The Crusader Mysteries: MAGNA EDITION #6: TROUBLE IN CALIFORNIA

(NOTE FROM LADY: Timeline: Kelly Reading and her Crusader team in High School. This was a FanFic of mine, based on characters of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. I changed their names, but the “Collegiates” Aren’t in the Chronicles’ Lineages)

Starring: The TSDA Sleuths: Kelly Reading, Bradley Allen Schmidt, Krysti Farthay, Cara Richardson, Josh Stevenson, Amanda Jo Applebee and Steven Edwards; and the Collegiates: Nancy and Geoff Greene, Tessa Straus, Georgia Woodward, Frank and Joe Harrison.

Don’t miss any of the spine-tingling action as the best teen-detectives in the business team up for adventure, excitement, danger, and of course mystery. As they fight against one of the most ruthlessly jealous rivals that Kelly and her friends have ever encountered, they must learn how to work together in a baffling crisis against Tina Boss — Otherwise known as “T-Boz”

Will these teen-sleuths win against a jealous rival of Kelly’s who’s seeking the worst type of revenge — death? Find out in…

TROUBLE IN CALIFORNIA

———————————————————–

Chapter One

“This is going to be great!” Kirsten Farthay, also known as “Krysti” exclaimed, throwing her suitcase and shoulder bag onto one of the hotel room’s Queen-size beds. “I just hope we’re able to catch some rays, and not another mystery!”

“Why do you say that, Krysti?” Kelly Reading, one of Krysti’s best friends joked with a teasing smile. “You know you love solving mysteries with the club!”

Krysti didn’t say anything. Instead, she gave Kelly a mysterious smile, making her giggle.

It was ten o’clock at night, and the teenagers had just arrived in Shore Point, California, from Hill View, Michigan, for a hopefully relaxing vacation from their detective work.

“What’s so funny?” Steve Edwards, Kelly’s best guy friend and Krysti’s boyfriend asked, carrying one of the girls’ suitcases into the hotel room from across the hall. Bradley Allen Schmidt, Kelly’s boyfriend, was directly behind him.

“It’s got to be a ‘girl’ thing.” Bradley replied with a smile as he sat down on the bed where Kelly was lying on her stomach. He was known only as Bradley Allen, and would like to keep it that way.

“Get real!” Cara Richardson, Kelly’s other best friend cried, throwing a pillow at him.

“Hey!” Bradley laughed, dodging it. “I’m on your side, remember?” He threw the pillow back at her, exclaiming, “Besides, I agree with Krysti. We need a true vacation from mysteries.”

Kelly sat up before nodding her head in agreement. She glanced up at her boyfriend and gave him a gentle squeeze, saying, “Not to mention every-day life.”

“No doubt.” Josh Stevenson, Cara’s boyfriend and Bradley’s best friend said, helping Cara with her many bags.

“For now, though, I think we ought to turn in.” Krysti replied, yawning. “I’m pooped!”

“Which means, you guys should head to your own room across the hall.” Cara replied, shooing the boys out the door after Josh gave her a kiss.

“Good night, girls.” Bradley Allen said. He gave Kelly a quick kiss before turning to leave. “We’ll talk more in the morning, okay?”

“Sweet dreams.” Steve replied, quickly kissing Krysti before they left.

The girls nodded as they left. Immediately, Cara plopped on the bed as Krysti and Kelly unpacked their bags for the night.

After five minutes, Kelly noticed that her best friend was curled up comfortably, glancing through an old magazine, and an idea came to mind. She stopped what she was doing, nudged Krysti, smiled mysteriously, then glanced toward Cara. “On three,” She whispered to Krysti. “One…two…” The two girls counted softly, then screeched, “Three!”

With cat-like reflexes, the girls pounced at Cara and began tickling her, making her overcome with giggles.

“Okay, okay, you two!” Cara screeched, trying to break free from their grasp. “I give up! I’ll help!”

Satisfied, Kelly and Krysti stopped tickling Cara and smiled at one another, slapping a high-five, bursting out in laughter. Cara pouted for a moment, then joined in.

“Okay, I deserved that.” Cara replied, laughing. “Just don’t do it again. You scared me half to death!”

Soon, all three girls were settled down and were in bed for the night. But not sleeping. Kelly was just about to close her eyes to fall asleep when she thought of something.

“About what you said earlier, Krysti.” Kelly asked curiously.

Raising her head slightly off her pillow and yawning, Krysti asked, “Yeah? What about it?”

“Well, I was just thinking of how trouble and mystery always follows the members of Teen Sleuths Detecting Agency. It would be a miracle if we didn’t run into a mystery on our vacation.” Kelly explained, yawning. “Don’t you agree, Cara?”

Sleepily, Cara muttered an “Mm-hmm” and dozed off.

“Even so, do you think The System will get us to help them crack a case again?” Krysti wondered unenthusiastically.

Kelly shrugged, “I really don’t know.” She replied sleepily, laying her head on her pillow. “But what I do know will have to wait until the morning. Good night, Krysti.”

Soon, all three girls were sound asleep.

* * *

The next morning, the first couple that were up and ready for the day were Kelly and Bradley Allen, as usual. The two were the unofficial leaders of the Bomb Squad, their mystery club. Even though Kelly was the president and founder of the club, and Bradley was just the treasurer, the two of them knew all about detecting. They were also the favorite couple of their high school in Hill View, Michigan, Hill View High.

“What’s first on the agenda today, Kelly?” Bradley asked with a smile, taking a sip of iced tea. They were in the hotel cafeteria for a morning wake-up call, and were planning the day.

“I was just thinking of maybe catching some rays, sleeping, improving my tan, and spending the day with my favorite guy.” Kelly began, smiling at him. She took his hand in hers. “Just thought you’d like to know.”

He just stared ahead, nodding in agreement.

“You’ve definitely lost it!” Kelly replied with a giggle. She turned her head and briefly glanced in the direction where her boyfriend’s attention was stirred. Two familiar young guys were sitting at a nearby table. “I don’t believe it!” She gasped happily. “It’s the Harrisons! What are they doing here?”

“Let’s go over there and find out.” Bradley suggested, standing up. He took her hand and they headed in their old detective friends’ direction. “Hey Harrisons.” He replied, standing over the dark-haired brother, smiling. “Long time, no crime?”

“Solved any good mysteries lately?” Kelly asked as she sat down next to Joe, the younger, less serious Harrison brother.

The Harrisons turned to face them.

Frank Harrison laughed. “Well, if it isn’t Kelly Reading and Bradley Allen?”

Until Frank spoke, Joe had been smiling happily. Now, he just sat there. He pretended not to look hurt, for Kelly reminded him of somebody he loved. “Didn’t expect to see you here,” Joe finally said to Kelly with a sad note to his voice. He was about to say something else, but was interrupted.

“Don’t look so sad, Joe. Cara’s here too, along with my best friend Steve, and his girlfriend Krysti.” Kelly replied with a sympathetic smile. “And she hasn’t forgotten about you.”

The news made Joe both smile and blush. For a while, the first time they met, Joe and Kelly’s best friend Cara had dated off and on. And each time they separated, they vowed to keep in touch. So far, the romance has lasted between their two cities of Hill View and Charlton, MI.

“When did you arrive in California?” Bradley asked.

“And are you here on a case, or for pleasure?” Kelly asked, curious.

“The five of us have been here for a week.” Frank responded.

“So far,” Joe began, “We’re here for pleasure.”

Bradley looked confused, and the Harrisons smiled at each other. “Five?”

“Nancy, Georgia, and Tessa are here with us.” Joe replied.

“Quite coincidentally, I’m afraid.” Frank told them with a smile.

Joe looked at his watch, then nodded over to the elevators. “Here they come now.” He supplied.

Sure enough, when the four of them turned, they met the eyes of Nancy Greene, Tessa Straus, and the third cousin, Georgia Woodward. The three girls were older detective friends of theirs from Hill View. Nancy was Kelly’s mentor and good friend. They had solved plenty of mysteries together and Kelly valued Nancy’s advice.

“What are you doing here?” Tessa asked Kelly as soon as she saw her, without saying hello. “Your note said to meet you at the System.”

“What note?” Kelly asked, sincerely confused. “What are you talking about?”

“The note you sent Nancy, Georgia and me two weeks ago.” Tessa explained. “You do remember, don’t you?”

Kelly shook her head. Bradley gave her a look and she shrugged. Tessa reached into her purse, but Kelly lay her hand on Tessa’s to stop her. “Not here,” she ordered. “I want the rest of our friends to be present when you explain exactly what’s happening.”

Bradley sighed dramatically. “So much for this vacation.” He smiled at Kelly. “Get Krysti and Cara and have them meet us in our room, okay?”

Kelly paused, tapping Joe on the shoulder. “I should warn you. Cara’s dating Bradley’s best friend, Josh Stevenson.”

Joe looked shocked. “Just as well.”

With that in mind, they left.

* * * * *

Ten minutes later the group of friends, greeted by Steve, Josh, Krysti, and Cara, gathered in the boy’s hotel room. When Cara spotted Joe, she gave him a hug. Krysti rolled her eyes at her and took a seat on the floor.

“So,” She replied simply. “What’s the big emergency?”

“Not another mystery, I hope.” Cara groaned, sitting next to Joe. “We’re on vacation!” Cara watched as Kelly paced the floor, lost in thought.

Josh scowled at her, but stayed silent.

“Would somebody please tell me what’s going on?” Steve asked sleepily as he half-heartedly sat on the bed. He yawned. “I didn’t get much sleep last night, you know.” He then looked at his best friend in horror, and he was immediately alert. “Uh-oh. I know that look. What’s on your mind, Killer?”

Kelly explained to her friends about the note.

After a minute, Steve asked skeptically, “Well, did you write that note?”

Kelly shook her head, then turned to Tessa. “Let me see what it says.”

Tessa nodded, and pulled the note from her purse. Handing it to Kelly, she said, “If you didn’t, who did?”

“I’ll read it and find out.” Kelly replied softly, half to herself. “‘Dear Nancy, I need your help in solving a case with the System. Come to System Headquarters as soon as possible. I will give you more information upon your arrival. Your friend, Kelly Reading.'” She read aloud.

Bradley, who was reading over her shoulder, took the note from her hands and examined the envelope. “Whoever wrote this had no idea where we were at the time.” He replied, passing it to Frank.

“This sounds familiar.” Frank supplied. He glanced over his shoulder to his brother, but Joe was already one step ahead of him.

When Joe gave Bradley their note, Krysti spoke up. “You mean to tell us you guys got one, too?” She stood, then headed where Kelly, Bradley, and Frank were standing.

Frank nodded. “It says the same thing, practically, except it was addressed to Joe and me and was from Bradley.”

Kelly sat down on the edge of the nearest bed and sighed. “Oh boy.”

Bradley glanced the two notes over. “Here’s something.” He declared. Kelly sprang up the see what her boyfriend had found. “The postmark is nowhere near Shore Point on yours, Frank. And on Nancy’s, its in New York.”

“On ours, it said it was sent from Michigan.” Joe observed, showing it to Cara.

“In Lansing.” Cara said depressingly. “Great.”

The room was silent for a few minutes until Georgia asked, “Where were you at the time?”

“In Florida.” Bradley replied, lost in thought. “Working on a case with Nancy and Tessa. Don’t you remember?” He asked Nancy. When she nodded, he continued. “Then how could Kelly and I possibly write those notes from New York and Lansing when we were in Florida with you?”

The group thought it over for a few minutes.

After a while, Krysti was beginning to get restless. “I don’t know about you guys, but I want to spend my time in the sun, as I had planned.” She replied, heading for the door. Before leaving, she turned to Cara, who was sitting next to Joe Harrison. Krysti rolled her eyes, but decided to ask her anyway. “Are you coming, Cara?”

“No. I think I’ll stay here. To, uh, help out.” Cara responded, blushing a little.

In Josh’s mind, he was getting furiously jealous. Being the good and understanding boyfriend to Cara that he was, he decided not to say anything before leaving with Krysti.

“I agree with Krysti. We should take a break in the case and try to get some fun in while we still can.” Steve replied, standing up.

“Yeah,” Joe said smiling at Cara and squeezing her hand gently. “We need a break.”

Before Kelly could open her mouth to protest, Frank said. “I know we just started this case, but you have to admit something.”

“What?” Kelly asked dreadfully, looking at Bradley in horror.

“We could use the break.” Bradley whispered in her ear, giving her waist a tender squeeze. He kissed her gently on the lips. “That’s the one reason why we came here in the first place, remember? To relax, unwind, have some fun, and not solve a mystery.”

Kelly looked into his eyes as if the others weren’t there. She laughed. “Alright! I give! We’ll take a break.”

“We could meet here again, let’s say, for dinner.” Nancy suggested, looking around to the rest of the group.

“Gotcha,” They agreed.

“It’s all coming into place…” Tina Boss’s voice was calm, but fierce.

“What’s dat, T-Boz?” Charles Tchaikovsky asked in a halting English-Russian accent. Curious as can be, Charles, who the System called Chuckie, was an S.O.S. — A System Operative Spy. He was on a case right now, and needed as many answers as possible.

“My beautiful plan. My wonderful, glorious plan. Ahh.” T-Boz sighed majestically. “It feels so good to be so bad!” She let out a sadistical laugh. “I’m doing it on my own. No System, no Network, no Orthos, and definitely no Sabrina to get in my way!”

“What is dis marvelous plan of yours?” Chuckie asked.

“Agent Reading has been a bit of a bore lately.” T-Boz began to explain, settling herself down in the booth next to Chuckie. “Her friends, including Shannon, have made her more known as a detective than me! So I’m going to eliminate the competition so to speak. Then…” She laughed, her voice rang loud and long, and was heard throughout the building.

Chuckie feared for them all.

Later, as Cara and Joe walked, they talked.

“Why didn’t you ever tell me about Josh?” Joe asked.

“I didn’t want to hurt you.” Cara replied. “I still have a lot of feelings for you, Joe, but Josh, well…he’s been there since I was young. ”

“What about us?” Joe asked, bummed.

Cara sighed, looking away from him. Her face was expressionless as she stared straight ahead. “Uh, Joe,” she tapped him, holding onto his arm. “Look over there.”

Joe looked to where her gaze took her eyes. He saw a weird-looking man, going through a nearby booth in the town square.

“I wonder what he’s doing?” Cara asked curiously.

He watched as the man went through clothes racks in haste.

“Whatever it is, it’s none of our business.” He checked his watch. “Come on, we’ve got to get back. I don’t want to miss dinner.”

His words were wasted as she continued to stare. “Usually, I’d agree with you, but my instincts tell me something’s up.”

Joe groaned. “Cara, don’t start.”

“It’s like he wants to be seen.” Cara continued, finally looking at him, watching his reaction. Instead of a comment, she gasped, looking over his shoulder. “Joe, behind you!”

He whirled around to see a masked man, holding a knife just inches away from his chest. With cat-like reflexes, Joe hurled himself at the attacker. A swift karate-kick sent the knife out flying into the air. Cara raced to retrieve it, but before she could do anything with it, she felt a thunk against the back of her head. Immediately, she fell to the ground.

Joe, who saw most of the action from the corner of his eye, yelled. “Cara!” He went for the attacker as well. “I’ll teach you to mess with a Harrison, you creep!” He yelled as he threw a fierce punch-kick combination at the two attackers.

Unfortunate for him, one of them blocked it and sent him across the sidewalk, sending him back-first into a pile of fruit. Joe shook his head and watched as the attacker just walked away, with Cara over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes.

He stood to fight the first guy, but as he prepared to punch, he was blocked. The guy grabbed at Joe’s neck in a choke-hold, making him gasp for air.

In a few seconds, everything went black.

Chapter Two

Cara Richardson groaned as she woke from what seemed to be a very painful sleep.

Where am I, she thought, blinking open her eyes. It was senseless, the room was dark as night. What happened?

Immediately, she noticed she was back-to-back tied to someone.

Must be Joe. She mused. “Come on, Joseph Harrison,” She muttered, wiggling around to loosen the ropes behind her. “Wake up. Please?”

She heard a faint groan coming from behind. “What the hell?” Joe sputtered softly, confused and dizzy.

“Hey, are you okay?” Cara asked, turning as much as she could to see him.

“Cara? Yeah, I’m okay.” He responded, trying to feel his way free. “How about you? Are you hurt?”

Cara stifled a laugh. “Except for the bump on my head and my pride, I’m just peachy.” She muttered sarcastically.

“Hey Cara?” Joe asked. “I’ve got a pocket-knife in my back-pocket.”

“Want me to see if I can reach it?”

“You got it.” Joe supplied.

“I’ll try. That’s all I can promise.” Cara whispered. It took a few seconds, but she was able to feel her way around for the pocket-knife. Using delicate skill, and without slicing both their wrists, she expertly cut the ropes. Within seconds, they were free of the painful ropes.

Rubbing her wrists, she handed the knife back to Joe, who put it back into his pocket, out of the sight of whoever kidnapped them.

“I never dreamed just how much Mrs. Dratianos’ lessons would come in handy until now.” Cara replied, laughing a little. She may have been scared for the moment, but she wasn’t about to have her sense of humor taken away by fear. “I’ll thank her as soon as we get ourselves out of here.”

Joe stood up, and then helped Cara to her feet. “Which brings us to the question.”

Cara stared.

“Where are we?” Joe supplied. He glanced around the room for a way out. “Do you see a way we can escape?”

Cara shook her head, “Sorry, Joe. I don’t.”

“Aha!” Joe exclaimed excitedly when he saw the shadow of light coming from the door. “The obvious way out. The door.”

Cara giggled, then tried to open it. “Not exactly.” She said. “It’s locked.”

Cara stood aside and watched as Joe tried to pry open the door. “Wait.” She spoke up when he readied himself for a karate-kick. “I felt the door – pure iron. A kick would break your legs.”

“I also see it’s locked from the outside.”

“Whoever kidnapped us doesn’t want us to escape.” Joe supplied, and he sighed, glancing around the door.

Cara was beginning to cry, and Joe could see it in the darkness. “We’ll never get out of here.” She said sadly, a single tear running down her face.

Not being able to help himself, he wiped it away, pulling her in a comforting hug. She cried in his chest, and his heart bled for her. “It’s okay, Cara. I’m here. Soon, Kelly will rescue us. You’ll see.”

“I hope you’re right, Joe.” Cara whispered, snuggling closer to him. She could feel his heart pound at the act.

Joe sighed. “So do I.”

A few hours later, Kelly, Bradley, Frank, Nancy, Tessa, Georgia, Steve, Josh and Krysti gathered at a nearby restaurant for dinner.

Kelly sat, nervously looking at her watch every few seconds.

“What’s up, Kelly?” Steve asked.

Bradley had been watching her face, and didn’t like what he saw. “What do you sense?”

Those who didn’t know what he was talking about stared at Kelly, their eyes wide.

Kelly bit her lip, shaking her head out of the trance. “Where are Cara and Joe? Both knew we were going to meet here for dinner.”

“We were.” Georgia replied, nodding.

“Knowing Joe, he and Cara probably out having fun together.” Frank supplied, joking.

Josh stood up and growled, pointing a finger at Frank. “If he lays one hand on her, you’re both dead meat.”

“Knock it off, Josh.” Bradley commanded. “This is serious. So serious, it put Kelly in a trance.”

Kelly looked around the table, uneasily, worried for her best friend.

“What’s wrong?” Tessa asked, taking a bit of the salad that was placed in front of her.

“Don’t tell me – Cara’s in trouble again.” Steve replied sarcastically. He and Krysti laugh at his joke, but they were the only ones.

Kelly gave him a dirty look. “I’m not joking around.” She told him sternly. “Something’s wrong here. I can sense it.”

“Sense?” Nancy asked.

“I’m a Mystic.” Kelly supplied quickly. “I can sense people, using something called Empathy. Now, I can sense something is definitely out of place.”

“Don’t panic.” Frank told her.

“Her best friend is gone – my girlfriend – and you’re telling us not to panic?” Josh nearly screamed.

Kelly jumped, feeling fearful of Josh’s growing temper. Bradley wrapped a caring arm around her shoulders and glared at his best friend, warning. “Josh.”

Josh and Bradley met eyes, with Josh suddenly sitting back in his chair.

“This is serious, you guys.” Krysti supplied. “Cara’s never late for a meal!”

“Whatever’s going on, we’ll get to the bottom of it.” Steve replied, nodding.

“We are the best in Hill View.” Tessa replied, eyes sparkling.

“Maybe the notes and their disappearance have something in common?” Georgia spoke up, and the group stared at her.

“Now they disappeared?” Josh spat out. “Great. Just great.”

“Hold on a minute, Josh.” Frank replied. “We’re all jumping to conclusions.”

“Furthermore,” Nancy began to add. “We don’t know if they disappeared or not. They may have just lost track of time.”

“Nancy’s right.” Kelly added. “Cara does have a tendency to do that sometimes. I should know — I am her best friend.” She sighed, glancing around the table. “I guess I’m just being paranoid, as usual.”

Bradley squeezed her shoulders in affection, making her smile again.

“If this is our mystery, what are we going to do about it?” Krysti inquired.

“We don’t even know if it’s a mystery or not.” Steve replied, frustrated. “Right now, let’s eat. No use waiting for someone who won’t show.”

The waitress placed their orders in front of them, and he smiled mysteriously. “Besides, I’m starved!”

All through dinner, Kelly picked at her food, Josh didn’t look up from his plate as he played with his as well. Nancy could tell the teens were worried over their friends and fellow sleuths.

After dinner, the teens headed to their separate rooms for the night.

Bradley, Steve, Kelly, Krysti, and Josh were walking to their rooms, talking.

“Do you really think there’s a mystery here, Krysti?”

Krysti sighed. “I don’t know what to think anymore, Steve.” She told her boyfriend.

She and Kelly stepped inside the room once she unlocked it, and gasped.

“Oh my dangles!” Kelly cried in horror, astonished at the sight before her.

The girls’ hotel room had been ransacked!

Quickly, the group rushed around, trying to find out what was going on.

“Doesn’t look as if anything’s missing.” Josh replied after a while, surveying the room once more.

“The saboteur left a note.” Bradley replied, handing it to Kelly for her to read.

“‘To the Bomb Squad Geeks:” She read aloud. “‘We have Cara and Joe. Surrender yourselves to T-Boz or join them in their fate.’ And it’s signed by The Boss.”

“Who’s that to know of us?” Steve asked.

Krysti shrugged. “T-Boz sounds like a code-name from the System.”

“T-Boz.” Kelly whispered under her breath. “I can sense whoever was here just wanted to shake us up.”

“Anything else?” Bradley was at her side in moments.

Kelly closed her eyes as her fellow Dream World Crusaders watched.

There was a knock on the door as she was about to say something, and Kelly’s eyes flew open.

“It’s Frank.” Came his whispered urgent voice. “May I come in?”

“Sure.” Steve said.

In a minute, Frank was at their sides, with a copy of the note in his hands.

“Where did you get that?” Kelly asked, taking it from him.

“It was left –” Frank began to explain, but before he could finish his sentence, Tessa and her cousins stormed in the room.

“Wait until you see this!” Tessa cried, waving a piece of paper in Steve’s face.

Steve was annoyed. “Chill out, Tessa!” He winced in agitation, taking a step back before taking the paper from her hands and out of his face. “This is a copy of our note!” He cried when he read it. He handed it to Frank, who was reading the other notes in his hands.

“They all look the same to me.” Georgia commented.

Until now, Kelly was silent in thought. Her powers were triggering – big time, but could she trust Frank, Nancy and her cousins with a secret that big?

She looked at her friends from her seat at her bed. “You guys, I’m really scared.” She replied quietly, which got the attention of the entire group. “I want to find out what’s going on with Cara and Joe – fast. Before something happens to them.”

The teens looked at each other and gulped.

Chapter Three

She was scared. She was hurt. She was afraid, and she was alone.

Well, not totally alone, Cara thought to herself, hugging Joe close as he slept beside her. He is a great guy. She thought, smiling. I mean, he’s an ace detective at Hill View U, he’s faced danger, and he cares for the people he loves.

Cara sighed. I just wish I could make up my mind! Do I love Joe, or Josh?

Cara sat up, leaning against the wall with her legs up so she could hug them. She closed her eyes, taking a deep breath. Darkness filled the air but for the tiny bit of light from under the door. She began to recall old, good memories in her mind – a trick she’d learned from Kelly, no doubt. Before she could play one in her mind, she heard a faint groaning noise, and her eyes opened, glancing toward Joe.

“Hey,” She said to him softly. “Wake up, sleepyhead.”

Joe shook his head and sleepily glanced around the darkened room. He groggily mumbled, “Where are we, anyway, Cara?”

“In some sort of dungeon.” She said, moving back over to him. “In the dark.”

She lay a hand on his leg, to let him know she was okay, and to let her know he was there for her. She surveyed the room slowly. Her eyes, trained for darkness, found a red light in the corner of the room which caught her immediate attention. “I wonder what that light is?”

She didn’t mean to say it out loud, but she did, and Joe heard it.

“Oh, it’s probably some sort of monitoring device, like a camera. That, or a microphone listening to our every word.”

Puzzled, Cara asked. “How would you know?”

“Frank and I run into this kind of stuff all the time.” He paused before going on, his voice turning serious and wistful. “Frank. I bet you anything, Cara, he’s worried sick about me. Though, he does know I can get myself in and out of trouble.”

At that, Cara burst into tears. “What if we never get out of here! I’ll never see my friends or family again!”

Joe comforted her by stroking her cropped brown hair. “Are you always this brave in the face of danger?” He hoped to lighten her mood, but she pulled away and frowned.

“How can you joke at a time like this?” Cara asked.

Just then, a voice called over the P.A. System sarcastically. “Enjoying the little surprise I gave you, Agent Hope?”

Cara wiped her tears with the back of her hand. “Let us go!”

“Yeah, like that’ll happen.” The voice laughed.

“Who the hell are you, anyway?” Joe asked.

“You may call me T-Boz.” The voice confirmed. “I’ll be monitoring you from time to time, so don’t dare try anything cocky.”

“You sound familiar.” Cara whispered.

“Of course. You only took away what was mine back at the System.”

“I didn’t take anything of yours.” Cara admonished. “I don’t even know who you are!”

“Dear Agent Hope, you know very well who I am. And now, I’ve got you in the palm of my hands.”

“Why?” Joe asked. “Why kidnap us?”

“You just happened to mess with my guards trying to be a hero.” T-Boz replied. “Nice try, Harrison, but it didn’t work. For that, you must suffer.”

Cara stared at the light curiously, clutching Joe’s arm for comfort. “What are you going to do with us?”

T-Boz seemed to pause dramatically before going on. Then, a final statement startled them.

“I will execute you all.”

T-Boz’s words stung their ears with vengeance. The questions began to pour out of their mouths, but it was too late. T-Boz was through listening.

Back at the hotel, Bradley, Steve, Krysti, Josh, Nancy, Tessa, Georgia, and Frank gathered around Kelly.

“What do you suggest we do, Kelly?” Bradley asked his girlfriend, laying a comforting arm around her shoulders. Nancy stood beside her with a worried look in her eyes.

Kelly shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess we should split up into groups and form search parties.” She looked at her friend’s faces for agreement. “Is that okay?”

“Sure,” they said, with the exception of Frank, who sat on one of the beds, scowling as he reread the notes.

“Come on, Frank.” Krysti prodded. “Do you agree, or not?”

Frank looked at them with pain in his eyes and sighed. “If anything happens to Joe, I’ll never begin to forgive myself.”

Kelly sat down next to him and gave him a sympathetic hug. “I feel the same way about Cara. She’s like a sister to me.” She told him, but he refused to meet her eyes. “But they’re together, so I’m sure they’ll be alright.”

Kelly looked at the group of friends, then back to Frank, waiting for a response. When he didn’t say anything, she continued. “For now, about the plan?”

Reluctantly, Frank nodded his head in agreement, and the group of friends decided on a plan. Steve would be with Bradley, Nancy with Kelly, and Frank with Josh. Krysti, Georgia, and Tessa were together in a team.

Twenty minutes later, Kelly was tired of searching the town square, where her sensors led her.

“Tell me again why you think they where here?” Nancy asked, skeptic.

“I can sense it.” Was all Kelly told her. She called Joe and Cara’s names, but couldn’t find them. “Where can they be?” Kelly whispered under her breath.

She tried closing her eyes and clutching her Dream Locket, in order to sense where her best friend was, but before she could see anything in her mind, Nancy interrupted.

“Don’t worry, I’m sure we’ll find them.” Nancy pat her on the back.

Kelly looked at her watch. “It’s time to meet the others back at the hotel anyway.”

“Maybe they found some clues?” Nancy assured her.

Kelly wasn’t convinced, thinking. Doubt it.

When they met up with the others, Kelly noticed both her best friend and her boyfriend hadn’t arrived, yet.

They said their hello’s in the lounge, seating themselves at a booth in the corner. Josh and Frank were frowning, almost mad at each other over it. Kelly could tell Josh wasn’t happy with the fact Frank’s brother was with his girlfriend, and Frank was at odds with himself. Krysti and the two of Nancy’s cousins were last to arrive.

“Have you seen Bradley or Steve anywhere?” Kelly asked Krysti.

Krysti shook her head. “Last I saw them, they were in the village. I tried to call to them, to see if they heard anything, but they disappeared.”

The cousins nodded in agreement.

“It’s not like either of them to be late, I know that.” Josh said. “They’ll be here, just wait.”

“Don’t be too sure about zat, kids.” A man’s voice replied in a halting Russian-English accent.

The teens looked up to see who had spoken. He spoke again.

“T-Boz has dem.”

The group turned toward Kelly when she gasped.

* * * * *

“What are we gonna do, Joe?” Cara was pacing, frantic for their safety. “I’m too young to die!”

“I’m sure we’ll think of something.” Joe replied, trying to stop her from making him dizzy. “We always do.”

Before he could say anymore, the lights came on and the door creaked open. They rubbed their eyes, which were blinded for the moment. When they were able to see again, they saw which of their friends were shoved in front of them, blindfolded and gagged.

It was Bradley Allen and Kelly’s best friend, Steve Edwards!

When T-Boz’ thug left the room, slamming the door behind him, Cara and Joe untied them. Fortunately, the thug had left the light on, so they could see what they were doing.

Both Bradley and Steve hugged Cara.

“Boy, are we glad to see you!” Cara cried.

“What happened?” Joe asked, removing the rope from behind Steve’s back.

Steve and Bradley looked at each other before saying anything.

“It all began when Kelly noticed you missing.” Bradley began.

“We broke up into groups,” Steve continued.

“But were attacked.” Bradley said.

“Before we knew it, we were bound, gagged, and looking into the eyes of the kidnapped!” Steve finished.

Bradley cleared his throat. “What about you?”

Joe and Cara explained their bustle in the city.

When they ended, Cara was crying. Bradley hugged her. “You guys went through a lot. Are you okay?”

“Nothing we can’t handle, right Joe?” Cara grinned, wiping the tears from her eyes with the back of her shirt sleeve.

Joe nodded, his heart pounding with the sight of her.

“Attention, stupid-sleuths!” Boomed a voice over the intercom. “Surprise! More execute-es to add to my collection!”

“Cut to the chase, T-Boz!” Cara yelled, eyeing both the red light and her two friends for their reactions.

Steve shrugged, and Bradley stared, his eyes narrowed in thought.

“Let us go!” Joe cried.

“Settle down, Harrison.” T-Boz’s voice replied, nonchalantly. “I’m afraid I can’t do that. Unless….”

“Unless what?” Bradley asked, suspicious.

“You surrender your titles to me.” T-Boz paused.

“Never!” Cara cried, hands shaking in fear. Joe stepped to calm her by placing his hands on her arms.

“Tish-tosh,” T-Boz replied. “Stress isn’t good for the mind, body, or spirit, you know.”

“I don’t care!” Cara yelled back.

“You should.” T-Boz sneered.

The red light shut off, and it was clear she was through listening.

Cara sighed in frustration as she slumped to the floor, feeling defeated. When she looked at Bradley and Steve, to see if either of them caught the hint, Bradley nodded.

“Mrs. D’s enemy is after her old title.” Bradley said.

“Why us?” Joe asked.

“Easy,” Steve said. “When the Crusaders were inducted in the System, we took her title of Junior Detective away from her.”

“Her real name is Tina Boss, and she’s the most hated double-agent in the business.” Bradley supplied. “She’s been swearing revenge since Shannon Ryan herself kicked her out of the System.”

“Yeah, not even the System’s rival agency, the Network, would take her.” Cara said. “She’s ruthless and dangerous.”

Joe gulped, knowing his life was about to be cut short.

Chapter Four

Back at the hotel, Kelly stared at the familiar-looking man. “How do you know?”

“Please, Agent Reading, not here.” The man said. “May we speak in your room?”

Kelly stood, but Nancy touched her arm. “We don’t even know his name.” She whispered in Kelly’s ear. “It’s very dangerous to invite a stranger to your hotel room. What if he’s lying?”

Kelly shrugged her off. “He’s not a stranger. He’s an S.O.S.” She said softly, making sure no one else heard her. She nodded to the man. “Come on, follow me.”

Reluctant, Nancy began to follow.

“If you don’t mind, Kelly, I’m going to the café for something to chow.” Krysti announced. She turned to Georgia and Tessa. “Coming with?”

The cousins nodded. They looked to Nancy.

“Go ahead, but make it quick. We’ve got a mystery on our hands.” Nancy told them.

With that, the three girls rushed off, leaving Nancy, Frank, Josh, and Kelly to deal with the unidentified man.

When they settled in Kelly’s hotel room, the man sat at a table. Kelly stared.

“Alright, confess.” Kelly said. “What do you know?”

“First things first.” Frank announced. “Who are you?”

“I am Charles Tchaikovsky. My code-name is Chuckie. Pass-code Spade Alpha Gamma Pi Iota. Full Code: SOS-FHC-TBH-SDR.” He flashed his com-badge and watch to them. He turned to Nancy. “I am harmless.”

“I see that now.” Nancy reddened.

“Enough stalling, Chuckie.” Josh spat. “Where’s Cara?”

“T-Boz has dem.” Chuckie said. “I overheard her thugs talking.”

“Where are they?” Kelly asked, worried now.

“Who’s T-Boz?” Frank asked before Chuckie could open his mouth to speak.

“A jealous enemy of Ariana Reading’s.” Chuckie said. “I have no idea where she is keeping them, but I would be aware from now on.”

“What would she want with Joe?” Frank replied.

“He fought against her thugs as they were getting to Agent Hope.” Chuckie revealed. “Now, we are all doomed.”

“Not if I have anything to do with it!” Josh cried.

Kelly put a hand on his shoulder, calming his anger. She turned to Chuckie once again. “Is that all you know?”

Chuckie nodded. “Da.”

He stood, tipping his brimmed hat at the group and disappeared out the door.

The group all sat down, pondering Chuckie’s words.

“Do you think he’s telling the truth?” Frank asked.

“I hate to say it, Harrison, but shut up.” Kelly scowled. “He’s a System agent. He wouldn’t lie to another.”

Frank Harrison was silenced. Kelly caught Josh’s satisfied grin.

Josh sat next to Kelly, hugging her. “Can you sense anything now, Kel?” He whispered in her ear.

She closed her eyes and thought of her best friends and boyfriend. Sadly, she looked up at Josh. “Sorry, Josh. I can’t.”

Josh’s face went from defeated to angry. He stood up. “We shouldn’t have come to California, Kelly. At least, not to Shore Point.”

“We needed a vacation.” Kelly said, standing up to him.

“Some vacation!” Josh spat, getting in her face as she stood in front of him.

“That’s enough, you two!” Nancy cried above their voices, coming between them. “We’ve got to get our acts together and find our friends.”

“End of discussion.” Frank wasn’t exactly happy right now, and the lines in his forehead showed it.

Josh turned on him now. “If it weren’t for your stupid brother, we wouldn’t be in this mess!”

“Stop it, just stop it!” Kelly yelled, almost in tears. “I don’t want to fight, I want to find Bradley, Cara, Steve, and Joe.”

“Kelly’s right.” Nancy said. “I’ll see what’s keeping my cousins and Krysti in the café.”

Before leaving, Frank spoke up calmly. “I’ll go with you.”

“You two wait here, okay?” Nancy asked.

“Sure.” Kelly said.

Josh was silent until they left. He sat back on the bed and began rubbing his temples. “Oh, Cara.” He began to chant.

Kelly didn’t know what to do. Josh was a former love of hers when her own boyfriend left to meet his family some time ago. Her heart was still in two, but she could tell Josh felt the same. She loved Bradley with her heart, and he loved Cara the same.

“Josh,” She whispered. He looked up. “It’s gonna be okay, you know.”

“Once I have Cara back it will.” Josh said. “But until then, I’m worried.”

“I am too.” Kelly agreed, and she hugged him.

No matter how much Magic she had, there was nothing she could do.

A null and uncomfortable silence filled the darkened dungeon where Joe, Bradley, Steve, and Cara were being kept.

“What’s taking Kelly so long?” Bradley asked.

“Hasn’t she sensed us, yet?” Cara replied after him.

Joe looked confused. “Sensed?”

Bradley, Steve, and Cara looked at each other.

“Does it have anything to do with the Crusaders you mentioned?” Joe pressed.

Before they could explain, it happened again. The lights turned on, nearly blinding them. The iron door creaked open slowly and loudly, with three more of their friends shoved in as they watched.

They could hear shouts of “Hey, watch it!” and “Let go of me!” As Tessa Straus and Georgia Woodward joined them, with Kirsten “Krysti” Farthay right behind them.

As soon as the door slammed shut, Steve rushed to his girlfriend.

“Steve!” Krysti cried, hugging and kissing him.

“What happened to you three?” Steve asked her.

Tessa shook her head. “That’s what we want to know.”

“Krysti got the munchies, and we followed, bored and hungry ourselves.” Georgia revealed.

“We were drugged.” Krysti explained quickly, holding her head. “Our drinks at the café.”

“Next thing we knew, we were heading in the back of a van, heading who knows where.” Tessa concluded.

“That’s when you were brought here, right?” Bradley nodded in thought.

The three girls nodded.

“Is that what happened to you guys?” Krysti asked her boyfriend and Cara.

“In a matter of speaking, yes.” Joe cleared his throat. He looked to Cara, then told their story. Bradley and Steve followed by telling theirs.

When they were finished, Bradley sighed. “It’s up to the others to save us now.”

Krysti looked at Cara, and the two of them chorused. “We’re doomed.”

Meanwhile, back at the hotel, Josh and Kelly looked at one another for answers.

“This is getting ridiculous!” Kelly cried out in frustration, breaking the silence. “My powers are useless now. T-Boz is worse than I remember.”

“Wasn’t it your mother the one to take her position?” Josh asked her.

Kelly nodded. “Yeah, but why would she want our friends? They had nothing to do with it.”

“Don’t you remember, Kelly?” Josh stood. “We took her spot when the Crusaders joined the System.”

“That’s where we were announced the Crusaders, and you guys were taught about the Mystics.” Kelly said.

At that remark, Nancy and Frank barged in the room. “They’re gone.” Nancy announced.

“When we got there, they had already left.” Frank said.

“Where do you think they went?” Kelly asked. Her head started to ache, and the Dream Locket glowed.

“I wouldn’t know.” Nancy supplied.

“It’s time we brought the police into it.” Josh said.

Kelly shook her head. “No, not yet.”

“Besides, what would we say?” Frank began, getting madder by the second. “My friends have been kidnapped by my old enemy, but I don’t know where they are. Come on, Josh, get serious.”

Josh was in his face immediately. “I am serious, Harrison!”

“Frank’s right.” Nancy said. “We have to figure this out on our own.”

“This is between T-Boz and me. Why is she doing this to us?” Kelly wondered aloud. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

She slumped on her bed, tiring of all the madness. She touched her Dream Locket, suddenly getting a sense of Bradley somewhere. She just couldn’t place it.

“Right now, nothing makes sense.” Frank announced.

“Wait,” Nancy brightened. “Can’t you call the System for help? After all, T-Boz is one of you.”

Josh frowned at Nancy, shaking his head. “Was, long ago. Once Shannon found out she was a double-agent, she was immediately booted out of the System.”

He sat down next to Kelly. “Hey, are you okay?”

Kelly sat up, shaking her head. “I can sense them, but I can’t trace where.”

Nancy and Frank exchanged glances.

Before Kelly could say anything else, the phone rang and she answered it. “Hello?”

“Agent Reading?” The voice on the other end of the line said.

Kelly’s eyes widened, and she glanced toward Nancy, Frank, and Josh. “Yes, this is she. May I help you?”

“Meet your contact in the café at fourteen-hundred hours. I have information leading to the disappearance of your friends.”

“Who is this?” Kelly’s fingers played with the phone cord as she bit her lip, nervous. “How do you know of me?”

“I am a friend from the System fighting on your behalf.” They told her. “Come, and they will tell you what you need to do.”

With that, the caller hung up. Kelly placed receiver back on the phone slowly, her mind wandering.

Josh came to her side. “Well, who was it?”

“Someone claiming to be an operative from the System.” Kelly announced. “I have to meet my contact at two o’clock in the café.”

“I thought you weren’t on a case with them?” Frank replied.

“We’re not.” Kelly looked to Josh, who nodded in agreement. “They claim they have information for me, and that they’re fighting on our behalf.” Kelly looked to Nancy and Frank. “I am so sorry I’m dragging you guys into this.”

“That’s okay, Kelly.” Nancy said. “We got notes from someone, remember?”

Kelly nodded. “I wish I knew what to do.”

“When you go, I’m coming with you.” Josh said.

“It’s gonna take more than the four of us to catch her.” Kelly said.

Nancy grinned. “Care for one more?”

Kelly looked at her, puzzled.

“Geoff.”

Geoff was Nancy’s brother. Kelly and Geoff always got along great together, combining their powers of persuasion and intellect.

“Why not?” Kelly shrugged her shoulders and Josh grinned.

Nancy dialed the phone.

Chapter Five

Bradley Allen Schmidt surveyed the darkened room with his eyes trained for darkness. He clasped his Protectors’ Pendant that hung around his neck, hoping Kelly would be able to sense his love for her. Krysti was being comforted by Steve, Cara and Steve were at each others’ throats, Joe sat alone in the corner, head on his knees, and the cousins sat silent, which was unusual for them.

“We’re never getting out of here!” Cara cried, pacing.

“Shut up, Cara!” Steve growled. Krysti shook in his arms.

“No, you shut up, Steve-bomber!” Cara shot back. “If you were so smart, you’d figure a way out of here.”

Bradley had just about enough. He blew out a hearty whistle. “Why don’t you both shut up. It does no good to yell at each other. We’re going to be here for awhile.”

“Bradley’s right.” Joe said. “We might as well calm down and stop blaming each other.”

Krysti, sniffing back tears, spoke up as she stood. “I have an idea.” She turned toward Steve, Cara, and Bradley. “Do you remember when Kelly, Adam, Josh, and Miranda were stranded for three days?”

Bradley hated to be reminded of it. It was one of the most lonely times of his life. He nodded sadly. “How can I forget?”

“Remember what they did?” Krysti asked. “They brought up favorite memories and told the other three. Let’s take that one step further and tell each other about ourselves?”

Her friends gathered around her.

“I’m game,” Joe nodded. “It’ll pass the time.”

“Until what?” Cara asked, tears beginning to fill her eyes. “Our execution?”

“I’m starting to hate T-Boz.” Bradley muttered to himself. He took off his glasses and rubbed his temples.

Cara looked at him, then got up to plant herself behind him, giving his shoulders a gentle, friendly squeeze. “I know how much you miss Kelly. You’re frustrated that you, being a System agent as well, can’t do anything about this.” She told Bradley gently. “I understand completely.”

He began to relax. “Thanks, Cara.” He said softly, taking her hand and squeezing it. “I only wish I could do something.” He pounded his leg angrily. “I feel so helpless.”

“How do you think the rest of us feel?” Joe cried. “You know this chic more than I do, and I don’t see either of you doing anything.”

“Can it, Joe.” Cara spat. She let out a sigh. “In order to beat T-Boz, we’re gonna have to think like her.”

“Question is, how?” Steve asked.

“Wait – that’s it!” Krysti spoke up.

They looked at her strangely.

“The Pendants!” Krysti cried, taking hold of her Dream Locket. “The Crusaders.”

“What are you talking about, Krysti?” Joe asked.

Steve spoke up. “Our Protectors’ Pendants only link us to each other. You to me, Brad to Kelly, and Cara to Josh.”

Krysti glared at her boyfriend. “Duh!”

Steve looked at Bradley. “Can you sense anything from Kelly?”

He shook his head, so Steve turned to Cara. “What about you? Can you send a telepathic message to Josh?”

Joe held his breath, not knowing what to think.

“It doesn’t hurt to try.” Cara said, looking at Bradley, who smiled. “We could tell them where we are.”

“There’s a problem with that.” Joe announced. They looked at him. “We don’t know where we are.”

Krysti slumped next to Steve. “Oh.”

Bradley watched as Tessa’s eyes watched the corner.

“What’s up, Tessa?” Bradley asked.

“We haven’t heard from her in a while.” She announced, glancing at her friends.

Georgia spoke up. “Yeah. I wonder why not?”

The teens looked at the light in the corner, and it began flashing.

“Did I hear someone call for an exterminator?” T-Boz’s loud voice crackled.

“You’ve got us here,” Krysti faced the light, taking control. “Now what’s gonna happen?”

“I’m not done collecting my dues, Agent Sporty.” T-Boz said viciously. “There are three more snoops getting in my way.”

“Frank, Nancy, and Josh.” Georgia whispered. “You leave them alone!”

Tessa yelled after her cousin. “We didn’t do anything to you, T-Boz! Let us go!”

All but Bradley and Cara began to argue more with T-Boz, but it was too late. She was again through listening.

“We’re never getting out of here!” Krysti cried.

“We’re doomed.” Steve announced after her.

Bradley and Cara looked at each other. He thought so, too. The greatest teen sleuths in the business had but one alternative choice. To surrender.

Kelly could feel them acting defeated from the hotel. “I won’t let them down!”

She, Frank, Nancy, and Josh were waiting for Geoff Greene in Nancy’s room. Kelly startled her friends with her sudden outburst. She even startled herself.

“What was that for?” Frank asked.

Kelly and Josh exchanged glances. “Uh, I don’t know.” She sent Josh a telepathic message. My empathic powers are triggering big time. Can I trust them with that part of the secret?

Josh shrugged.

“What time is it?” She asked.

Frank looked at his watch. “One fifty. Why?”

“I have to meet my contact at two.” She explained, getting up. Josh began to follow. “Whatever you do, don’t leave this room.”

“Aye, aye, Captain.” Nancy teased.

“We know the drill.” Frank replied, smiling. “You don’t want us to disappear and leave you alone to solve the case, thus proving the Bomb Squad are much better than we are.”

Kelly rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Whatever. See ya.”

Nancy and Frank looked at each other once they left.

“Alone at last.” Frank supplied, hugging Nancy’s waist.

She pushed him away. “Not now, okay? My cousins, and your brother are out there, somewhere. We have to think of them, and not ourselves.”

He pulled her back to his chest, sighing. “I know, Nan. I’m just worried, that’s all.”

Nancy closed her eyes with her head on his chest. “Yeah, me too.”

Meanwhile, Josh and Kelly were on their way to the café downstairs.

“So, what did you sense so madly back there?” Josh asked.

“They’re feeling defeated.” Kelly told him. She looked ahead and saw someone waving at her in the distance. “Come on, let’s go.”

When they reached the back of the café, Kelly recognized the person ahead of her.

“Uncle Chips!” She cried, hugging him.

“What are you doing here?” Josh asked, shaking his hand.

Alan “Chips” Deneson was one of the most famous System Agents. He and his best friend, James “Jammins” Stewart, were two of the best computer and electronic geniuses known to the System. Ever since Kelly and five of her friends and one cousin joined at the ages of thirteen, Chips has been a favorite operative friend.

“Shannon sent me.” Chips replied. “I intercepted an e-mail from one of T-Boz’s goons.”

“What did it say?” Kelly asked, sitting down.

“It hinted where she’s hiding out, only it was erased before I could download it.” Chips relayed.

“Did you catch any of it?” Josh wondered, anxious.

“Only the fact it’s underground.” Chips said. “Wherever they are, they’re untraceable.”

“What about Mystic Magic?” Kelly asked, lowering her voice.

“I hadn’t thought of that.” Chips said. He looked at her. “You’ll make a great Senior Detective yet, Kelly.”

Kelly smiled. “Will you work on it and let us know when you find something out?”

“Sure,” Chips Deneson nodded, checking his watch. “Gotta split, kids. Otherwise, I’ll get the boot. You can contact me anytime you need me.”

“Bye Chips!” Kelly and Josh chorused.

Before they could blink, he was gone.

“What do you think, Kel?” Josh asked her.

“I don’t know what to think.” She said, then gasped.

“What? What is it?”

“I can’t believe I left them alone!” Kelly cried, racing back up the stairs to Nancy’s room.

“What?” Josh huffed behind her.

Kelly stopped halfway up the stairs, turning to meet his eyes. “No matter how experienced they are, they could disappear!”

Josh rolled his eyes and followed behind her without saying a word.

Sure enough, as she reached the hotel room, the door was open wide.

“I knew it!” Kelly cursed to herself, forgetting Josh was behind her. “T-Boz has struck again.”

Kelly knew better than to touch anything, so she paced the room, surveying the damage.

“I’ll get your casebook.” Josh announced, racing to her room.

While he was gone, she opened her empathic ears and eyes, trying to catch the aura traces of whoever was in the room. There were five, so far. Nancy’s, Frank’s, and three she didn’t know. She sat on the bed, unknowing of what to do next. She was tired from using her powers, so she stopped and sighed.

There was a knock on the door.

“Come on in, Josh.” She called.

Only, it wasn’t him.

“Is that what you’re calling me?” Joked a familiar male voice from behind her.

Kelly turned to greet Geoff Greene, Nancy’s older brother.

“Geoff!” She cried, hugging him. “Boy, am I glad to see you! You’ll never believe what we’ve been through the last few days. It’s unbelievable!”

“Where’s Nancy?” Geoff asked, sitting on a chair in the corner.

“I can explain.” Kelly replied, then continued by recalling for him what happened to them so far.

Geoff fell silent once she was finished, his eyebrows deeply lined in thought.

“Well?” Kelly prodded, wondering what was on his mind.

That’s when Josh came back into the room.

“Hey, Geoff.” Josh called, snapping Geoff out of his daze.

“Hello to you, too, Stevenson.” Geoff said.

“Did you tell him?” Josh asked her.

“Yep.” Kelly said.

“And?” Josh prodded.

“I’ll tell you one thing.” Geoff said. The two of them stared at him, waiting for his response. “We’ve got our work cut out for us.”

Nodding, Kelly sighed. “You can say that again!”

Chapter Six

Joe stared at Bradley in disbelief. “You want to what!?”

Bradley stood up and leaned against the wall. “I say we surrender to T-Boz.”

Steve looked at him as if he were crazy. “Why?” He asked. “What would that prove? I mean, she’s got us locked up in here, with no chance to escape or rescue.”

“That’s why.” Bradley pointed out. “Neither Josh or Kelly has even tried to rescue us. I’ve been sending her signals through the Pendant, but she hasn’t responded so far.”

The room fell silent, and the door banged open. For the last time, the lights flickered on, nearly blinding the teens. They gasped when they saw Nancy Greene and Frank Harrison being shoved into the room.

They were blindfolded, tied at the hands in front, and gagged. When the lights flickered back off and the door slammed shut, Nancy and Frank pulled their blinders off, then the gags. Joe stood up once Frank sighted him, and helped his brother with the ties. Tessa helped Nancy with hers.

Georgia ran to her cousins’ sides, gasping. They began talking animatedly.

“What happened to you?” Georgia asked.

Nancy sat down. “When Kelly and Josh went to meet her contact, we stayed behind.”

“She left you alone?” Cara asked in disbelief. “How dare she?”

“She didn’t do it on purpose.” Nancy tried to explain.

“Yeah,” Frank laughed. “She even told us to stay put.”

Bradley lightened up, and even laughed with them. “That’s my Kelina Erin.” He replied under his breath, reminiscent. He played with the Pendant again, hoping to contact her again.

“About five minutes after she left, we got another phone call.” Nancy continued.

“Who from?” Georgia asked.

“We don’t know.” Frank replied. “There wasn’t anybody on the other line.”

“I knew T-Boz would try something like this.” Bradley supplied. “She’s the most synonymous agent I know.”

“I agree.” Cara sighed. “It may have been just a distraction to get your mind off of Kelly.”

“How dare she do this to us!” Bradley yelled suddenly, punching the wall. He turns to the camera in the corner of the room again and screams out angrily. “You’ve got us, T-Boz. Now what? Kelly’s out there alone, without anyone to help her.”

He paused, rubbing his hurt fist. “If you want us to surrender, we do. Not that we have any other choice, do we Tina?”

“I hear you loud and clear, Agent Top Gun.” T-Boz’s voice sneered nastily. “You don’t have to shout. Besides, it’s not you I want. It’s Ariana.”

“Mrs. D? Why?” Cara asked under her breath.

“Are you too chicken to show your face?” Frank asked.

“Can it, Harrison.” T-Boz cried. “You know I can’t do that. It would be so unlike me.”

“We have nothing to do with Mrs. D taking your title away from you.” Nancy said.

“Maybe not, but you all have something in common.” T-Boz said, then was through listening, and the intercom turned off with a buzz.

Bradley nodded, and signed to Cara, Steve, and Krysti. “Her daughters’ friends.”

Joe wore a confused look on his face. “Excuse me?”

“We’re her daughters’ friends.” Cara translated. “I’m Kelly’s best friend, Bradley’s her boyfriend, Steve her other best friend, and Krysti an important Crusader.”

“So, what does that have to do with us?” Frank asked, sneaking a look at his brother.

“Yeah, mind telling us the whole story, so we understand.” Joe wondered.

Every one of the Crusaders looked to Bradley. “I’ll tell it the best I can.”

“How do you know it?” Nancy asked.

“Kelly and I grew up together. I was there when the Reading’s and the Morehouse’s were married.” Bradley replied. “They were married at the System. Back then, I was only eight, and Kelly was seven. We didn’t want to be in the way, so we asked Mr. Reading if we could snoop around a bit. He told us yes, so we went investigating.”

He cleared his throat. “We happened to run into Shannon’s office, only no one was there. Kelly thought it would be neat if we went through the files. As far as I recall, T-Boz, named Christina Boss, was an elusive double-agent before Mrs. Reading joined. Mrs. Morehouse, her twin sister, told me the rest. She was there since she was five years old.”

“Get to the point, Brad.” Steve said.

“Anyway,” Bradley replied, eyeing him. “The file told that T-Boz was put into the rank of Junior Detective because she was next in line, not because she earned it.”

“What about Mrs. Reading, and Kelly?” Tessa pressed.

“I’m getting to that.” Bradley said. “A few months after Mr. Reading was recruited, Mrs. Reading – then named Ariana Sister – took the tests. Shannon saw how well she did on the tests, and named her Junior Detective in Charge of Investigations. T-Boz threw a fit, going to the Network, the System’s rival agency.”

“Thus making her want revenge on anyone that has to do with Kelly and Mrs. Reading.” Frank deduced, finally understanding.

“Right.” Bradley said, pointing.

“What would executing us do?” Cara asked.

Bradley shrugged, taking her hand to assure himself she was there for him.

“What are we gonna do?” Krysti asked. “We’re in this cold, damp, dark dungeon with no windows or clean air. We’ll suffocate to death before we ever get out of here.”

“It’s up to Josh and Kelly now.” Nancy replied glumly.

“They’ll rescue us, I’m sure.” Cara said. “Kelly’ll come up with an idea and get Josh involved, as usual.”

“Then, when she’s good and ready,” Krysti continued. “She’ll make a grand entrance and we’ll all live happily ever after.”

“I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again.” Steve announced. He looks to Krysti, Bradley and Cara, and they chorus, “We’re doomed.”

“Okay, Kelly,” Geoff Greene began to pace. “We know what’s going on, but what about doing something?”

Kelly sighed, depressed.

“Think of it.” Josh announced, hoping Kelly would get his hint. “Think like the enemy and you’ll always stay one step ahead of them.”

Kelly sat up and kissed Josh on the cheek. “Brilliant, Josh!”

Geoff looked at them strangely. “Okay you two, let me in on the private joke.”

“Momma was a member of the System before I was. Daddy Derrick told her that when she went on their first case together.” Kelly explained.

“So?” Geoff asked.

“It’s one of the main rules to live by at the System.” Josh supplied. “Get it?”

Geoff shrugged. “Any ideas on how to handle this?”

Kelly touched her Dream Locket again, closing her eyes.

Geoff whispered to Josh. “What is she doing?”

“Trying to sense where they are, just by using her powers.” Josh supplied in a whisper.

“Powers?” Geoff was skeptic. “This I gotta see.”

Josh grinned. “Don’t worry, Greene. You will.”

The boys looked back at Kelly.

“It’s underground, alright.” She announced. “Bradley’s been giving me messages about it, describing where they are.”

She reopened her eyes and Josh asked. “Well, do you know where they are?”

“I have a vague idea, but I’ll have to get more info from the System’s computers.” Kelly replied. “I’m sure cousin Shannon won’t mind if you tag along.” She told Geoff.

Geoff smiled. “That’s good to know. Got a car?”

Kelly shook her head and took Josh’s hand. “Don’t need one with the Travel Spell.”

“Huh?” Geoff was confused.

“I’ll explain later.” Kelly supplied. “Just grab our other hands and close your eyes.”

“Whatever you say, I guess.” Geoff muttered.

Josh and Kelly began to chant with their eyes closed.

Moy Yam Tor Ham Day,

Take us away

Through the air and breeze,

Time and space,

Take us to the System’s place!

A gust of wind surrounded the trio, making them disappear from the hotel room. Geoff was scared of something he knew nothing about, but was intrigued.

“You can open your eyes now, Geoff.” Kelly whispered with a small giggle. “We’re here.”

Cautiously, he opened his eyes to meet the teasing ones of both Kelly and Josh.

“He took it well.” Josh kidded.

Geoff shook his head. “That was intense.”

“That’s not all.” Kelly supplied. “Come on.”

Geoff and Josh followed her to the front of the building, where she entered a code in the panel. The door buzzed open, revealing an elaborate hallway.

Josh took a breath. “I sure missed this place.”

“It still feels like a second home, doesn’t it?” Kelly teased him, arm in his.

Geoff was in awe.

Josh nodded, following Kelly to a pair of double doors.

“What is this place?” Geoff asked.

“This is the System.” Kelly announced, gesturing around her.

There was a row of computers that reached from one side of the room to the other, ending a few feet away from an office door. The door read, “Shannon C, Ryan-McNathaniels, Chief of Detectives.”

“Let me guess, the boss of this place?” Geoff asked as Kelly knocked on the closed door.

“Not only that, but she’s my cousin.” Kelly said.

The trio waited until the door opened, revealing a woman with dark brown hair pulled up into a bun. Her silver-blue eyes were sad and worried.

“Kelly?” She asked, rubbing her eyes. “Josh? What are you guys doing here?”

“We’ve come to use the System’s computers.”

Shannon Ryan-McNathaniels’ eyes narrowed. “What for?”

Kelly summed what was happening.

“I thought I told you guys not to associate with her?” Shannon asked, speaking of T-Boz.

“We’re not –.” Josh started, but she wouldn’t let him finish.

Shannon stared straight into Kelly’s eyes. “You have so. I saw you in a vision myself.”

“Vision?” Geoff finally spoke up.

Shannon looked at him. “Who’s this?”

“Nancy Greene’s brother Geoff.” Kelly said.

Suddenly, as if slapped, Shannon glared at the trio. “Get out of my office.” She sneered angrily. “Get out of the System.”

“I don’t understand –.” Kelly was aback at her cousin’s sudden change of attitude.

“You two are hereby suspended from the System, which includes the Crime Computers, until further notice.” Shannon commanded.

“What did we do wrong?” Josh asked.

“You’re dealing with Tina Boss, and that’s not someone I take too kindly to.”

“We’re only trying to find our friends.” Kelly defended.

Shannon shook her head. “You’re still dealing with her. That’s enough reason for suspension.” She placed her hands on her temples and began chanting under her breath. Another gust of wind surrounded them, making them disappear.

They reappeared back where they started, in the hotel room.

“Woah.” Josh muttered under his breath. “What was that all about?”

Kelly stood openmouthed, speechless.

Geoff waved a hand in her face. “Earth to Kelly, hello?” He looked at Josh. “What happened to her?”

Josh only shrugged. “Question is, why did Shannon’s attitude change so quickly as soon as she looked into Kelly’s eyes?”

Kelly shook her head, blinking out of her confused daze. The boys stood and watched as she sat on the bed.

“What happened back there?” Geoff asked Josh.

Josh looked at him only to shrug. “I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.”

“Now that I think about it, it does sound like a good idea.” Joe announced.

Cara looked at him. “What?”

“Bringing up memories, I mean.” Joe said.

“I thought so, too.” Bradley replied softly. He’d calmed down once Cara gently massaged his shoulders. “Back when Josh was stranded with Kelly, Miranda and Adam.”

“Who are Miranda and Adam?” Georgia asked.

“Two members of the Bomb Squad.” Steve supplied. “Don’t you remember?”

“Miranda’s the really quiet one with the poofy red hair,” Krysti added. “Adam’s the class clown.”

“Oh yeah.” Nancy said, as if knowing. She huffed. “Goes to show just how well we know each other.”

“That’s just it.” Frank said, sitting closer to Nancy. “We don’t. I only know Kelly and Bradley because Nancy and I were stationed at their houses for a week.”

Bradley nodded. “What a blast that was.” He remarked.

Cara giggled. “The looks on your guys’ faces as Kelly single-handedly solved your mystery.” She laughed. “Priceless.”

Nancy reddened in embarrassment. “It’s not everyday I get beat out by a kid.”

“She’s only four years younger than you are.” Bradley pointed out. “Kelly’s hardly a kid.”

“That’s enough, Bradley.” Frank smiled. “Tell us about your first mystery with the Bomb Squad.”

“How did you get into the business?” Joe asked after him.

“I’ve been dying to know this forever!” Tessa clapped her hands.

“Then shut up and let us tell it.” Bradley said.

Cara giggled. “Sure, embarrass me now.” She kidded, squeezing his shoulders in fun.

“If you insist.” Bradley joked back. “Okay, it started when Cara’s brother Craig called Mr. Reading, his best friend. Craig was hearing noises across the street at the Catz Mansion. He was seeing things moving in it, too.”

“Could have been the owners.” Nancy said.

“No one had lived there for as long as I could remember.” Cara spoke up. “I was hearing and seeing things, too, so I called Kelly back into it. My older sister Andrea was just as spooked, so she called her then boyfriend Kevin Woods. Kelly told me he came to her and explained the same thing Craig and Andrea had told her. She agreed to help.”

“That’s when she got me into it.” Bradley relayed. “This was before I found out I was adopted by her real dad. Anyway, she was really worried about her mom at the same time. Somehow, on one of our walks, the subject turned to the mystery.”

“Get on with it, Bradley.” Steve said. “I’m sure they don’t want to hear all the gory details.”

“Sure we do.” Georgia grinned.

“Not the way he tells it.” Krysti said. “Bradley takes forever to tell a story.”

“Do not.” Bradley intervened. “As I was saying, she suggested the idea of bringing the Bomb Squad back from middle school, recruiting our closest friends to help solve the mystery.”

“Turns out,” Cara said. “A convicted felon named “Crazy” Jake Harrison was hiding out there. Kelly got another idea. We fooled Crazy Jake into telling more of the lies he had been telling about the mansion. He didn’t know which lie he told who, so when he least expected it, he was caught and taken away in a Ray County squad car.”

“That’s it?” Tessa asked, disappointed.

Bradley grinned. “Nope. When we were heading home, Josh claimed he saw something moving in the barn behind the house. Kelly, who isn’t afraid of anything, marched right up to it. The rest of our friends, including Cara here, fled in the opposite direction. I decided to stick around and find out what my best friend saw.”

“Well, what was it?” Frank asked, interested.

“The ghost of Jesemiah Catz, visiting where she died one hundred years ago.” Bradley said.

“I want to hear more about –.” Krysti began, but a loud screeching noise drowned her words.

“What is that?” Georgia asked, nearly yelling.

“It’s so irritating!” Tessa screamed after her.

All nine teens covered their ears.

“Make it stop! Make it stop!” Cara yelled, breaking down in tears. “Please – whoever’s doing this – make it stop!”

Finally, what seemed like an eternity, the noise did stop. The lights began to flicker on again, slowly illuminating the room.

Bradley surveyed the room and didn’t like what he saw. When his gaze hit Cara, he rushed to her side. She was crying, frantic. Her face was buried in her hands and her eyes were red from crying. He, being the caring man he was, quickly hugged her to his chest, comforting her.

After a few seconds of silence, the intercom buzzed.

“Wake up call!” A snide voice remarked snootily. It was T-Boz.

“That was no wake up call, that was a torturing device.” Bradley cried, angrily.

“Call it what you wish, Top Gun, but the end result is the same.” T-Boz remarked. The teens were held in suspense until she said. “Let the execution begin.”

The teens looked at Cara, who was curled up in Bradley’s embrace, still crying.

The door clanged open then, and a man came in to escort Cara away.

Joe noticed Frank and Nancy exchange glances, whispering “Chuckie.”

“No – Please, Chuckie, don’t do this.” Cara begged, struggling to break free.

“You’re making a big mistake, Chuckie.” Bradley stood to defend her.

“Dere is nothing you can do now. T-Boz has made up her mind.” Chuckie replied sadly, not meeting Bradley’s pleading glance.

With that, Chuckie escorted Cara out of the room, the door slamming shut behind them.

All was silent, and they were alone again.

Bradley looked at his Pendant, sad. “Come on, Kelly, hurry up.” He said to himself, hopeful. He looked to the door. “You’re running out of time.”

Kelly heard his pleas and held onto her Dream Locket. “Don’t worry, Bradley. I’m coming as soon as I can.”

Josh heard her, and Geoff looked up from his newspaper. Since she had been whisked back to the hotel with Shannon’s Magic, she’d been in a clairvoyant trance. Those were the first words she’d uttered in nearly an hour.

“Tell me.” Josh whispered. He was sitting on the bed next to her, hoping she’d snap out of the trance on her own.

“Chuckie’s a double agent on a case with the System.” Kelly explained. “He wants to catch T-Boz and send her to jail, once and for all.”

“And?” Josh prodded.

“In order to do that, he had to get on the inside.” Kelly replied. “Just a few minutes ago, Chuckie had been ordered to take Cara to a room.”

Josh’s eyes widened.

“Bradley sent me another message through the Pendant.” She said. “It’s all I needed to pinpoint where they’re at.”

“That’s great!” Geoff cried. “Let’s go.”

“Not so fast, Geoff.” Kelly said. “We need a plan of our own in order to rescue our friends.”

Geoff stood. “This is confusing me.” He muttered.

Kelly’s face lifted, excited. “That’s it!”

“What’s it?” Josh asked, dreading her response.

“Confusion.” Kelly said. “We need a little help from another System agent.”

“Shannon just told us we’re suspended from the System.” Josh reminded her.

“We are, but Amanda Jo isn’t.” Kelly said.

Josh was finally beginning to understand. “A decoy! Perfect.”

“Excuse me?” Geoff asked. “Who’s that?”

“Amanda Jo is my identical twin cousin.” Kelly told him. She rubbed her hands. “I’ll use my Magic to transport her here.”

“Be careful with that stuff, okay Kelly?” Josh asked her.

“Magic?” Geoff’s astonished response surprised himself.

“Don’t worry so much Josh.” Kelly told him. “I know what I’m doing.” She placed her hands on both her necklace and the nearby vanity mirror, chanting under her breath. Not even Josh understood her words.

Before they could blink, Amanda Jo Applebee literally jumped out of the glowing vanity mirror. She landed feet first on the floor.

“Alright, cousin.” Amanda Jo said as she brushed herself off. “This better be good. You know how I hate the use of Magic.”

Kelly told her what was going on, and what was on her mind.

“Intense.” Was all Amanda Jo could say.

Josh looked at the clock, yawning. “It’s ten o’clock already? Time flies, doesn’t it?”

Kelly nodded. “We should turn in. We’ll have a fresh start on my plan in the morning.”

“What about Bradley and the others?” Amanda Jo asked.

“We can just hope to get to them in time.” Kelly said, playing with the Dream Locket.

“Me, too.” Josh supplied. He turned to Geoff. “Come on. You can sleep in our room with me.”

Geoff shrugged. “Whatever.”

Josh gave Kelly a quick kiss on the lips, only it ended up as more.

“Don’t do this to yourself, Josh.” Kelly whispered when he pulled away.

“I can’t help it,” he whispered back. “Old habits die hard.”

She said good night to them and closed the door behind him.

Kelly was reminded of their secret romance, when Bradley left to meet his natural parents. She was depressed Bradley wasn’t here anymore, and Josh constantly came to cheer her up. Cara hadn’t noticed a thing, and she and Josh were fighting anyway, so they thought it was okay. When Bradley surprised her by coming back early, her heart was torn in two. Once she and Josh told Cara and Bradley what was going on, Kelly was sure she was going to lose her beloved boyfriend for good. It took months for the scars to heal and everything to return to normal. Being kissed by Josh now made it all come back to her, whether she liked it or not.

“Hey, Kelly, snap out of it.” Amanda Jo snapped her fingers in front of her twin cousin’s face. “We need to get to bed, remember?”

“Oh yeah.” She whispered, yawning. “I am kind of tired from using so much Magic today.”

“All the more reason to rest.” Amanda Jo said.

As soon as Kelly’s head hit the pillow, she was fast asleep.

Chapter Seven

Cara Richardson shook, her body in shock from crying. Hands in front of her, she was being escorted by someone she once thought was a valuable friend.

“Don’t be scared, Hope.” Chuckie whispered in her ear. “I won’t hurt you.”

“How do I know that?” Cara cried.

“Trust in me, I beg of you.” Chuckie supplied. “T-Boz doesn’t know where I am really taking you.”

“Where?” Cara started, but he shushed her.

“Don’t worry.” He said. “You will be safe.”

Cara was scared, but curious. “Why?”

They stopped in their tracks. Chuckie put a finger to Cara’s lips to silence her. “You mustn’t speak now.” He told her, shaking his head. “Just go along with what I say.”

Cara started to walk again beside him, looking at the ground.

I only hope Kelly and Josh can help us now. She thought to herself. They’re our only hope. She gulped her pride with scared hesitation. Please Kelly, help me.

Bradley Allen was getting just a tad pissed. “This is terrifying. This is, I don’t know what it is, but I know one thing’s for sure.” He paced the floor, agitated. “Without help from Kelly and Josh, we’re dead.”

“Cara’s dead already!” Krysti spat, tears streaming from her eyes. “We’re next, and there’s nothing we can do!” She cried into Steve’s chest.

“I’m not gonna let you do this to us, T-Boz, you hear me?” Steve yelled angrily, hugging Krysti.

“Too late – I already have.” T-Boz’s proud voice said. The intercom buzzed off, signaling she had been listening just long enough to say what was on her mind.

After a minute, Nancy snapped her fingers. “I forgot about that.”

Frank looked at her strangely, then nodded. “That’s right.”

“Huh?” Georgia asked them.

Nancy told the others. “I insisted on calling Geoff to help us.”

“Do you think he’ll know what to do?” Tessa asked.

“Not really, but I’m sure Kelly will explain everything.” Bradley supplied. “Speaking of…”

The group watched as he grasped his Protectors’ Pendant once again.

Steve stared at his fellow Crusader. “Well? Any luck?”

Bradley reopened his eyes. “Not a chance.”

Steve yawned. “I don’t know about you guys, but I’m tired.”

The yawn was contagious. Soon, Bradley and Krysti were yawning, too.

“I guess there’s nothing to do now but wait.” Frank wrapped an arm around Nancy, who closed her eyes and leaned on his chest to sleep.

Joe was wired up with questions. He’d been watching Bradley and that necklace since they arrived.

“What is it with that thing, anyway?” He asked Bradley.

“It’s called the Protectors’ Pendant.” Bradley supplied. “It links Kelly and I to each other, telepathically.”

“All this time, and nothing?” Georgia asked him.

“Nothing.” He shook his head.

“I don’t believe Kelly hasn’t responded, yet.” Krysti replied. “It’s so unlike her.”

“Maybe she doesn’t want Geoff to know?” Steve wondered.

Krysti shrugged her shoulders and lay her own head on his chest, snuggling close to him.

“I’ll try to find her in the Dream World.” Bradley told them.

Georgia stood up and sat back down next to him. “I wish they would hurry already.” She muttered before falling asleep on his lap.

Tessa and Joe huddled together, soon dozing off, Nancy and Frank were already asleep, and Krysti and Steve looked comfortable in each other’s arms.

Bradley shook his head, his eyes wide awake. He just couldn’t sleep. He kept thinking about Kelly, and Cara, and what was going on.

The lights were out again and an almost peaceful silence filled the air. The only sounds to be heard were heavy breathing, indicating calm, but somber sleep.

Bradley Allen drew in a breath and let it out again, frustrated. Georgia snuggled closer to him, and that scared him.

What are we going to do? He thought to himself. So many things to consider. Our predicament is getting scarier as T-Boz goes along.

With a final breath, Bradley’s eyes finally began to droop. After a few seconds, even he was fast asleep.

Chapter Eight

The next morning, Kelly and Amanda Jo woke up bright and early. Kelly was surprised Amanda Jo was so cheerful, already preparing herself for battle with T-Boz. Kelly smiled and caught her cousin’s reflection in the vanity mirror across the room.

“Mornin’, cuz.” Amanda Jo grinned.

Kelly nodded her greeting silently.

There was a knock on the door. Josh walked in on the girls. “Ready for action?”

“What are you so bright for?” Kelly asked.

“I’d been thinking.” Josh sat next to her. “We have our friends to rescue, so why not swallow my pride and get back in gear?”

“Smart boy.” Amanda Jo joked.

“Where’s Geoff?” Kelly asked.

“Taking a shower.”

“Good.” Kelly responded. She stood and changed her clothes using Magic.

“Hey, save your energy for the bad guys.” Josh kidded.

“I’ve only just begun, Joshua Stevenson.” Kelly said. She tapped at her watch and waited until it beeped to say anything. “This is Agent Kelly Reading. Chips, where are you?”

“Chips?” Amanda Jo whispered. “What does he have to do with anything?”

“I’ll explain later.” Josh replied.

“I was fast asleep in bed before you woke me up.” Chips Deneson said groggily over the intercom. “What’s up, Kelly?”

“I was wondering if you had any news for me?” She asked.

“I…uh…” He was hesitant to answer.

“Please, uncle Chips.” Kelly begged. “Tell me what you know. It’s important.”

“You’ve talked to Shannon, right?” Chips asked her.

“Yeah, so? You’re still my contact, aren’t you?”

“I’m not sure.” Chips relayed. “She was acting funny yesterday, not meeting anyone’s glances. Not even Nick and the kids.”

“I know.” Kelly said. “As soon as I told her what was going on here, she looked into my eyes. I don’t know what she saw, but she didn’t like it. She booted Josh, Geoff, and I out with Magic.”

‘That in itself is strange.” Chips said. “Shannon’s not allowed to use any kind of Magic. Not since the second Crusades.”

“Besides that, do you have anything new to report?” Kelly asked.

“I did look it up, using Magic to trace them. It doesn’t do me any good.”

“Why not? You could at least tell me what to do.”

There was a silence. “I’ll be there in a bit. Stay there.”

The watch communicator around Kelly’s wrist beeped, and he was done talking to her. She sighed.

“What did he say?” Amanda Jo was anxious.

Kelly relayed to her cousin and former crush what Chips Deneson had in mind.

“We don’t have time for this.” Amanda Jo said. “We’ve got work to do.”

“For once, Amanda Jo’s right.” Josh added. “What about Chuckie? Can you get a hold of him?”

Kelly tapped on her watch once more. It beeped several times, but no one answered. She looked at Amanda Jo and Josh. “You try.”

They each tapped on their own watches, but came up with nothing.

“What are you guys doing, synchronizing your watches?” They heard Geoff laugh from the doorway.

“Come in and shut the door behind you, Geoff.” Kelly demanded.

Geoff looked at Josh. “Is she always this bossy in the morning?”

Josh shook his head. “Worse.”

“We’re trying to reach our contacts from the System.” Kelly supplied.

“We were booted out, remember?” Geoff reminded her. “Doesn’t that include communications?”

“Each agent has their own Communicator-Watch. It does three things: a, of course tells time, b, communicates to other agents on the same frequency, and c, uses brain-wave patterns to locate them, taking you to them if you wish.” Kelly explained.

“Okay,” Geoff said, not completely understanding. “Aren’t your friends agents?”

Josh nodded. “Of course.”

“Why not communicate with them using those things and tell us where they are?” Geoff asked.

Josh looked at Kelly and Amanda Jo. “It’s less tiring than using Mystic Magic.”

Kelly nodded. “You try Cara,” She told Josh, “and I’ll try Bradley.”

Each tapped at their com-watches, hoping for the best.

That same morning, Bradley woke up to a beeping noise. He looked on his wrist and gasped softly.

Georgia awoke immediately, stretching. “What is it?”

“The..uh…alarm on my watch went off.” He stammered.

Georgia shrugged, accepting his answer.

Bradley stood up and woke Steve and Krysti. “Guys, wake up.” He tapped at both their shoulders.

“What’s going on? Are we rescued?” Krysti mumbled, half-awake.

“Not yet, but we might be.” He showed them his watch. “It’s been staring us in the face the whole time.”

“What does it say?” Steve asked.

Bradley looked at it again. He read aloud the words that ran across the tiny screen. “Kelly brought Amanda Jo with Magic to the hotel. Her contact, Chips Deneson himself, is on his way there. She, Amanda Jo, Josh, and Geoff are going to Crusade using our brain-wave patterns on the Life-Lines to rescue us.”

“That’s great!” Krysti cried. “Wait – What about Cara? Where do you think Chuckie took her?”

That, Bradley Allen didn’t know.

“What is that thing?” Frank was beside them now, scaring them.

“It’s called a Life-Line.” Bradley replied. “A communicator watch for the System’s agents.” He explained what it did, to which Frank was interested.

“Why hadn’t you used it sooner?” Nancy stood up and asked.

Bradley shrugged. “I guess I’ve been wearing it so long, I forgot I had it.” When it beeped again, he spoke into it. “Agent Top Gun responding.”

“Bradley – great, it worked.” He heard Kelly’s voice in his mind.

“Kelly? What’s your twenty?”

“We’re at the hotel. Did you get the messages?”

“Yeah, and I read them to Steve and Krysti.” He said, looking at his two friends.

“What about Cara?” Kelly asked.

“She was taken by Chuckie last night.” Bradley said sadly.

“Josh has been trying to communicate with her, but came up with nothing so far.” Kelly told him. “How are you guys holding up?”

“Not too good.” He relayed all that had happened the night before.

“Now we’ve got to hurry.” Kelly wailed. “I’ll talk to you later, Bradley. I love you.”

It took him a second to answer. “I love you, too, Kelly. Over and out.”

He sighed.

“Well, what is it?” Steve asked. “You know we couldn’t hear her. What’s going on?”

Bradley explained all Kelly had told him.

“In other words, once they talk to Cara and Chips, they’ll be on their way.” Krysti deduced.

Bradley sighed. “I guess so.”

Chapter Nine

Cara woke up with her head on a table, her watch and rings in front of her. “What happened?” She asked herself aloud. Her head began to pound.

I must have blacked out last night when Chuckie left me here. She stretched her muscles.

It was only when she stretched she noticed the band-aid on her wrist.

“Oh, no,” she whispered. “The Life-Line.” She searched the room she was in and found it on a table across from her. “I wonder how long it had been off?”

She put the Life-Line back on her wrist once removing the band-aid.

Now’s my chance to contact the others. She thought to herself. Better start with Josh. I’m sure he’s worried sick about me.

Cara let the Life-Line check for her coordinates, but it displayed only question marks. She tried contacting Josh, speaking into it when it beeped twice.

“Agent Wheels, come in please.” She whispered into it, making sure no one heard her. “This is Hope, do you read me?”

“Cara, are you okay?” Josh Stevenson’s voice asked in her mind via Life-Line. “I couldn’t get a hold of you until now. What happened?”

“T-Boz took the Life-Line off my wrist.” Cara told her boyfriend. “I don’t know how long it’s been off. Lock onto my coordinates to Crusade here and rescue us. I don’t think I can handle being away from you for so long.”

“Calm down, Cara Mae.” Josh told her. “I can’t seem to locate you using coordinates, but I want to try something.”

“Whatever it is, you’d better hurry. T-Boz and Chuckie will be back any minute!” Cara explained.

“We’ve been trying to contact Chuckie for a while, but so far, nothing.” Josh told her. He then told her the story of how they were booted out of the System.

“What about Chips, then?” Cara asked, a little hopeful.

“We’ll let you know what happens.” Josh said.

“Please hurry, Josh.” Cara begged. “I miss you so much, and I’m so scared right now.”

“Cara.” Josh said softly, hoping to calm her. “Everything’s gonna work out. You’ll see.”

“I love you, Josh.” Cara said. “Agent Hope over and out.”

The Life-Line beeped twice once he returned the statement.

At the hotel, Josh was pacing the room, waiting nervously.

“I think I can Crusade without Chips’ info.” Kelly said.

“How?” Geoff asked.

“Using their brain-wave patterns.” Kelly replied with a grin. She stood and took her cousin’s hand.

“Wait – what about Chips?” Amanda Jo asked. “He’ll be here any minute!”

“Good question.” Kelly thought aloud. “Josh, come with me. Geoff, stay with Amanda Jo and wait for Chips. Got it?”

Josh brightened. “Got it.”

Geoff was duped. “Got it, I guess.”

Amanda Jo looked at Geoff and gave Kelly a thumb’s-up sign. “Got it.”

Tapping in their destination coordinates, Kelly and Josh held hands and disappeared.

They reappeared deep underground, in a dingy corridor with walls made of hardened mud.

“Pew!” Josh waved a hand in the air. “This place stinks.”

“You’re not kidding.” Kelly muttered. “Let’s go.”

“Where?” Josh asked.

“We’ll probably know when we get there.” Kelly said. “Why don’t we split up? We’ll cover more ground that way.”

Josh nodded, agreeing. He looked at Kelly in a new-old light, and his feelings for her returned like a shot. Before she could say anything else, he hugged her, kissing her firmly on the lips. “Good luck.” He said when they pulled apart.

Kelly’s cheeks started to blush. “Thanks. Bye.” She called over her shoulder as she raced in the opposite direction.

Second-thinking, she stopped and looked behind her, but Josh was already gone.

She began walking until her head started to throb. Visions of her best friend were intense in her mind, the closer she got to a door down the hall.

“Got to keep going.” Kelly muttered to herself. “For Cara.”

When she reached the door, the visions stopped. She peered through the tiny window to see her best friend sitting on a table, looking defeated.

Cara! She sent telepathically, making her friend look up.

Cara raced to the window happily. “Get me out of here!” Her voice was barely audible from behind the door.

Kelly tried the knob, but it was locked. Before she cold do anything else, she heard voices and footsteps.

“There she is – get her!”

Kelly turned and found three of T-Boz’s thugs. She gasped and ran as fast as she could away from them.

I’ll be back, as soon as I lose the goons. I promise. Kelly sent to her, not sure she got the message or not.

She raced as fast as her legs could carry her.

Surprisingly enough, there weren’t any more guards or other people around. The halls all began to look the same!

T-Boz wanted me to get lost! Kelly thought to herself.

She was beginning to tire, and it seemed the goons chasing her were gone. She stopped to catch her breath. Kelly looked to view her surroundings.

“They all look the same to me.” She muttered aloud softly to herself. She was out of breath, which was unusual for her.

“That’s because your lost!” Sang a familiar voice that echoed in the air.

“T-Boz!” Kelly cried aloud. “Let my friends go! They have nothing to do with Momma taking your rank away from you.”

She tried to sense her, to find and capture her, but had no luck. No good luck anyway.

“Tish-tosh Reading.” T-Boz taunted.

“I’m not gonna let you get away with this.” Kelly replied, braver than she’d been before. She had to be in order to save her friends.

“Funny, that’s exactly what Agent Spunky declared.” T-Boz laughed.

“This is business between you and I now, Tina Boss.” Kelly screamed in anger. “Let them go.”

“I don’t think that’s possible.” T-Boz sneered sarcastically. “Unless…”

Kelly was held in suspense while T-Boz took a dramatic pause. “Unless what?”

“Unless you can find them.” T-Boz’s voice screeched over the P.A., then she was done.

Kelly sighed, slumping against the nearest wall. “Great, just great.” She muttered. “I’m doomed.”

Just then, her watch beeped. “Kelly, where are you?” It was Cara’s panicked voice.

“I’m coming, as fast as I –.”

“Can?” Cara finished for her.

“Yeah. Hold on. Please?” Kelly begged.

“Right. Over and out.”

Kelly’s head began to ache, and her sensors went haywire. She paced herself slowly at first, then faster as she heard a pair of footsteps from behind her.

She panicked, turning her head. She ran faster, and the footsteps followed her pace. Thinking quickly, she found a corner to hide in for the moment. As soon as she was settled, she listened. The footsteps had stopped.

Cautiously, she peeked around the bend and so no one. She looked in the other direction and yelped in surprise.

It was Chips and Josh. Chips covered her mouth with one hand, silencing her. “Don’t peep. Don’t even make a sound. Promise?”

Kelly, frightened, nodded. Chips took his hand off her mouth.

“We’ve gotta hurry. Both Amanda Jo and Geoff have been caught by two of her armed guards.” Josh explained softly.

“What about Cara?” Kelly looked to each of them, worried. “Who should I rescue first?”

“Lead us to Cara, and we’ll help you do the rest.” Chips said.

“If someone should see you, they’ll think you’re Amanda Jo.” Josh replied.

Kelly nodded, knowing what the boys had in mind. Come on, she thought telepathically to them, taking Josh’s hand. Follow me.

With Josh and Chips at her feet, Kelly led them to her best friend’s torture chamber.

Chapter Ten

“I’m hungry,” Krysti wailed, clutching her stomach. “What’s keeping them?”

“Yeah,” Tessa cried. “I thought they’d be here by now.” She looked at Joe, who shrugged.

“I’m scared.” Bradley whispered, only Georgia heard.

“Me, too.” She remarked.

“I don’t understand it.” Bradley announced. “Kelly told us she was on her way.”

“Everything will be fine, I promise.” Frank tried to reassure them.

“How can you make promises you can’t keep, Harrison?” Steve replied. He took a deep breath, his voice shaky. “You don’t even know if we’re gonna live to see tomorrow.”

Krysti turned around and looked at her boyfriend. “Are you crying?”

He shook his head, but refused to look at her or anyone else.

There was little light in the room, but Bradley could faintly see a single tear escaping from Steve’s right eye.

At that moment, the door crept open. A blindfolded Geoff Greene and Amanda Jo Applebee sauntered in.

“Geoff!” Nancy cried, hugging her brother.

The door slammed behind them.

Geoff smiled, and from behind his back produced a small key. He pulled off his blindfold and grinned at Nancy.

“What happened to you?” She asked him.

“We were caught by two of T-Boz’s thugs.” Amanda Jo explained.

“What about Josh?” Steve asked.

“He’d gone on ahead of us with Kelly.” Geoff supplied.

“You mean, this isn’t?” Frank asked, confused.

“That’s right, genius, I’m not Kelly.” Amanda Jo supplied. “I’m her twin cousin.”

“So, where did she go?” Bradley asked, crossing his arms.

“Last we knew, she was looking for you.” Geoff said.

“She probably went to find Cara.” Krysti announced.

“Well both Josh and Chips are with her, so she’s safe.” Amanda Jo told Bradley.

“I hope they’ll be able to save us, before T-Boz decides to execute us.” Joe replied.

Meanwhile, Kelly, Chips and Josh rushed to Cara’s rescue. In order to stay together, the trio held hands. They ran in circles, searching for the room their friend was in, before time runs out.

Guards footsteps were heard behind them.

“Come on, guys!” Kelly cried. “We’ve got to hurry!”

They lost the guards easily, and reached Cara just in time.

“There she is.” Kelly announced.

Josh looked in the window and grinned, waving.

Chips took a mini-laser from his pocket and picked the lock.

The door opened and the two best friends embraced, crying. As soon as Cara saw Josh, they kissed passionately. “I thought you guys would never come!”

“Well, love, we’re here.” Josh held her close.

“Can you tell us where the others are?” Chips asked.

Cara nodded and led them to the dungeon where they were being held.

About Lady Adellandra

I am the One of Many Names, Many Faces, in Many Realms and Many Times. I am the Creatrix Pillar of Light-named-Ai'sha.

Posted on 22May2010, in The Crusader Mysteries: Kelly's Crusaders, The Crusader Mysteries: Trouble in California (FanFic). Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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