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Chapter 8: Providence

“This is my favorite part of the project,” Mr. James said as the final students shuffled into class only seconds before the final bell rang. Mr. James ordered everyone to sit next to his or her partner. Miles continuously threw everything he could at Ashley from wads of paper to well-sharpened pencils. Ashley complained, but Mr. James continued to coincidentally not notice each time Miles would launch an attack. Miles was even more distressed to see that Ross was partnered with one of his friends that followed him from Central, giving his group of two a teamwork advantage. Miles wasn't expecting a passing grade. He just wanted to make sure Ross failed just as miserably as he would.

“I know you’re all waiting expectantly for just what the project is about. I, for one, can't want to get it off my chest. You will all be astonished by its brilliance and it's simplicity. You’ll say, 'Wow! That guy! That Aaron James sure is a smart guy! How could I ever think of an idea like that?' I'll tell you. You can't. Only my genius could think of a project this fantastic!”

Mr. James continued to ramble on for a few minutes. Miles quickly tuned out and began to think of his trip to Providence scheduled for that Saturday. Steven Alley had called in and reserved his appointment three days in advance, which was unusual for him. Tony offered to drive Allison and Miles to Providence. Chuck, who had problems of his own to deal with at home, declined the offer to join. Saturday was a workday for both Drake and Jamie, so they were out of the question, too.

“Has he finished his speech yet?” Miles grumbled.

“Almost,” Ashley whispered back. “He's at the part where he's thanking everyone he had to step on to get to where his is now and how he came up with the idea. Oh—I think he's about to say it.”

“And now for the main course,” Mr. James said, pausing to take a deep breath. “You will all make a video showing how your life has changed due to the Polar Shift.”

Literally, the sounds of crickets chirping could be heard. Finally, after an ungodly amount of time, some random kid in the back spoke up. “Uh, we're already doing that in Mrs. Sykes' class.”

“Oh,” Mr. James said with a look of shock and dread on his face. The following words sounded mildly depressed as he said them. “Well, you get a referral for pointing out my mistake.” Mr. James paused and regained composure. His voice returned to normal. “Anyways, you're still doing it, but make it funky. I want to see something that will literally blow my mind. If your video doesn't kill me, then you haven't done a good job.”

Mr. James stood proudly at the head of the classroom as his students stared at him in disapproval. “Well? What are you waiting for? Get a move on! Go!” The class took Mr. James' suggestion to heart. Everyone bolted out of his or her seats in search of something to win the contest, with the obvious exception of Miles Westin. Ashley didn't even bother to look back as she left the room with the others.

The days passed and Miles continued to avoid Ashley like the plague. It was finally Saturday and Miles was looking forward to a day without Ashley Brock, but his heart filled with dread as he sat on his bed Saturday morning finally realizing where he would be for most of the day. “Providence. Providence. Providence.”

“Hey!” Chuck yelled as he passed his little brother's room. “Would you give it a rest already? You've been to Providence once. So it was a bad experience. It only happened once.”

“That means it happened one-hundred percent of the time that I’ve been to Providence. I do not like those odds, especially with the Polar Shift on my shoulders. I don't think I should go. I need to call Allison. She can go with Tony. She'll tell me all about Alley later.”

“No,” Chuck said as he pulled his brother out of bed. “I am not letting you give up on this. You and Allison have dedicated yourself to this. One bad experience in Providence should not deter you of that. Come on! Get out of bed. I need to drive you there and get back before Jamie takes the car for work.”

“Fine, but I won't enjoy myself!”

Miles reluctantly got himself dressed and ready for his venture outside of Hyde's Park. He was the first to arrive at Tony's house. Tony was ready and waiting outside and politely offered Miles some lemonade he made himself. Miles declined with a disgusted squint in his eye that Tony failed to notice. Allison arrived soon later, also rejecting the glass of lemonade as she closed the car door behind her.

“Okay,” Tony said as he clapped his hands in anticipation. “My mother says that Alley scheduled his appointment for 11:00 this morning, so we have an hour and a half. A drive to Providence shouldn't take more than an hour, but we better get on the road now. We don't know what traffic will be like.”

“You're not leaving without me.” Ashley voice trailed from the distance, but it was still noticeable. Miles went pale and almost looked like he was ready to faint. Ashley finally came into view, riding a bicycle that clearly made for a much younger girl. The bike was most likely her younger sister's. Ashley uncaringly dropped the bike in the driveway and approached Tony. “A little birdie—and by little birdie I mean Gary Derceto—told me that you guys were going to Providence today.”

“How did Gary find out?” Allison yelled.

“Doesn't matter,” Ashley replied. “Apparently he didn't want you guys to know that he's on to you. He tried to disguise his voice, but he failed miserably at that. Besides, his phone number is in my phone I knew it was him before I even picked up.”

“Great,” Allison complained again. “Gary knows about the investigation. I don't know who told him the details, but when I do I am so totally going Sweeney Todd on their ass.”

“Can we focus on the problem standing right in front of us?” Miles intruded.

“There's no problem,” Ashley explained as she pulled out a video camera. “You see, Gary told me about the investigation. He told me everything from the coma guy to Steven Alley. This is how the Polar Shift has changed out lives. If we get footage of the investigation that saves the world, how wouldn't we win?”

“There's just one problem,” Miles replied. “I don't like you.”

“Can we have this argument later, please?” Tony asked. “We need to get on the road now.” Miles sighed. He knew he was beat, at least for now anyway. Miles slid into the passenger seat while the girls took the back seat. “Okay. Here we go.” Tony backed out of the driveway, not even noticing that he ran over the bike Ashley had come in on.

Back at the Westin house, Chuck arrived home just in time for Jamie to steal the keys from his hands. “Finally,” she said exasperated. “You're back. Now I can get to work. I'm going to have to take the shortcut if I'm going to get there on time.”

“You don't start for another hour. You can get to Providence in an hour.”

“My work starts well before my clock starts running. Drake can't do everything by himself. I have to be there well in advance to convince would-be skippers to come into work. Either that, or people start dying. Do you want people to die, Chuck?”

“No,” Chuck replied, defeated.

“Okay. I have to go.” Chuck leaned in to kiss Jamie, but she was already turned around and heading for the door. She closed the front door behind, not even noticing that Chuck had lost his balance in the attempted kiss and had fallen flat on his face on the kitchen floor.

Jamie arrived for work only five minutes later, and to her surprise, Drake was already there. He seemed overtly nervous as he paced back and forth as he spoke on the cell phone, clearly bothered by the person on the other end. “No, Gary. You just called yesterday. They're in Providence today. I have no more information. You want more? Get it yourself!”

Drake slammed the cell phone shut and mumbled a handful of profanities under his breath before finally realizing that his only competent employee had arrived for work. “Oh! Jamie! I didn’t see you come in. I wasn't expecting you for another hour or so.”

“I come in early,” she explained as she took her seat at the front desk as she normally would. Jamie pushed her blonde hair out of her eyes before logging into the computer. “I always come in early. Whom were you talking to?”

“It doesn't concern you.”

“Yeah, it does. It seems to me that Gary Derceto has blackmailed you into giving him the details pertaining to the Polar Shift investigation. Why would you do that?! You know how much this means to Allison and Miles!”

“I know!” Drake pleaded. He was literally on his knees begging for Jamie's mercy. “I know! The last thing I need is Allison breathing down my neck because I betrayed her trust. I just made the deal with Gary until I met the health code violations he spotted me on. I just need to fix two of them and I’ll be free.”

“Then we don’t have time to lollygag.” Jamie stood up from the front desk and shut the monitor of the computer off. The blonde forcibly pulled Drake off the floor from his shirt collar and pointed for him to march forward with Jamie following close behind to make sure he didn't try to turn tail and run. “The next time Gary comes for his inspection, give him an inspection. He won’t find anything to complain about and you won't have to keep feeding him information. Come on! Let's go! Move those feet. We have a lot of work to do and not much time to do it.”

Meanwhile, the atmosphere wasn't any calmer in Tony Cortez's Chevy Cavalier. Miles ignored everything that Ashley said. Allison ignored everything that Tony said. Miles listened intently on everything that Tony said in an effort to ignore Ashley, which infuriated Allison because his listening caused Tony to speak more and his voice was jarring. In response, Allison also ignored Miles' words to her and Miles did the same in return since she was intently listening to Ashley. Only Tony was willing to listen to anyone, and no one wanted to talk to him.

“Get ready guys,” Tony called to his passengers. “We're coming up on my mom's nail salon. We're about fifteen minutes early, so we should wait for him incognito. We can't look like we're waiting for him. We'll run the risk of him spotting us and escaping. He's our only lead, so we can't let that happen.” Tony took a sharp right turn into a parking lot and parked directly in front of a small building with a sign that read: “Gorgeous Pretty Beauty Nail Salon”

“I want to say that name is familiar, but I can't say from where,” Miles observed. Allison and Ashley unknowingly scoffed in unison as they both grabbed Miles' arm and dragged him into the nail salon.

“Hola, niño,” a fairly elderly woman said as she left the front desk to hug Tony. She didn’t appear to be any taller than five feet, but the vibrant colors on her blouse were more than distracting. She was wearing high heels, which made Miles wonder how tall she really was.

“Y Alley?” Tony replied.

“Todavia no,” she responded. “Pero llamó com diez minutes patras. Debes que estar aquí en diez minutos.” The elder Cortez finished her conversation with her son and now turned her attention to the other three in the room. “You guys can't just stand there. It looks suspicious! Shari! Get these people in chairs. I want their nails to be beautiful!”

“Nothing fancy,” Miles insisted as Shari pulled him from the door and sat him down. Miles was visibly uncomfortable, and everyone would eventually see it as a vindictive Ashley Brock Jr. was gladly videotaping his discomfort.

Chuck Westin, meanwhile, was preparing for his own adventure. Like she had been doing most nights, Donna Murphy was absent and it was about time for her to pop back in. Like clockwork, Donna uncaringly creaked open the front door as if to avoid capture. She had been returning systematically at 11:00 for four days now and Chuck had caught her Everytime. Why she continued to try and sneak in still puzzled Chuck.

“I see you,” he finally spoke up. “Come out from behind the counter. I know you're there Donna.”

“You know I'm here,” she replied, “but do you really know me? Do you. I'm just trying to be a regular teenager and you're just trying to cramp my style. You don't know what it's like to be a kid! We have lots of pressure that you never had. You have to cut me some slack, mom!” As usual, her derisive language was being delivered in a confusing monotone voice. Someone who had never met Donna before could swear she was being honest just based on her tone of voice or lack thereof, but Chuck had heard her excuses enough to figure out that this was merely sarcasm.

“I have a friend,” Chuck began to explain. “Richard and I were best friends in high school. I gave him a call. Not surprisingly, he's twenty-one and he still lives at home. He remembered me instantly and he knew that he owes me a favor, so he made good on his deal. I asked him to tail you last night.”

Chuck paused his soliloquy in hopes of noticing any chance in facial appearance. Donna hadn't change from her regular lack of expression, but her left eyebrow appeared to raise half an inch. “He called me before you got here. He's got the video and as soon as he can, he's going to come over here to show us all the video of your nocturnal exploits. You and I are going to wait here for his arrival unless you have something to say.”

“I am shocked at you lack of trust Mr. Westin,” she said. For the second time, her voice seemed to give off a small bit of emotion. “Very well. We will wait here for your friend Richard.”

The atmosphere in Providence seemed heavy to Miles no matter where he was. Steven Alley was already running late for his meeting there wasn't much else he could do at a nail salon to keep himself busy without fearing that having too much done would make him seem less masculine. Ashley and Allison were taking full advantage off the situation and were getting the most intricate designs for their own nails. “He's not coming,” Miles muttered under his breath. “I came back to this God forsaken city for nothing.”

“Mr. Alley,” came Mrs. Cortez's voice from behind him. Allison and Ashley were sitting in the opposite direction with full view of the man who had just walked in, but Miles had to swivel his head, careful not to be to obvious lest he capture Alley's unwanted attention. Miles took his time before his head had turned enough to the see the man who had walked in. Much to Miles' disappointment, Steven Alley was nothing special. He was wearing a tattered black T-shirt with matching tattered black jeans. His glasses were taped in the middle and his black hair was unkempt. He appeared to be wearing eyeliner as well. “You're late. You're never late.”

“I had some business to attend to,” he replied. His voice was nothing special either. It wasn't too nerdy, but Miles could picture him easier on the chess team rather than the football team. “I need to get this done and go. I have some more business to attend to later.”

“Of course, Mr. Alley. Please come this way. Shari will prepare you, and I will be out momentarily to work my magic. Steven followed Mrs. Cortez to a seat on the left side of the room before she left and entered the back room. Tony took the opportunity to approach him with the three teens readied themselves for any action he might take. Tony put his hand on Steven’s left shoulder, visibly startling him.

“You're not Shari,” he observed.

“You're right. I'm not. I'm Tony Cortez and you are Steven Alley. You have information pertaining to the Polar Shift that I want to know.” Steven’s heartbeat was visibly rising, as his sweat production seemed to quadruple in a matter of seconds. Finally, after a few moments on inaction, Steven brushed Tony hand off and ducked under his arms and began a mad dash for the door. Allison was the first to give chase and Miles soon stood up as well. Ashley was too preoccupied with reactivating the video camera to participate in the chase. Steven bolted out the front door and took a sharp turn to the left. His pursuers were quite far, and it seemed that he was at an amiable distance in which he could easily get away. Luck was not with Steven as an arm shot out from behind the wall in front of Steven, and, before he could react, Steven ran into the outstretched hand and landed on his back on the floor.

Allison and Miles were the first to catch up to where Steven landed. Tony came up a few second later and Ashley brought up the rear with the video camera clenched tightly in her hand. The person who successfully clotheslined Steven Alley stepped out from behind the wall with that idiotic grin on his face that made Allison and Miles want to gag.

“Gary! What are you doing here!”

“Helping you!” he yelled in response. “Clearly you guys need it.”

Miles decided to interject. “The question running through my mind isn’t why you chose to help us. I really don't care. Actually, I'm man enough to admit we didn't plan well enough and that your help was well appreciated. Also, I don’t ask how you knew where and when it was we needed the help. Someone must have told you, and I'm going to take a wild guess and say Drake. Your weekly meetings with him to discuss health code violations are no secret. You probably blackmailed him, not that it completely forgives him. He has a lot of explaining to do. No, the question I have is why you chose to tell Ashley. What benefit could you possibly have had to call her and tell her?”

“Is that what she told you?” Gary inquired. “You've been misled, Miles. Ashley came to me.”

“We need to pick this up later,” Tony interrupted again, pointing downwards. Steven Alley was regaining consciousness and was clearly frightened and confused by all the people staring down at him. Finally, he managed to get a word out. “Aw crap.”

An event was cumulating back at the Westin house as well. For almost three hours, Donna refused to speak to Chuck, even when being spoken to. Sometimes Chuck would feel sorry about the way he spoke to her, but sometimes he would feel his attitude was warranted. The silence was gladly broken when Chuck's cell phone rang. “Dude,” Richard's voice began. “I'm on my way there. I'll be there in a minute.”

“Great. Oh, and the video? It's scathing, right?” Chuck asked. Richard replied with his high school famous catch phrase: “Damn straight!” Chuck smiled and hung up. Chuck turned to Donna, who was comfortably eating a bowl of cereal in the kitchen. “Richard will be here in a minute. I'll give you one last chance to come clean and apologize.”

For the first time in hours, Donna acknowledged that Chuck had said anything by replying. “Out of courtesy and any respect that I still have for you which is minimal at best, I will give you the same opportunity.” Chuck brushed her comment off as Donna returned to her bowl of cereal.

Just as he has promised, only a minute passed until Richard barged through the door, as he was known to do during his high school years. Richard was a tall man with a fledging beard growing on his face. His hair was fairly long and straight, which appeared to be the only part of his body that he kept well managed as he clothed were ripped at tattered excessively. “All right. I've got it. You still have VHS, right, because that's what I recorded it on.”

“I'll get it out of storage,” Chuck complained. Chuck returned minutes later with a dusty old VHS player and took another few minutes to try and remember how to connect it to the outlet and to the television, having to remove the DVD player in order to do so. “Okay. We're ready. Donna. Come join us.”

Donna seemed more than ready to leave the kitchen and confidently took her spot on the couch. Richard instinctively sat down next to the pretty girl and Donna instinctively scooted away from him. Chuck picked up the VHS tape and slid it into the player. “Ladies and gentlemen, Donna Murphy has been breaking house rules for about a week now. What possibly reason could she have to break curfew every night? Well, we're all going to find out together.”

Chuck took one last look at Donna who was focusing completely on the television screen. Richard was focusing completely on Donna. Chuck pressed the play button and sat down on the couch.

The video was shaky, consistent with all of Richard's attempts at film making. “Okay,” Richard’s voice could be heard as he got into his car. “I'm your host, Richard. Today, we'll be tailing a girl named Donna Murphy for my good friend Chuck. Okay. She drives a Dodge. That's pretty stupid. It's still in the Westin driveway, so I guess she hasn't snuck out yet. Wait—yeah, here she comes.”

The camera quickly pans over to the left, where a figure—presumably Donna—climbs out of the kitchen window and approaches Donna's car. The person slides into the driver's seat and begins to drive off into the night. “Uh, I can't really drive and videotape at the same time, so I'm going to put the camera down in the passenger seat and you can listen to the soothing sounds of Nirvana for a few minutes.”

Richard puts the camera down and begins to blast the radio. Nirvana's Smell's Like Teen Spirit plays as Richard finally gives chase.

Back in reality, Chuck turned to Richard and asked, “How long does this go on?”

“Uh, she drives for about an hour,” he replied. Chuck rolled his eyes and pressed the fast forward button until the Richard on camera finally brings the vehicle to a stop. Taking the camera, Richard watches as Donna exits her car and walks two blocks to a two-story house. Chuck recognized the neighborhood as being in Providence. Donna waits with her back against the wall of the house until the window next to her starts to open; Donna helps the person out of the house, who is a good two feet shorter than her, clearly a child.

Donna and the child jog back to Donna's car where they enter and drive off again. Richard puts the camera down and begins to follow. Five minutes later, Richard stops the car again and focuses on Donna and the child exiting their vehicle. Cautiously, Richard gets out of his car and follows them on foot. They were walking on grass and the group continued to march along until they finally reached their destination.

“It's your host Richard again,” he says in a whisper. “I can't really tell what's going on. I'm hiding behind a trashcan. I don't know if I have them in view or not. It looks like Donna is putting the little girl on a seat or something. Well, it looks like she's sitting. The streetlights aren't on. I can barely see two inches in front of me. Donna is standing behind her. She's pushing her. Donna is pushing the little girl! Oh the humanity! Better get the Hell out of here!”

Chuck shut off the video and turned again the Richard, who had a smile on his face that Chuck was determined to wipe of. “Richard, were you high last night?”

“No.”

“I think you were. That was a swing! Donna was pushing the girl on a damn swing, you dumbass!”

“I'm leaving,” Donna interrupted.

“Donna-”

“That was my daughter, Paige. The court order won't let be see her during the day, so I have to see her at night. I'll reiterate my point. I'm leaving. Our deal ends end effective immediately. I suggest you find a new investigator. Your mother is no longer of my concern. Good-bye, Mr. Westin.”

Donna turned her back to Richard and Chuck in an attempt to hide the fact that a tear was beginning to stream down her cheek. Chuck noticed. Donna stormed out of the house before Chuck could say anything, not that he could think of anything to say.

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