The New Recruit Chapter One

REPORT NUMBER: 1
REPORT TITLE: I Get Recruited to be a Spy
SUBMITTED BY: Agent-in-Training Spencer Garmond
LOCATION:Pilot Point,California,USA
DATE AND TIME: Friday, April 25, 4:27 p.m.
 

What can I say? I’m a moron.

I knew better than to play ball in King Coat’s territory. Maybe I was looking for a fight, wanting to blow off steam after my “talk” with Principal McKaffey.

But there we were, me and three guys from the public school, playing two on two on the court in Alameda Park. It was around 2:20. The elementary schools hadn’t let out yet. Then C-Rok and his wannabe gangsters showed up and asked to join in. Someone called “no blood, no foul” defense. C-Rok held my shirt, stepped on my feet, pushed, and shoved.

So I did too.

And I might have talked my share of trash. My mouth has the tendency to get me in trouble. Especially on the court.

Before I knew it, I was flat on my back on the hot asphalt, C-Rok straddling me, his gang buddies holding me down. The three public school guys took off, leaving me alone with the gang and theCaliforniasun.

“Get off!” I yelled.

C-Rok leaned in so close I could count the hairs on his attempt at a soul patch. “You talk to the popo, Rojo? Huh?” He slapped my face. “You tell them King Coats push for Vanderson? Huh?”

Richie Vanderson, a millionaire post production studio executive, was my buddy Sammy’s dad. He was also a bit of a drug dealer in Pilot Point.

But who was I to judge?

“I don’t squeal.” Anymore. I’d made that mistake back in middle school.

And C-Rok knew it. “You lie!” He slapped me again. “The popo picked up Príncipe. You tell them where we live?”

I knew C-Rok’s little brother—whose real name was Paco—from our days at Thirty-Second Street Elementary. We used to be good friends. “I didn’t talk to anyone about your brother.” I blame the searing asphalt for my next comment. “You gonna get offa me now? Carlos?”

I admit, mocking C-Rok’s accent had been a bad move. Plus, he really hated being called Carlos.

That’s when he pulled the knife.

“Laugh it up, Rojo. I’m-a give you a warning you better not forgit. X marks the spot, y’hear? I find out you talked to the popo, I’m-a go target shootin’.”

And then C-Rok carved an X into my forehead.

Okay, maybe scraped would be a better word than carved. I have the tendency to exaggerate. But it sure felt like a carving.

****

Thankfully, Grandma Alice wasn’t home when I got there. I ran straight for the bathroom to survey the damage.

Grandma’s two-bedroom house had been built in the 70s. The place was covered in cheap wood paneling and orange shag carpet. Grandma had accessorized with crocheted yarn pillows and blankets, except for her wall of fame in the living room that was filled with framed pictures of old rock stars.

The bathroom had a tiny tub with frosted sliding shower doors, a really low toilet, and one of those scalloped pedestal sinks—all in goldenrod porcelain. I always felt like I was standing in a dollhouse.

I hunched a bit and squinted at my reflection in the bathroom mirror, hands still shaking as I held the hair off my forehead. I looked pretty gruesome. The cuts weren’t deep, but bright red blood trailed through my eyebrows and down both sides of my nose. It pooled momentarily above my top lip before running around the corners of my mouth and down my chin like something out of a horror movie.

I turned on the water and washed my face, then dabbed at the wounds with wadded up toilet paper. The paper disintegrated, leaving doughy clumps stuck to the cuts. I wiped them off and patched myself up with gauze and Band-Aids.

My hair wouldn’t cover the bandage, so I dug my Lakers cap out of my backpack, moved the snaps on the back to a wider setting, and carefully slid it onto my head. Perfect. I started rinsing the blood out of the sink, but the ringing of Grandma’s ancient phone jolted me away from housekeeping. When that thing rings, it’s like artillery.

I ducked out the bathroom door and ran to the living room. I reached for the receiver and froze.

What if it was McKaffey calling about detention? My vice principal probably had Grandma’s number on speed dial. Or it could be Kip, wanting me to get online for a Planet of Peril raid. Kip’s pilot character, Badios, could never do anything without my bounty hunter, Kardash.

The phone rang again, the jarring metal bell almost deafening me.

Or maybe it was Sammy calling to fill me in about his dad. Something big had to have gone down if the cops had arrested Príncipe.

Another ring. I snatched up the receiver. “Yeah?”

“Spencer? This is Lillian Daggett.”

The low, rasping voice of Grandma’s closest friend made me relax. Not McKaffey. Good. “Grandma’s not home.”

“I’m looking for you, actually. I have your lawn mowing money,” Mrs. Daggett said. “Could you stop by sometime this evening? If I keep it any longer I’m afraid I might spend it on more fabric.” She chuckled, but it sounded more like someone gasping for breath.

I perked up at the mention of money. I’d been saving up for a decent USB headset so I could talk to Kip while playing Planet of Peril. “Yeah, sure. I’ll be right over.” I hung up, excited about the cash. Mrs. Daggett hadn’t paid me in so long she owed me, like, fifty bucks. If all went well, I’d be talking live on PoP tonight.

Before leaving, I called Sammy to see what was up, but he didn’t answer his cell. I left a message, then hunched down to look in the round mirror between Bob Dylan and John Denver on the wall of fame, double checking that the cap covered my bandage. If Mrs. Daggett saw it, Grandma would hear about it. Those two shared a brain.

And if Grandma found out I’d gotten in another fight, I’d be the next cadet at theCarlsbadMilitaryAcademy. As ifPilotPointChristianSchoolwasn’t bad enough. At least they had a good basketball program. I shuddered to think what kind of competitive basketball they played in military school.

Probably none.

Which reminded me, if I was going on a walk, I needed my ball. It had rolled under Grandma’s fancy tassel lamp after I’d dropped it on my way in last night. I got down on my hands and knees to retrieve it. Prepping for college ball was a 24-hour job, and the more I held my ball, the more my dribbling, shooting, and ball handling improved. I tucked the fadedWilsonunder my arm, opened the front door…

And stopped.

A police cruiser idled in the driveway behind Grandma’s green Lincoln. This couldn’t be good.

Grandma and two men headed toward the house, Grandma leading like a crossing guard in her fluorescent green tank top. Behind her, Officer Dave Kimbal, my school resource officer, walked beside a stick of a man who was dressed in a navy suit like some kind of lawyer.

Again, not good.

My brain tossed up a volley of curse words and settled on the worst-case scenario. They’d come to ask me about Mr. Vanderson. Like C-Rok, they thought I knew something. And if Grandma thought I was mixed up in some drug bust, I’d have a shaved head and a pair of combat boots quicker than you could say, “Drop and give me twenty.”

Grandma opened the screen door. The tension rod wheezed like a PoP warrior charging his blaster. The sound made me want to defend myself. But what could I say? I stepped back, my heart banging inside my chest like it wanted out.

“Here’s Spencer.” Grandma smiled as if this was going to be a good time. The hot pink sequin flamingoes on her green shirt distracted me from my fear for a millisecond. That, the metal bracelets, and her spiky, short white hair cinched it.

80s rock star wannabe.

Odd that Grandma’s fashion had progressed as far as the 80s but the house hadn’t.

The men climbed the porch steps. Six foot five, pale, and freckled with bright orange hair, Officer Kimbal could pass for my relative—only I didn’t have any relatives, except for Grandma Alice. Not that my near-orphan status stopped the kids at school from calling me Kimbal, Jr.

I’d never found that very funny.

Kimbal’s eyes pinned me like two blue searchlights. He’d been on my case a lot lately. Kimbal didn’t like my idea of fun.

The guy in the suit squinted in the sunlight. His hair was oiled back, and a thick moustache hid his mouth. Was this guy the dean of the military school? The city prosecutor? Hitler in need of a trim?

If they asked me about Sammy’s dad, I wouldn’t know what to say. Crazy as the man was, if he went to jail, Sammy would be stuck in a foster home. He and I needed to touch base before I talked to anyone, figure out what to say.

“Come inside, gentlemen,” Grandma said. “I’ll get you something to drink, then you can talk with my grandson.”

I flattened against the wall of fame as Grandma and the men filed inside.

Kimbal slapped my gut. “You missed detention this afternoon, Garmond. Had someplace better to be?”

“Uh…I forgot.”

“That don’t sound like you.”

Grandma Alice’s voice drifted out from the kitchen. “That’s Spencer’s excuse for everything, Officer Kimbal, I’m sure you know. It’s a wonder he remembers to get dressed before he leaves the house each day.”

Officer Kimbal and I looked at each other. I hated the way he could read me, how he knew me better than anyone, how he was the one adult I literally had to look up to, since I was only six foot three. It made it hard to slip something past him.

I wanted to ask why he was here, but I was too afraid of what else he might say in front of Grandma. I had to get lost. Hide somewhere. Now. Before things got ugly. My mind whirred. None of my friends lived nearby… The school gym was closed… C-Rok’s boys might be watching the park…

But Mrs. Daggett was expecting me. And I could use the cash to hang somewhere until Kimbal and his shadow left. Then I could convince Grandma that I had nothing to do with Mr. Vanderson’s little side business.

Which was true. I didn’t do drugs. Anymore.

I set my basketball on the orange shag and slipped outside, holding the screen door so it clicked shut instead of banged. The afternoon sun was high in the sky, instantly warming my skin and causing the bitter smell of hot asphalt to overpower the scent of the flowers in Grandma’s garden. I jumped off the porch and edged down the driveway, past Grandma’sLincoln, past the squad car—

The driver’s side door of the squad car popped open, scaring me back into the flowerbed edging the driveway. I tripped over a plastic pinwheel and fell into soft dirt and daffodils.

A pink-faced bald man with a tiny double chin climbed out of the car. He had a gut that hung over his belt and was wearing tan military gear. He peered at me through thick, coke-bottle glasses. I’d seen him somewhere before. But where?

“Spencer,” the man said in a deep voice. “You okay?”

The screen door whooshed open, and Kimbal stepped out onto the porch. “Where you going, Garmond?”

I scrabbled to my feet. “I don’t know anything. I swear.” I sprinted across the lawn, ignoring Kimbal’s protests drifting after me.

I hurdled the white picket fence that boxed in Grandma’s yard and tore down the street without looking back. Right on Maple. Left on Elm. The Daggetts lived in a one-story peach stucco home halfway down the block. I’d spent hours of my elementary life at their place, getting babysat while Grandma was at work, watching John Wayne movies with Mr. Daggett. The guy was obsessed.

After I got the cash, I’d take the bus to Kip’s house, call Sammy for the scoop, and play PoP or Guitar Star until this all blew over. Man, I wished I had a cell phone.

I took the three front steps in one leap, but before I could knock, the front door swung in.

Mrs. Daggett was huge, a wrinkled lineman in an Eagles-green housecoat. She flashed her pasty dentures in a smile that looked like a grimace. “Hot out today, isn’t it? Come in and have some lemonade, Spencer.”

I ducked inside the dark and musty living room and was greeted by a merciful blast of air conditioning. I breathed deeply and sighed. The place was bigger and newer than Grandma’s but always had the same old-house smell mixed with the smell of Mr. Daggett’s pipe tobacco.

I took in the familiar hardwood floors, white walls, and the ugly brown and green velour furniture. Dust-caked knickknacks, old-fashioned toys, crafts, and books were crammed onto every available surface and clustered on the floor around the furniture. Heavy brown drapes hid a wall of windows as if the sun was a nosy neighbor. A hallway stretched across the house from the front door to the laundry room with doors shooting off both sides like a hotel.

Mrs. Daggett led me to the kitchen the long way around, through the cluttered living room. I stepped carefully, knowing better than to knock over any priceless junk. I stopped beside the circular table in the kitchen-slash-dining room as Mrs. Daggett pulled a pitcher of lemonade out from the fridge. A sheet of flowery fabric covered all but one edge of the dining table. Mrs. Daggett’s sewing machine sat in the clear spot, fabric bunched up behind it in waves.

Mrs. Daggett snagged a glass from a dish rack. She cracked two ice cubes into it, poured the lemonade, and handed it to me. “Sit, sit. I’ll get your money.”

I perched on a dark wooden chair at the table and sat on something awkward. I popped back to my feet and found a stack of quilting magazines on the chair. Standing, I guzzled half the glass of lemonade. Good stuff. A clock ticked somewhere, but I couldn’t find it in the mess. I checked my watch. 4:38. I wanted to get moving.

“I’ve got some fabric forAlice,” Mrs. Daggett said from somewhere down the hall. “It’s just the thing for her log cabin project.”

Fabric? No. I didn’t want any fabric. Just the money, thanks, and I’d be on my way.

The phone rang, electronic, almost musical. If only Mrs. Daggett could teach Grandma that antiques weren’t meant to be used.

Mrs. Daggett picked up on the second ring. “Lillian Daggett speaking… Oh, hello… Yes, he’s here. I’m sending him back with some darling yellow calico that’ll be perfect for… Is that right?”

I swore under my breath. My hand shook, the ice cubes clinking against the side of my glass. I shoved the fabric back and slid my drink onto the table. I crept toward the hall. Mrs. Daggett’s voice had lowered to a whisper. She and Grandma were plotting. Time for plan B. Somewhere close I could hide for free. The mall?

The doorbell burst into a chimed version of “Amazing Grace.” The sound sent me jogging down the hall toward the laundry room and back door, but Mrs. Daggett stepped out from her sewing room and grabbed my shoulder, her grip like Kimbal’s. She’d make an intimidating SRO.

She grin-grimaced up at me. “Someone’s at the door, Spencer. Would you mind?”

I shook my head. No way was I going to military school.

“Oh, don’t be such a ninny-pinny. They aren’t going to hurt you.” Mrs. Daggett pushed past me. I ducked into the bathroom but peeked out to watch.

Mrs. Daggett opened the front door. “Dave! Lovely to see you.”

Officer Kimbal ducked inside. “Where is he?”

“Glen didn’t tell me this was a recruitment day.” Mrs. Daggett closed the door behind Kimbal. “Is this secretive nonsense really necessary?”

Lil.” Kimbal stretched her name out in a warning tone.

“Oh, relax.” Mrs. Daggett lumbered through the living room toward the kitchen. “You must be excited. Will you finally tell him? After all these years, how do you think he’ll react?”

I frowned, confused by Mrs. Daggett’s strange comments.

Kimbal’s head turned, scanning the living room. “Where, Lil?”

I could no longer see Mrs. Daggett but heard her voice as she moved through the house. “He’s just having some lemonade. Would you like some? It’s fresh squeezed.”

I wanted to run, but my thoughts kept me frozen. Mrs. Daggett knew Kimbal from church, but what secret could she be talking about?

It didn’t matter. Curiosity wasn’t worth the risk. I had to leave. Now.

Kimbal drifted through the living room toward the kitchen, so I seized the moment and snuck toward the back door.

“Spencer?”

Heat flooded my veins. I whirled around just as Mrs. Daggett stepped out of the kitchen doorway.

“You didn’t finish your lemonade,” she said.

I backed into the laundry room. Just a few more steps, and I’d be golden.

Kimbal darted into the hall behind Mrs. Daggett. I whipped around and knocked a pile of towels of the dryer, then jumped a laundry basket and crashed into the back door. I fumbled with two deadbolts and flung the door open to a wall of heat.

Kimbal yelled, “Wait!” but I slammed the white wood on his fingers. Kimbal growled through clenched teeth and the metal screen. “I just…want…to talk.”

Forget that. I fled through the back yard and banged out the side gate. I sprinted across the street, right in front of the patrol car. It whizzed past and screeched in a reckless U-turn. I heaved myself over a metal fence and ran through someone’s back yard, vaulted the fence on the other side, and continued on.

The cruiser turned at the end of the street. I ducked between two houses and stopped for a moment, panting. Barbecue smoke drifted from the yard to my left. A four-foot brick wall fenced the yard on my right. I climbed up and walked it like a tightrope, then dropped down on the other side. I ran around a bean-shaped swimming pool and crept up the side of the house toward the front yard.

Kimbal jumped out at me. He grabbed the front of my shirt and thrust me against the side of the house. I might be tall for fifteen, but Kimbal’s muscular upper body was twice my width. It was over.

“You shut my fingers in that door, Garmond,” Kimbal said, his voice calm but firm. “I could take you in for assaulting a police officer.”

I let my head fall back against the side of the house. “Oh, come on!”

“Talk. For five minutes. Don’t make me cuff you.”

The cruiser pulled up at the curb. Kimbal grabbed my elbow and led me to the car. He opened the back door. “Get in.”

I gritted my teeth and complied. Dread churned as I ducked inside and met a blast of frigid air conditioning. The Hitler wannabe sat in the back seat behind the driver. I slid in beside him on the molded plastic seat, every muscle tense. Kimbal slammed the door then climbed in the passenger’s seat.

I glanced at the driver through the open window in the Plexiglas that separated the front from the back seat. It was the bald guy with the coke-bottle glasses. He hit the gas.

“Cozy back there, Prière?” Kimbal looked over his shoulder and tapped his knuckles against the barrier. “You should recruit in a squad car more often.”

Mais oui, it is quite différent,” the Hitler wannabe said. His thick accent sounded European. Maybe French.

A dozen knots formed in my stomach. I’d been in a squad car only twice before. And even though I’d been arrested those other times, I’d never been as freaked out as I was now. Because I hadn’t done anything this time.

I slouched back on the seat as far as I could and adjusted my legs, trying to fit in the small space. I felt like a pipe cleaner inside a Hot Wheels car.

The driver shot me a crooked smile over the front seat. Sunlight flashed off his glasses. “I think you scared him.”

Ya think? I glared out the window. It looked like we were heading back to Grandma’s place.

“I am named, Prière,” the Hitler wannabe said. “Monsieur Kimbal, him you already know. Pat Stopplecamp is there, driving the vehicle. He is called by his students, Mr. S. My apologies for frightening you, Monsieur Garmond. We came to your house to speak privately. Our wish was not to be making you uncomfortable.”

Too late, pal. I wiped my sweaty palms across my jean shorts. “Pree-air?” I looked in the man’s squinted eyes. “You a lawyer?”

Non, Spence—may I call you Spence?”

Spence?I blinked and adjusted my Laker’s cap carefully over my cuts.

“I have come here to recruit you.”

I narrowed my eyes. “Look, I’m not going to military school. I don’t get into trouble. Anymore.”

Kimbal snorted a laugh. “That’s not what Mr. McKaffey told me.”

I leaned up to the window. “Officer Kimbal, detention is no big deal. Everybody gets one sometimes.”

“Sure. For being late to class. For chewing gum. Not for talking back to their teachers. Not for foul language. Not for threatening to beat up a seventh grader who—”

“That was a joke! We were just messing with him.”

Mr. S chuckled from the driver’s seat, his voice airy and soft. “Gee, I’ve never heard that one before.”

I glared at Mr. S—more like Mr. Chess with those thick glasses and that pink face. I suddenly remembered seeing the guy at a school assembly last fall doing some talk aboutAfrica. “Hey, aren’t you the mission club guy?”

“‘It takes a wise man to recognize a wise man,’” Mr. Chess said.

“Psalms?” Kimbal asked.

“Xenophanes of Colophon,” Mr. Chess said. “Often seen as one of the first monotheists in the Western philosophy of religion.”

Say what?

“Spence, have you ever thought that you would enjoy being a spy?” Prière asked.

I stared at him for a long moment, putting the pieces together. “Oh, no. I’m not going to be your rat. I don’t know nothing. And I’m not going to spy on my friends, or wear a wire, or anything like that. I know my rights. Legally, you can’t even ask me this stuff without Grandma here.”

“Garmond, you’re not in trouble, okay?” Kimbal said. “This is the real deal. We think you got the stuff to be a secret agent. Now, I want you to listen to what Prière’s got to say. Can you do that for me?”

Kimbal might be a cop who was always busting my chops, but I trusted him. “Sure.” I leaned back on the molded plastic seat, glad to know I wasn’t about to be interrogated. Or arrested. “But I’m not spying on my friends.”

“But of course,” Prière said. “Monsieur Garmond, I represent une organization that trains adolescents to be spies. They meet daily, une heure before school and after. They do also travel to a foreign country every summer lasting for eight weeks. Is that appealing to you?”

“Wait, this isn’t about drugs at school? You’re talking spies? Real spies? Like Jason Bourne?”

“Not exactly Jason Bourne,” Kimball said, “but yes.”

“For real?” I pictured myself dressed all in black with a transmitter in my ear, creeping into McKaffey’s office and changing Kip’s and my Ds in Bible History to Bs. That would be sweet. There had to be a catch.

“Why would the CIA want a guy like me?” I glanced at Kimbal. “A guy with a juvenile record? I’m not exactly good at upholding the law.” Even in my daydreams I was breaking into McKaffey’s office and changing grades.

“We aren’t with the CIA,” Kimbal said. “I promise you’ve never heard of this organization. But it’s been around since WWII. And we don’t care about your record. That’s not how we pick—”

“You’re one of them?” I asked Kimbal. “Aren’t you a cop?”

“I’m both,” Kimbal said.

I looked back to Prière. “Why pick me, though?”

“It was not I who choose you, Spence. Mais non! The Lord spoke to me your name in my times of intercession.”

I looked from face to face. It felt real, but… “Come on.” I rubbed my eyes, feeling like a complete tool. “You guys had me going there for a minute.”

“He’s not joking, Garmond,” Kimal said. “The Mission League is an international intelligence organization that does the Lord’s work. And you’ve been chosen for the Juvenile Agent Development Program.”

I blew an airy raspberry. “Chosen by you, you mean.” And probably Grandma. It all made sense now. Mission League? This was a churcher thing. Kimbal went to our church. He and Grandma must have set all this up. “Thanks, but I’ve got better things to do than hang out with a bunch of Jesus Boy Scouts.”

Kimbal shifted sideways to face me through the Plexiglas. “God has plans for you, Garmond. You’re smart, athletic, and your family has a history in the organization.”

I scoffed. “My grades are barely Cs, you know that. And I live with my— Wait, my family? What? Grandma’s no Bible agent or whatever you call them.”

Prière smoothed out his moustache. “Not always are things as they seem to be, Spence. Think it over. And remember, six o’clock Monday morning, the Barn, Harris Hall—if you choose to join our little band, oui?”

“Wii, yeah, whatever.” Wish I had a Wii. Or X-Box or PlayStation… But I had no intention of seeing Prière again. Ever.

Mr. Chess steered into Grandma’s driveway. Kimbal let me out. I took the front steps two at a time and burst inside the muggy house.