CODE ORANGE CANCUN
No more tears now; I will think about revenge.
Mary, Queen of Scots
I stared at the monitor and blinked hard. It felt like some invisible hand had seized my throat, which was totally ridiculous. I was alone in the room. Just Unix, Macintosh and me.
On the screen, a news article had popped up, marking the ten-year anniversary of a tragic hit-and-run accident. The photo of a mangled dark blue SUV dominated the page. The forgotten odors of spilled petrol and oil slammed my senses and my hand flew to the small scar over my right temple. I gagged. My eyes watered as I swallowed hard to push down the unbidden bile.
The sensible thing would have been to click off, but I hadn't seen this particular story before. I scrolled to the next photo.
It was a headshot of a young couple. Smiling at the camera. Doctors Marlena and Martin Vandermer. Killed in a senseless accident. Survived by their four-year-old daughter Serena.
Blinking away tears, I continued to read. Kind of like cutting yourself. Feeling pain to feel real.
Montegue Santana, president and CEO of Santana Biotech Industries, said, “The tragic deaths of these two incredibly brilliant research scientists will push back bio-computer technology advancements for at least twenty years.”
They looked so young.
I bit my lower lip and wished I could remember them properly. But the accident had happened ages ago and I’d forgotten so much. If it weren’t for my memory book, my recall would have been blank.
“How’s my favorite niece?”
I jumped. My fingers flew over the keyboard, trusting the computer screen to go black before he had time to see its contents.
I put on a bright smile and hoped my eyes didn't betray my tears as I swiveled to face him.
At five foot eight, he resembled a troglodyte troll. His dark hair receded to expose age freckles on the top of his head, and he sported an unflattering goatee that hid a weak chin. Naïve and uninitiated adversaries often assumed he was harmless. But only the first time.
I loved my status as his favorite niece.
“Hi, Uncle Monte.”
“Serena. Why the sad eyes?”
“I accidently poked my eye. It’s nothing.”
“You’re a poor liar.” He patted my shoulder. “We’ll have to work on that.” He studied me for a moment. “You’re remembering the accident, aren’t you?”
Afraid that my voice might crack, I nodded and pretended to study my cuticles.
“What if you could punish the man responsible?”
I looked up. It's something I'd desperately wanted for the last seven years. Too bad Britain didn’t believe in capital punishment.
“How? They never found him.”
“No, they haven’t." He twisted the diamond and platinum Rolex watchband on his left wrist and smiled. "But I have.”
Was it possible? A tiny shiver slithered down my spine. “Are you absolutely sure it’s him?”
“What's his name? Who is he?"
"James Thomas Chapman II."
"And you’ll hand him over to the authorities?”
He shook his head and sighed loudly. “It would be a waste of time. He’s beyond their reach.”
“What do you mean?”
“He’s an American. Protected by their government.”
“But that’s wrong. He killed my parents. He deserves punishment.”
“Sadly, chaps like him use other men as pawns in their quest for great wealth and power. Punishment of such a man is not easy.”
“Then he’ll never be brought to justice?” My voice dripped with disappointment.
“I didn’t say that.” He stood and stared out at the sculptured gardens that surrounded the manor. "Do you truly want revenge?"
"Is the queen English?"
He chuckled. "As English as you and I." He turned and pointed to the couch. “Then sit here. There is much to do.”
I didn’t want to sit. I wanted to act. To exact painful and remorseless revenge.
“Sit . . . I promise you, when we’re through with this monster who’s been masquerading as a man, you’ll have your revenge.”
I moved to the red brocade couch. Unable to keep still, my fingers and feet tapped to a nonexistent drumbeat. This wouldn't do. Too much emotion was dangerous, so I crossed my ankles and folded my hands in my lap until my knuckles turned white.
Uncle Monte patted my shoulder again. “Relax. I’ve prepared a long time for this moment,” he said and pulled a computer memory stick from his pocket. “Now it’s time to update the plan. Make yourself comfortable. This will take about an hour. Maybe less.”
“What will you be downloading?”
“American trivia, American football and basketball stats. Spanish. Plus some other data you might find useful.”
“Spanish.” I smiled. “I’ve always wanted to go to Spain.”
He shook his head. “Sorry, not Spain. Mexico. This afternoon you’ll be flying to Cancun on the company jet.”
“Is that where he is?”
"At the moment," Uncle Monte said. “Now put your hair up.”
“What’s my cover identity?” I twisted my long brown hair into a knot on the top of my head and clipped it into place.
“Rena Mir, form three student on school holiday.”
“I like it. Close to my own name, but different enough to allow me to become someone new.”
He pushed on a mole at the base of my hairline. The mole hid a tiny computer port. I knew exactly what the mole looked like. I'd used a looking glass to examine my neck at least a dozen times.
Gently he inserted the memory stick.
“That tingles,” I said as tiny surges of energy raced along my nerves. This wasn't my first download, but this mission was different. It was personal.
“You didn’t complain when it allowed you to walk after the accident.”
“I wasn’t complaining, just making an observation. Now tell me more about the assignment.”
“You’re vacationing with your father and his new wife at the Aztec Palace Resort on the Cancun Rivera. They’re pretending to still be honeymooners, which will give you a plausible excuse to spend as little time with them as possible.”
“So what will I be doing?”
“The man who killed your parents is staying at the same resort. He has a son about your age. I want you to get to know the boy and keep tabs on him. It’s possible we may need to use the boy as emotional leverage.”
“I can do that.”
“Ready for activation?”
“Yes,” I said and blew out a puff of pent up air. “Fire me up.”
Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord. Colossians 3:20
I stood at the self check-in machine and waited for my boarding pass to print. My mother hovered like an annoying mosquito.
“J.T. You’ve got your passport?” she asked for the zillionth time.
I pulled it from the back pocket of my school slacks and waved it at her.
“You shouldn’t keep it in your back pocket. You could lose it." She straightened my red striped Christian Academy School tie.
Talking about losing something, I planned to lose the tie as soon as I was out of her sight.
"I don’t know what your father was thinking. Expecting you to fly to Mexico all by yourself.” Her lips puckered into a worried frown.
“Mom. It’s a nonstop. Direct. Flight.”
“You may think you’re grown up.” Her voice softened, “But you’re still my baby boy.”
The automated machine spit out my boarding pass. I snatched it before she could get her hands on it and read out my seat assignment in her loud pre-school teacher voice. Even though I loved my mom, she could be really embarrassing.
“My flight leaves from gate six. I’d better go.” I hoisted my backpack over my shoulder and steered her toward the wide hall that led to the departure gates.
Her forehead wrinkled. “This whole trip is a bad idea. I should have never agreed to it."
“Mom.” Ever since she’d married the ever-wonderful-born-again Vernon, she acted like Dad was Satan's half-brother.
We’d reached the snaking line that fed into the security checkpoint and I grinned. In a few minutes, no more “Mom advice” for a whoooooole week.
She stared at the ceiling and clasped her hands together. “Lord, give me the wisdom and strength I need to deal with this child.”
My face burned. That’s all I needed. A sermon. Or worse, she’d start talking to a stranger in line about me like I wasn’t there. Cataloging the trials and tribulations of parenting a son like me. It wouldn't be the first time.
“I’ll be fine,” I said.
She patted my cheek. “Remember to carry your wallet in your front pocket. Got your cell phone?”
“Call me the second you land.” She pulled out a Kleenex, dabbed her eyes and clutched me into a death hug.
“Mom, it’s only one week.” I held my breath and peered over her shoulder. Good. Now there were only three people between me and freedom.
“One last thing,” she said.
She released me and dug in her purse, pulling out a bunch of what looked like laminated business cards hanging from a keychain. “Here you go.” She smiled and shoved them into my hand.
“What are these?”
When she didn’t answer, I examined the cards. On one side, she’d typed a verse from the Bible. On the flipside she’d noted its book, chapter, and verse. “Thanks, Mom, but—"
“Miss Adams called to give me a heads up about the school’s policy for vacation homework.”
I rolled my eyes. “Vacation homework is an oxymoron.”
“She said that it’s ten percent of your grade and that you can’t afford to lose the points.”
The warning in her voice silenced me. Thankfully we’d reached the security dude.
The man held out his hand. “Boarding pass and identification.”
I handed him my travel documents. He checked them and scanned my eyes for identification.
”Remember, you’re God’s ambassador wherever you go,” Mom said.
I managed not to groan.
“Gate six,” the security dude said. “That’s halfway down the concourse. Sorry madam, you can’t proceed beyond this point without a boarding pass.”
Yes! I wanted to high-five him, but didn’t think it was a good idea considering how strict airport security had become.
As soon as I’d cleared the final checkpoint, the fingers of my right hand slipped under the knot of my school tie. I pulled out and yanked down until it was loose enough to slip over my head. Then I shoved the red striped noose into my pocket.
At least this vacation was a break from all the God stuff. Plus I was seeing my dad. Our last two visits had been cancelled due to his crazy work schedule, but Spring Break in Cancun more than made up for it.
With two hours until boarding, there was no rush to get to the gate. I wandered into Hudson News and browsed through their mostly boring reading material.
A newspaper headline caught my attention. COMPUTER CHIP IMPLANT ALLOWS MAN TO WALK AGAIN. Wow, I thought until I skimmed the article. Big deal, a British guy took two steps while hooked up to a computer by a bunch of wires. It’s not like he could really walk. Okay, so maybe two steps would be a big deal to a guy stuck in a wheelchair, but . . .
I spotted a Mad Magazine.
Mom thought they were evil so I bought it, along with a cola, a Snickers bar and some pretzels. Then I spotted a new climbing magazine and bought it, too.
At the departure gate, I chose a seat facing the runway.
Dropping my backpack on the floor, I slouched into the uncomfortable black plastic chair and stared out the window. I pulled out my iPod, plugged in, and cranked up the volume. What Mom didn’t know couldn’t hurt me. Feeling the beat all the way to my toes, I pulled out the contraband MAD Magazine and settled down to wait.
An hour later I’d finished the MAD and was tired of the music. I craned my neck to look around.
The waiting area had begun to fill. A youngish man and woman stopped at the flight desk. They looked like they could have stepped out of a music video. Her skirt was really short and her legs super hot, even though she was at least ten or fifteen years older than me. The guy had on a sick blazer with its sleeves pushed up to his elbows. Which made me look down at my school uniform pants, dress shirt, and shiny black shoes. I just knew I looked like a total dorknoid. At least none of my friends from my old public school could see me.
The Hot Chick spoke to the airline rep while Blazer Guy scanned the area like he was looking for someone. I couldn’t stop staring at her long legs and wondered what it'd be like to have a girlfriend that hot. Bet she could kiss my socks off. For a second, Blazer Guy’s stare locked on mine and I had the uncomfortable feeling that he’d read my mind. I felt my skin flush.
She touched the man’s arm and reclaimed his attention.
I glanced at the wall clock. When were they going to start boarding the plane?
Obviously not soon, because the rock star couple grabbed the seats behind me. They sat in the row of chairs directly behind me so that the woman and I were literally back-to-back. Her strong flowery perfume floated my way.
“I don’t see the boy,” Blazer Guy said in almost a whisper. “You’re sure he’s on this flight?”
My ears perked up. How weird. Were they looking for a runaway? That sounded kind of crazy. Couldn't they have security check the plane's manifest?
“Shhhhh,” Hot Chick hissed.
Blazer Guy cracked his knuckles. "Give me the picture. I need another look."
“Keep your voice down. The boy’s not here.”
Blazer Guy swore and muttered something that I didn’t catch, but it sounded like the mystery kid was in big trouble. He shifted in his seat. "It was a mistake to take this outside the country. As soon as we land, I'm procuring a gun."
What had the mystery boy done? And why they were looking for him?
One thing for sure, I wouldn’t want to be that kid.
The P. A. system crackled. “Flight 247 to Cancun is now ready to begin boarding. Please wait until your row is called. First class passengers are invited to board at this time.”
I stood. My dad always bought me first class tickets.
Pretending to drop my bag, I snuck a peek at the photo still clutched in Blazer Guy’s fist. My eyes bugged out. It was my 7th grade school photo. Back when I wore glasses. Wore braces. And before I’d grown the last eight inches.
This was crazy. Why on earth did they have my photo? What did they want with me?
I dry swallowed and hurried to board the plane, not daring to look back for even a nanosecond.
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