So we’re into this for money only?”
“And to pacify our consciences and sate our curiosities, yes.”
“Great,” Jane nodded glumly. “It’s Borschenko alone who worries me now? Do you remember him? He’s creepy. And those purple clothes of his – yuck!”
“Now you’re sounding like Quinn,” Daria said. “First Jodie now you.”
“Actually, Jodie sounds like Stacy now. You know, the smallest Fashion Zombie of them all?”
“Let’s leave zombies alone for now, Jane. We have a busy day tomorrow.”
Meanwhile, back at the “All-Mariene’s” office, Zalman and Borschenko were having a conversation of their own. “So Gregory has finally corrected his little oversight, did he?” Borschenko nonchalantly asked Zalman. “Good, very good.”
“I was worried that this was a fluke, sir,” Ronald said. “Gregory can be somewhat irresponsible.”
“Nonsense!” Borschenko replied, looking intently at his number-one aide. “He just knows how to have fun – something that neither of us can have a handle-on.” He paused. “Anyways, I saw a couple of kids on the grounds today nearing your office. Why?”
“They sought employment.”
“Did they, now? Well, what happened?”
“One of them…understood what we put into the pamphlets, sir.”
Borschenko didn't immediately reply, but went over to his computer and began to type-down something on it. “Her name, ah?”
“Daria, Daria Morgendorffer, sir.”
“Mhm. The Morgendroffers. Came from Highland, Texas.”
“Highland, Texas, sir?”
“Yes, Ronald, you heard me correctly.”
“But didn't Highland, Texas prove that radiation and hydropower do not mix sir?”
“Sir, did you see those boys? Beavis and… the other one?”
“My dear Ronald. The, ah, radiation and, ah, water pollution of Una’s may have stunted the mental growth of some people, but it could’ve had an opposite effect on others, like Miss M. And what about her friend?”
“Jane Lane. A local. Nothing special. Close friend of Daria Morgendorffer, though.”
“Hmm,” Borschenko looked thoughtful. “You know what? I think they may have what it takes to work here; at least Daria may.”
“So what’s the verdict, sir?”
“Hire them! For minimal wages and rather minor tasks. Then we’ll see what they’re really like.”
The next day all started out of ordinary. Daria and Jane never mentioned to anyone their new extracurricular activity, if it could be called that, of course. However, someone else in school learned about that.
…“Hello Mack, what’s up?”
Michael Jordan Mackenzie looked with something like disdain at the small spindly figure of Charles Ruttheimer the III before him. “What do you want, Upchuck?”
“Ah! All I want to know is about you and miss Landon. How are things in your high land?”
“They’d be stinking, Upchuck, if they existed,” Mack said curtly. “Look, Jodie and I never been close together, and now that that she developed a crush on this Rogg fellow, things are going to be even more non-existent than before. And her parents will probably encourage it too, since Rogg works in the government, and Jodie’s parents are all for that.”
“Ah! That may be so, but do I detect tone of bitterness and such in your words?”
“Bugger off, Upchuck. I don’t really have time for this.”
“A-ha-ha, I want to talk to you about…the project of the lamps!”
Mack sighed. “Then talk. ‘Course, you might want to talk to Daria about that first; she seems to be more tolerant of you than anyone else in this school.”
“Wish I would, but now I won’t!” Upchuck shook his head. “Sit down Mack and listen.”
Mack did. Suddenly, Upchuck didn't seem to be such a school clown anymore, and looked quite serious. “So what do you want to share with me about “All-Mariene”?” he asked.
Upchuck looked around, dropping his voice to a whisper. “It goes on like this. The biggest boss of them all, Melvin Borschenko, did spend a lot of time in Alaska; whether or not he was building heat-electric generating plants or whatever he was doing there is unknown – so far – by us. But his rep isn’t the best, you know? He’s part of presidential opposition…and is considered somewhat of a careerist.”
“So? Who isn’t?”
“Next we come to his number one aide, Ronald Zalman. Unlike his boss, Ronald isn’t a political man, he is more of an entrepreneur – with a criminal tint. First he was a consultant for a firm in Newark – Arnold Faraday’s, I believe.”
“Who is, or was, Arnold Faraday?”
“President of the firm, I was told. Little is known about the firm itself, by now – but it was a sea-trade one, an large, overseas company.”
“So what did Ronald Zalman do to it?”
“Turned it into a cover for an arms-smuggling operation into US. When it was found-out, the firm sunk – but Ronald escaped with barely a scratched rep. And so he was seen in Elsmere, Delaware, again as a consultant for – a jewellery firm, this time. Gwynneth’s and Erin’s, the firm was called. It made a large profit, received orders for its’ works far and wide-“
“All after Ronald Zalman got involved in it?”
“Why, yes. It was even being considered to make him a partner in it.”
“But then disaster struck?”
“Yes. After the sinking of Arnold Faraday’s firm, the authorities kept half an eye on Ronald.”
“A discreet and semi-unofficial investigation was going-on.”
“It was found-out that behind the decorum of a jewellery firm went a business of smuggling precious metals out of US now. Also, a lot of ties with Celloni family were there, and Celloni family smuggles drugs into US.”
“So the jewellery firm was finished-off too?”
“But again, Ronald Zalman managed to escape just before things came to a crushing climax!”
“And now he is with Melvin Borschenko, who is a shady character himself.”
“One question. How do you know all of this?”
Upchuck looked sheepish. “My father was semi-involved with “Gwynneth’s and Erin’s” before it belly-flopped. Naturally, he was somewhat upset when it did. He had his own, discreet and unofficial investigation and found-out this much about Ronald Zalman: once, Ronald Zalman did work in the government, in the trade and manufacturing department, see?”
“But now he isn’t?”
“He left due to personality conflicts, I was told.”
Mack shook his head. “Anyways, what does this all leading-up to?”
“Mack, do you want me to explain it to you one word at a time? Okay, I can do that. A, we have Ronald Zalman, a man was more than just a little bit shady reputation. B, he is in employment of Melvin Borschenko, who’s been reputed not being to picked with means of advancement – he’s willing build his career over the bones of others, if necessary. And c, we have this wondrous duo in our town, building some sort of a miraculous lamping project. Can you see what I am getting-at now?”
“Yes,” Mack admitted unhappily, “I do. Vivid criminal overtones. But what the last and least member of this wondrous Trinity: Gregory Rogg?”
“Ah, Gregory Rogg? On whom miss Landon has a crush?” Upchuck wiggled his eyebrows suggestively. “I see. Well, he isn't much compared to the other two: works – or worked – in the US Army; not a very likeable character; has a female cousin in NASA. Basically speaking, he doesn't look so bad compared to the other two. ‘Course, on Sunday night, Daria and Jane did happen to see a glimpse of his… nastier side, shall we say?”
Mack turned thoughtful. “Upchuck, how do you do it?”
“Turn up in the right place at the right time?”
“It’s a skill!” the skinnier boy said proudly. “Why do you ask?”
“’Cause I want to know what would be the right time to saunter over to “All-Mariene’s” file room, and find it – unoccupied by anybody.”
“But wouldn't it be locked?” Upchuck said thoughtful.
“There’s no lock that can’t be picked.”
“True. But who’d be doing the picking?”
“It’ll be a shared venture.”
“Hmm,” Upchuck said thoughtful. “I see what I can do.”
He left and went towards Jodie’s table. For a change, Jodie today was sitting with Daria and Jane, who were listening to her speak of “All-Mariene” and its’ security chief at the time. As Jodie rumbled, the other two girls exchanged cryptical looks, and generally said nothing more but words for encouragement to go on. Upchuck noticed that and came over to their table. “Excuse me,” he said quickly.
“What is it, Upchuck?” Jane asked.
“Do you ladies know if there’ll be a tour at the plant? Something like that was mentioned on Monday’s assembly, you know?”
“Oh, it’s on Thursday,” Jodie said.
“It is. Thanks. See ya!”
Upchuck left. Daria and Jane exchanged another look: “He suspects something,” Daria whispered to Jane.
“When something stinks, rats are usually the first to know,” Jane agreed, also in whispers. They continued to listen to Jodie’s rumblings.
“The due date is Thursday!” Upchuck cheerfully reported to Mack at their table.
“Thursday, is it?” Mack said cheerfully, “let’s get prepared, then!”
It took a while, but finally school was over for the day. Daria and Jane first finished their homework, then started to work towards “All-Mariene”. There, not wasting any time, they came to Ronald Zalman’s office. “Good,” Ronald Zalman said cheerfully, “very good. Punctual you are, yes.”
Daria and Jane exchanged looks. The guy sounded like Yoda. “So what’s the call, sir?” Jane asked.
“Well, on one side, you’re officially too young to work here, but on the other side – at least one of you is mentally and intellectually qualified for office work here,” Zalman said.
“You get to work in the chancellery,” Ronald turned to Daria. “Basically you’ll be sorting files and your friend here – assisting you with it.”
“For minimal wages, I presume?”
“Yes. No arguments?”
“Where should we go and get started?”
“It’s that-a way.”
As they were walking through the corridors, Jane turned to Daria. “Is it just me, or are we not doing well?”
“We're doing realistically well,” Daria stated. “We're part of the action, and that’s a success of its’ own. Now the thing is to find a way to use this success to go further.” Daria paused. “If only we weren’t high-schoolers.”
“That sucks,” Jane agreed, “but we’ll deal with it.”
“What is it, Penny?”
“Sir, we may have a problem. My sister and her friends got themselves jobs here.”
Gregory Rogg looked thoughtful. “They did, hmm? Well, that means that they are more than they appear to be.”
“Not Jane; I know my siblings very well.”
“What about the other girl?”
“Got me there. But still – she’s just a kid. It’s unlikely that she would be employed.”
“But she had,” Rogg stated. “Which means that she’s more than just a kid. And most possible – she didn't get a job by sucking-up to Ronald. This means – she’s a new variable. Oh well. We’ll just have to wait and see what’ll develop. Pity.”
Penny just shook her head. “You're impossible, you know that?” she asked.
“I try, my dear Penny, I try. Now let’s resume our duties.”
Mack and Upchuck were walking through Lawndale streets. “What we need is a plan for Thursday,” the shorter boy was saying. “We can’t just go and break-in, can we?” He paused. “On the other hand, Jodie is in a relationship with the security chief, and Daria and Jane are part of the staff.”
“What? When did that happen?”
“Yesterday, I guess. I overheard them and Jodie talking about it. Now if we could somehow involve them, our problems may be eased.”
Mack frowned. “I have part of a plan ready,” he said. “Let’s go and find Daria and Jane.”
Daria and Jane were walking home from work. “This is boring. Payable, but boring,” Jane was telling her friend.
“What did you expect? Explosions and exchanges of fire? This is real life, Jane, not a spy-flick.”
Jane stopped and glared at Daria with mock severity. “All right, what did they do to you? You should know that Lawndale High school cannot exist in real life!”
“I guess I had this coming, hah?”
Suddenly a car appeared behind the two girls and Mack looked out of it. “Can we three talk? I'll give you lifts in return.”
Daria and Jane looked at each other. “Why not?” they agreed and got into the vehicle.
“So what do you want to talk to us?” Daria asked Mack.
“Look. Did you know that the man who runs this – Borschenko – is considered to be a very ambitious careerist without any “prejudices”, while his aide – Zalman – is quite shady?”
“And the security chief is courting Jodie or is it vice versa?” Jane asked.
“Where did you learn all of this?” Daria asked, ignoring Jane’s remark.
“Sounds like a reliable source – to a limit. Upchuck is known for his ability to ferret-out the truth – but what he tells others – that’s another story.”
“I know that, Daria,” Mack said impatiently, “and I'm guessing you found-out something too.”
“Yes. I've read the pamphlets and realized that this could be nothing more than a con scheme – the lights may not work, and Lawndale will be nothing more than a greater dump than it already is. It’s unlikely that it is anything bigger, Mack, because Melvin Borschenko is ambitious – politically ambitious. He won’t try anything criminal for this could – and probably would – cost him his political career.”
Mack shook his head. “All the same, there remains a chance that Ronald Zalman is cheating on his boss. The last two big companies he worked – both times they sunk with the captains, while Zalman was left rather unscathed.”
“And that’s where the security comes-in,” Daria replied.
Mack just looked her in the face. “Okay Daria, here’s the deal. There’s something not right with “All-Mariene,” and both of us know it. Therefore, can we work together and look over the company files on Thursday?”
“You're asking for quite a lot, since on Thursday the office and the cabinet will be closed due to the tour.”
“The security will probably have keys,” Jane said slyly.
“Yes, and Jodie is friends with the security boss,” Daria nodes sagely.
“And my sister is part of the security,” Jane added.
Daria looked at Jane and Mack: “I think I feel the inkling of a plan. Hear this.”
The rest of Tuesday and Wednesday passed uneventful. Then came Thursday, the due date for the tour.
Daria sat in the agreed-on stair-well, waiting for Jane, Mack, and, hopefully not, Upchuck. “My life is a mix of “Scooby-Doo” and “Hardy Boys”/”Nancy Drew” stories,” she mused. “This sucks. Not to mention that my plan may just go down at this stage.”
“Chill, amiga!” Jane plopped down next to her. “The deed is done. Gregory obviously likes to amuse Jodie and himself, and Penny could never resist my charms.”
“Jane, did you ever read Oedipus Rex?”
“Ms. Barch once showed it in study hall. I was afraid to come home for a long time afterwards. Ms. Barch liked that idea, so she went-on showing it. Eventually, somebody had enough – oh, what am I saying? Jethro had enough!”
“He graduated while I was just a freshman, and you were still not in Lawndale. He was the only male to stand-up to Ms. Barch.”
“So what happened when Jethro had enough Oedipus?”
“He went and talked with Ms. Li.”
“Ms. Li doesn’t do anything that’s not related to Laaaawndale Hiiigh.”
“Sounds like a trip, doesn’t it?.. Anyways, I don't know what he made-up and told her, but this was one of the very few – if not a solitary occasion – when Ms. Li actually interfered with Ms. Barch. Basically, that was when Mr. O’Neill self-esteem class appeared. Hmmm… I wonder, I really wonder…”
“We're here!” Mack and Upchuck appeared from below. Mack, however, instantly added:
“With Gregory Rogg,” Jane snorted. “Where else.”
“Oh.” Nothing more was said, but Mack’s hand definitely twitched.
“Let’s go,” Jane continued. “We don't have that much time.”
“I hate to interrupt your current activities, but your afternoon appointment is here.”
“So soon? Good. Jodie, I'm sorry to leave you right now, but business calls.”
Jodie sighed. Why did thin and reddish appear now, when things were just getting on the way? Having nothing to argue about though, she agreed.
“All right, so did you find-out anything?” Jane asked. She kept outside watch while the other three (them with higher IQ’s, shifted through various papers.
“Quit nagging, Lane!” Mack snapped. “It's not like we can just snap our fingers and get what is written here.”
“The papers are written in technocratic language, you know?” added Upchuck.
“They are written in what?” Jane almost blew-up. “I did look at them yesterday, you know? They are written in English.”
“Technocratic, my dear Miss Lane,” Upchuck replied, “is a combination of technological and bureaucratic wording – probably the most complicated language ever written or spoken!”
“What about the accents?” Daria wedged-in into the argument. “An accent can render anybody’s speech into gibberish.”
“Ah, my dear Miss Morgendorffer, accents are but temporary, worn-down by time. Technocratic speech and language, on the other hand, can last forever – or the next biggest amount of time.”
“That’s it,” Jane just shook her head. “Apparently you two do belong together.”
“Jane,” Daria said softly, “can it.”
Meanwhile, Mack was searching elsewhere. Suddenly he stiffened. “I think I found something,” he said quietly.
“What a coincidence – so did I,” Daria replied.
“You first, then.”
“Hmm? No, after you.”
Mack sighed. “All right, you asked for it yourself. Daria, did you come from Highland?”
“Well, so do quite a few people on the payroll here.”
The rest just looked-on, kind of confused. “Do any of you know the name of Una Gallivanti?” The question was directed mainly to Upchuck, who eagerly replied:
“Yeah, I know her. A bit of a political wannabe, got involved in the agricultural project of Sarah Bell. It sank like a rock, and it stank like a midden.”
“The project mainly involved growing fruit trees in semi-desert conditions, like in Texas. Unfortunately, Sarah Bell knew mightily little anything on trees, and neither did Una. Una, however, was very good in genetics and biology.”
“Trees are botany. There’s a strong, though subtle, difference.”
“Hey! Botany is plants, biology is animals,” Jane protested. “Even I know that.”
“Sarah Bell didn't. Not then. Anyways, she ordered Una to create a fertilizer that would affect plant growth.”
“And it polluted Highland’s water table,” Daria deadpanned.
“Why, yes. Only it wasn't any average fertilizer; one of its’ unpredicted side-effects was its’ affect on human mind. Some people affected grew stupid, others brilliant, yet others developed ESP or such and so on,” Mack replied instead of Upchuck.
“So that means that I’m a freak?” Daria said quietly.
“Not really, no. Though both Sarah Bell and Una Gallivanti later received prison sentences, neither had a very long one. Sarah got released and started working on a horse-breeding project immediately and still probably does, while Una died from old age, in her home.”
“So nice to see vice punished,” Daria said flatly. “What about virtue rewarded?”
“I wouldn’t know anything about that,” Mack said. “As I said before, quite a few people in here – including Ronald Zalman – have come from there.”
“So maybe Daria felt spiritual kinship with them and joined the staff to bond?” Jane smirked.
“That’s a possibility – too bad that she messed it up!” Ronald Zalman appeared as if out of nowhere, showing Jane backwards. He ‘followed’ her, then, and so the four teens became trapped.
“How’d you learn about this? Not ESP, I suppose?” Mack asked.
“No, we had special alarms installed here, as well. The security will be here shortly to deal with you four.”
“I don't suppose we can get off with a warning and a fine?” Jane said hopefully.
Ronald shook his head. “No, you know too much, you must be silenced.”
“What?” Jane snarled. “Will somebody tell me what we have learned? If I’m to be silenced, then at least can somebody tell me for what?”
Daria exhaled. “This project of Zalman’s and Borschenko’s – it’s a bigger scam than we originally suspected, Jane. You see, when I was studying the pamphlets, I realized something while checking-out the map of Lawndale as well: the lamps will illuminate Lawndale only to Dega street.”
“So if the project comes through, Dega street and beyond will be darkened?” Mack asked.
“Yes. What’s more, the technological data here shows that the main source of the lamps will still be electricity, only from a rather unorthodox source?”
“Exactly,” Ronald nodded in satisfaction. “You see, originally Lawndale was supposed to be somewhat bigger – say ten, twenty percent bigger. Unfortunately, some members of the city planning committee were not averse of a bit of embezzling and some embezzled some money. As a result, not only Lawndale became smaller, about ten to twenty percent of it became rather downbeat.”
“The Dega street and beyond?”
“Exactly! But underneath this territory lie several buried giant electrical generators. Rechargeable ones! Using them, we’ll be able to power the lamps for a long, long time. Of course, modifications to the generations must be made, and there’s the problem of wiring – but it’ll be easily covered. So now all that is left the problem of you four.”
“So why must we be silenced? This is just fraud, not something grand rip-off,” Jane persisted.
“Jane – it is a rip-off,” Mack sighed. “Borschenko is a careerist, and this is his next step in his ascension. If it crumbles, he’ll go down.”
“Exactly!” Ronald grinned. “And I with him! And that won't do at all! So any last requests, before I rip you apart into co-responding details?”
“How ‘bout an avenging angel with a fiery sword?” Mack asked Daria.
“Shut-up and surrender, you bloated hamster!” somebody spoke-up behind Ronald’s back.
It was Gregory Rogg with Jane’s sister Penny behind his back.
“Not funny,” Mack looked at the ceiling.
“Rogg?” Ronald turned to the security chief. “What’s going-on here?”
“I’m saving the kids,” Rogg explained.
“Look, don't be ridiculous,” Ronald rolled his eyes. “They’re not even related to you.”
“Actually, we are,” Penny spoke. “Jane, remember great-great-great-granduncle Methuselah, thrice removed in a family album?”
“Oh yeah,” Jane nodded. “Stooping guy. Visiting Eastern Europe often. So what?”
“Granduncle Methuselah had a son Matthias, who married a gypsy girl named Sophia and they had a girl named Nina. Nina married Morris Rogg, father of Gregory.”
“So Gregory is our relative?” Jane said with interest. “Lucky him. When he comes to our next family reunion he’ll probably regret it.”
“So you’re related closer than through Adam, big deal,” Ronald shrugged.
“Adam?” Jane asked, brow furrowing in thought.
“Yes, Adam, you know? Old chap, has a beard, mentioned as a First Man in Old Testament and suchlike.”
“Oh, that Adam,” Jane shrugged. “I thought you were talking about Adam Klayr, a cousin of our maternal great-great-great-great…and so on grand-aunt, who was a Navy man in 1770s or so.”
Ronald snarled. “That’s it, you’re dying first and taking all of your stories with you!” He produced a pistol out of his trousers.
Before he could fire it, however, Mack and Jane grabbed a box full of folders and flung it into him. Ronald went momentarily down, releasing his pistol after he discharged it into another office box.
Then he was back on his feet. Though his weapon was buried under a mound of papers and one of his eyes was more of a blazing red bruise, the other eye flashed with lightning and murder. “I will rip you limb from limb personally!” he roared.
“Drive my wheelbarrow to this spot, will you?” Rogg told Penny as he went towards Zalman. “I believe we're going to be needing it.”
Penny ran off.
Ronald pinned his now mismatched gaze on Gregory. “Why are you betraying your boss?” he snarled.
“I work for the US government, not for Borschenko,” Gregory snarled back.
“My cousin Arielle, for one? Remember, golden-haired girl on whom Mr. Melvin tried-on his tricks?”
Then Ronald lunged at Gregory, and the two began to wrestle in the office, throwing hints from such positions that none of the teens thought possible.
Upchuck began to dig through the paper mound on the floor. “Got to be here somewhere, got to be here somewhere, he continuously mumbled.
“What got to be here somewhere?” Jane asked. She and the other two didn't move from their positions.
“The pistol! Ronald dropped it didn't he?”
“Do you know how to shoot?”
“It’ll make feel better, than to be only dependant on the outcome of this clash of the titans!” Upchuck snarled back. “Ah here it is-!”
SLAM! Ronald somehow threw Gregory all the way to the spot that Upchuck was digging at, and a blade appeared in Ronald’s hand. “And now,” the supposed Jew from Germany snarled, as he stomped towards Gregory, “you're going to die!”
BAM! Gregory whirled onto his back, the pistol that Ronald earlier discarded flaring in his hand. BAM! Ronald dropped the knife and staggered back. Gregory jumped-up and gave Zalman a spinning kick. Zalman fell down, unconscious.
“Okay, not to sound ungrateful, but why the sudden change of heart?” Daria said.
“There wasn't a change of heart,” Rogg shrugged. “My cousin Arielle – the one with golden hair – she’s a US Marshall, and she asked me to spy on Borschenko and Zalman duo.”
“And you couldn't refuse?” Daria said sceptically. The big man didn't look like an obedient order-accepting type.
Rogg grimaced. “Thanks to your dear sister Penny, Jane, we were in a bit of a ticklish situation ourselves and were eager to help. And now that we know what Borschenko and Zalman were really up to, we can arrest Borschenko too – Zalman’s out of the count already.”
“Don't think it’ll be the same with me, though,” a rasping and eerie voice spoke. Melvin Borschenko!
“Cool Dracula act, man!” Jane said. “How’d you learn to walk so quietly?”
Borschenko smiled with a rictus of a smile. “Easy, dear girl. You see, I two worked with Sarah Bell and Una Gallivanti on Highland, as an intern in Una’s lab. That woman was a scientific genius, even though she understood squat in real life. Then again, so did Sarah Bell – in real life, that is. I, on the other hand, had a perfect mind-grip on all things political. And do you want to hear a secret, people?”
“Why not?” Mack said. “Do tell.”
“Thank you. I volunteered for Una to experiment on me with those creations of hers. They felt terrible, I tell you! I felt like dying – but I survived! And using that knowledge, Una was able to soften the drug’s effects – before contaminating the local water table with it!”
“So it was done on purpose?” Daria said in an emotionless voice.
“Yes! That creation made some people beasts – but brought others closer to godhood – like me!” Melvin chuckled, a crazy sound.
“So that’s why my sister is semi-defective,” Daria continued.
“And that’s why you're so brilliant!” Melvin Borschenko smiled. “The power, you will feel the power, I can sense it!”
“That’s official,” Daria sighed. “He is nuts.”
“I'm not nuts!” Borschenko roared. He ripped-off a steel bar with his frail hands and went towards them all. “I will kill all of you and consume your spirits!!”
CRASH! The office wall that connected to outside collapsed, and through the new hole, the front of a rather peculiar-looking van appeared. “Uh, Greg?” Penny’s voice came from inside. “Me and Jodie here started it as well as we could, but-“
“Die!” Borschenko roared, swinging the bar.
“Jodie, don’t touch this button!” Penny’s shriek came from the van.
ZOOM! Two missiles burst from below the van and came zooming straight at Melvin, who just cackled wildly.
“Everybody inside!” roared Gregory, flinging still prone Ronald after the complying teens and slamming the door.
From behind the door came two loud booms!, and then crackling sounds.
“What was that?” Jane asked slowly.
“New trick of the military,” Rogg said with something like pride in his voice. “Acid in gaseous form.”
“Wow!” Upchuck whistled. “And your friend used it on him?”
“I pressed the button!” Jodie groaned, appearing out of the van, following by Penny. “The man was mad. I just pressed it!”
Gregory nodded. “These things happen. Now Penny, please contact my cousin and her friends. The climax here is over, let them sort-out the fallout.”
“What is going-on here?” Jodie suddenly came to her senses.
“My sister and her partner – with our help – found-out that Zalman and Borschenko were going to fleece Lawndale for profit and Borschenko’s promotion, as well as learned that Borschenko is guilty of…environmental crimes, I suppose.”
“And everybody knew that? Except for me?” Jodie’s voice rose-up high.
“Everybody here suspected that Zalman and Borschenko were up to no good – except for you,” Upchuck admitted.
“I was used, then?” Jodie literally quivered from realization.
“Well, yes, I guess,” Rogg nodded. “Your school-mates planned on you distracting me while they play amateur detectives. Fortunately for them, secretly me and Penny were on their side, and not on the other one.” He turned to other teams. “For an amateur effort this was very good, but – you weren’t dealing with amateurs, but with very experienced people. Remember that!”
Suddenly the door was flung open and Melvin Borschenko fell-in – still alive. “He is inhuman!” Jane gasped.
Penny shrugged. “Greg’s cousin is coming with support, and she’ll figure-out what to do with our mad mastermind and his shady sidekick. Zalman’s alive, I hope?”
“But out for a long time,” Rogg grinned.
Jodie snarled and stalked-out. Mack followed.
“Jodie, wait!” Mack called-out, as Jodie was quickly retreating from the company’s grounds.
Jodie turned around and glared. “Go to Hell, Mack! Everybody used me and my feelings as a chess-piece! Well, no more! Next time something like this happens, don’t count on me!!” She turned around and left.
Mack didn’t follow her.
As Mack returned to the site of the battle, he heard Daria say:
“…and in the end, you’re not a nice person, Greg.”
“So what if I ain’t? If I was nice, I would never be here to save you from Zalman, nor met your sister Penny, Jane, and she’s…not too nice either, as many people in South American countries would testify. And coincidentally, somebody run by me my relationship to the Lanes, please?”
“Later, Greg,” Jane rolled her eyes. “First tell us: is this morbid affair over?”
“In Lawndale – yes. In DC it’ll be only starting, on the other hand. You four will have to go there as witnesses, and Jodie too.”
“Still, this was mean. You played Jodie like a flute.”
“No, you four played it. I was never intending to use Jodie in any way. You four did. Face it – none of you are particularly heroic, just one of you is especially smart.”
“At least I’m not a monster like him,” Daria said with some conviction.
“Indeed, indeed. Yella-ho-ho, I believe here’s my cousin and her team now.”
Over the company ground, about a dozen of helicopters, big and small, military and civil were landing.
“The end was simple: a tractor came, and pulled from the drift all that remained,” Jane sang to Daria.
The two girls were sitting in Casa Lane, tired and not very happy. Rogg’s cousin may’ve looked hot, but she and her assistant Leon Taylor (no relation to Lawndale’s Steve Taylor) could interrogate for hours. The only ones relatively at ease were Greg and Penny, and so, both girls were tired and cranky.
“At least my parents accepted you sleeping over with our place,” Jane said.
“True,” Daria nodded.
“How ‘bout us summing-up our case?”
“We cracked it.”
“We had help.”
“We were caught.”
“I learned that both me and my sister are something like freaks.”
“The man responsible for that will probably never see the light of day.”
“We're going to DC.”
“For interrogation and eventual appearance in High Court.”
“Minus…but it depends on one’s views.”
“And we got paid. A bit, but still.”
“Plus,” Jane grinned.
“We're in the pink, D,” Jane grinned. “Squeezed by a bit, but still. Oh, and you had a bonding session with Upchuck.”
The entrance door slammed. “Janey, we’re home!” Trent’s voice came from that direction.
Daria glared at Jane. Jane groaned.
“Trent, we had a busy day, go to Hell!” Jane advised. “Oh, and me and Daria will be off to DC soon.”
The phone rang. “Who is it?” Daria asked, suspecting that she already knew the answer.
“Daria!” Helen shrieked. “Care to explain why you’ll have to appear in Federal Court?!!”
Daria groaned. Her life was still hellishly hard, it seemed.