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The Plot Squad

The Plot Squad by Robert Ferrier
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Brandy Bolt and three other writers must use fictional characters to rescue Brandy's daughter. One of Brandy's creations has abducted Mikka Bolt, 10, into Dreamscape, a parallel world populated by every fictional character created since the dawn of time. The Plot Squad -- teenagers Kodi Coats, Becca Gee, Savannah Vaughn and Wade Heskett -- risk death to save Mikka. Writing mentor Owen Diggs, a mover between worlds, offers guidance and seeks personal vengeance. In the tradition of THE WIZARD OF OZ and THE LORD OF THE RINGS, Kodi and the Squad encounter trolls, a genius in virtual reality, a Mexican god posing as a movie director, mythological heroes and a legendary serpent before confronting Brandy's alter ego in a mountain fortress in Dreamscape.
SynergEbooks; February 2005
321 pages;
Read online, or download in secure PDF format
Title: The Plot Squad
Author: Robert Ferrier
 
Excerpt
Chapter 1


Brandy Bolt's world changed after rattlesnakes rained on Rusk, Oklahoma.

The trouble started when she left the Daily Democrat newspaper office and heard a thump. A snake bounced off the cab of Billy Dodd's pickup and fell between two dogs in the back.

Behind her, a woman screamed. Brandy turned to see another snake slithering near a baby stroller. Caton Nemecek panicked and overturned the stroller, dumping her 3-month-old daughter on the sidewalk.

"Don't move, Caton!" Brandy yelled. As a 31-year-old mother, she felt the woman's fear. This could have been her daughter, Mikka, in harm's way. She stayed calm, as Mikka would have done, and inched around the snake. She picked up the crying baby and handed her to Caton. Then Brandy guided the frightened mother toward the entrance to Ace Hardware. "Stay inside until the police get here."

She heard screeching tires and a crash. She turned to see steam gushing from Andy Meltzer's Suburban, mashed into the rear of a Kia. A rattler rolled off the Suburban's windshield and wedged over the crushed radiator. Brandy smelled meat cooking as the snake writhed in the steam.

She heard more screams, car doors opening, the wail of a siren. She looked up and saw a single-engine Cessna, white against the blue sky. As the plane banked to the north, she saw a door flapping open. She watched thin shapes bleeding from the plane.

Oh my God! Ethan Stone! she thought.

She felt fear as realization struck home. The soccer field! Mikka!

Brandy rushed into the street and dodged a police cruiser as it screeched to a stop. One image flashed through her mind: her 10-year-old daughter at Saturday soccer practice.

Brandy ran along Park Street. The June sun bore down and sweat salted her lips. She raced past store windows, her reflection surreal: a Black woman, former sprinter at Cal Poly, racing to save her daughter. As Brandy sped past County Drug and crossed Elm Street, she heard more sirens downtown. Cars sped by, the driver's faces showing shock.

This can't be happening! She had left her job as a reporter in Compton, California, so Mikka could grow up safely in a No Starbucks town of 6,000 in eastern Oklahoma. Now this!

Of all times to be on foot, she thought. Brandy's car was in for repair. Her grandmother, Grace Freeman, had loaned her pickup to a neighbor visiting a Hospice patient. Brandy's best friend, Amy Fong, had driven Mikka to practice while Brandy walked downtown to finish writing an article at the paper.

She thought of Mikka, terrified as snakes fell from the sky. The image spurred her to run faster.

As she sprinted across Maple Street, an SUV honked and swerved to miss her. She turned east and ran uphill on Cruce. Only a half-mile more, she thought. The sound of the plane faded away, like a prehistoric bird gliding into the distance. Only one pilot in this town owned snakes, she thought—Ethan Stone, the postmaster! Baptist elder and 32nd degree Mason.

She heard a car horn, and Amy's red Honda stopped beside her. "Get in!"

Brandy opened the passenger door and jumped into the car.

"I heard on the radio," Amy said, her almond eyes magnified by thin-rimmed glasses. "I'll have us at the park in two minutes."

The Honda shot forward, tires squealing. Brandy said a prayer of thanks for her best friend and fellow Plot Squad member.

"I called your grandmother on the cell," Amy said as she sped past two kids on bicycles. "She freaked out. Didn't have her pickup. I headed this way 'cause I figured I'd see you."

"I'm glad you did!" Brandy willed Amy to drive faster, although she was already over the limit. Amy gripped the wheel, her glossy black hair in disarray, her face showing the same concentration as when she attacked an opponent in Taekwando.

"I called the Rodeo Queen," Amy said, her brown eyes focused on the street. "Jeff told her Ethan Stone must have put his cages of snakes in that plane and took off before anyone could stop him. The police are waiting for him at the airport." Amy shook her head. "Why would Ethan do something like that?"

"Who knows! Please hurry!"

Amy slowed for a stop sign, and then gunned the Honda. As the scene flashed by, Brandy's mind swirled with images from the past. South L.A. streets: you learned to run, or you died. Yet not everyone survived. Her husband, Luther, had tried to speed away from a botched robbery at a 7-11 store. Brandy's mother, Nell, worked there, and Luther knew when she counted the cash. On that night a year ago, an accomplice had shot her dead. Luther died during the police chase. Only Luther would rob his own mother-in-law, she thought. Brandy had lost her mother and her husband in a span of five minutes.

Now her fear for Mikka hardened within. She remembered nursing her only child, that special time of bonding. Brandy's life with Mikka had been too short, she thought. If she lost Mikka--after the deaths of Luther and Nell--Brandy knew she would die inside. Then she thought of someone who might help. "Maybe Trent heard the plane and ran down from the college to the soccer field," Brandy said. Trent Leeds. She longed for the comforting arms of the tall Brit she had been dating for the last six months. Somehow, he made everything right.

As a police cruiser drove away, Amy screeched into the parking lot at Rusk Soccer Field. Brandy saw parents hugging their children near the sidelines. As she hurried from the car and rushed toward the field, Brandy smelled the familiar fresh-mowed Bermuda grass and heard birds chirping--familiar comforts in a world gone strange.

She glanced around the field. No Mikka.

"There's Trent!" Amy said. "Maybe he's seen her."

She felt a stab of hope as her lover broke away from a circle of people and ran toward her. At six-feet-one, he moved with an easy grace, honed by years on rugby fields. The wind blew locks of his disheveled brown hair across his forehead. His blue eyes, beneath long lashes, showed a twinkle of humor that was out of place now. With every step, his muscles rippled beneath faded blue jeans, which clashed with an untucked green Oxford T-shirt and red Nikes. Brandy had always wondered how he fit in with the English literature faculty at Rusk Community College, three blocks north on Academy Hill. His face was replete with dimples and laugh lines.

Why was he smiling? she wondered.

As he approached, Brandy cried out, "Have you seen Mikka?"

"Your grandmother just drove off with her," he answered. "Grace's friend returned the pickup."

Brandy collapsed into Trent's arms and sobbed in relief. When she felt strong enough, she stepped back and looked across the field. Through the crowd of onlookers she saw a man chopping with a hoe at something in the grass. Then the crowd dispersed to reveal a rattlesnake. Another reptile lay dead nearby.

"I'd just left my class when I heard the sirens," Trent said. "I ran down here because you'd said Mikka was practicing today." Sweat moistened his cheeks, and he looked worried, even though Mikka had not been hurt. "She demanded that we try to save the snake, but it was too late. Then Grace arrived and took her home."

"Lucky no one got hurt," Amy said. "It's wild downtown."

Brandy shivered as the reality of her daughter's close call sank in. Trent held her again.

Amy looked at Brandy. "I'll wait in the car and take you home when you're ready." Then she turned and walked toward the parking lot.

"Did you hear it was Ethan Stone in that plane?" Brandy said.

"Yes." Trent looked as if he wanted to say more.

"What could have freaked him?"

He didn't answer at first. "Are you still taking Mikka to the bluegrass performance tonight?"

"Yes, if the police get things cleared up. Music will get her mind off all this," she said, sweeping her arm toward the field. She looked up at him. "I'm glad you're meeting us. You should get to know the Plot Squad."

Trent kept his arms around her waist, as if he didn't want to let her go. Something was on his mind. Brandy could feel the tension in his body.

"What?" she said.

"Keep an eye on Mikka."

"You just said she's fine. She's probably in the back yard playing under the elm."

"Just watch her. It's started."

The heat bore down on them, and Brandy heard the buzzing whir of cicadas in the trees surrounding the field.

"What's started?"

Out in the parking lot, Amy honked.

"Owen Diggs will call a meeting soon," Trent said.

"How can you know? You're not even in the Plot Squad yet."

The horn sounded twice this time.

"We'll talk," Trent said. He released her and started walking back toward Academy Hill.

"Talk about what?"

He kept walking, ignoring her.

Muttering under her breath, she turned and ran back toward the Honda, where Amy was honking again. Brandy knew that today in this town, something had gone irrevocably wrong.

* * *


"Can I dance, Momma?"

"After we eat, Punkin. My friends love being with you."

Brandy killed the engine on her grandmother's old Chevy pickup. A breeze whispered through the pines and oaks surrounding Rotary Park in east Rusk. They'd had to park on a side street. As she looked across the full parking lot, she saw the throng of bluegrass music fans. Most reclined on blankets or sat in lawn chairs in front of the large white gazebo, which provided a stage for musical performances. Wild flowers painted the borders of the park. Byron Burkett's Bluegrass Band was warming up, and fiddle and banjo music added to the ambience of grilling burgers and Mammaw's fried chicken and potato salad.

Mikka looked down at Brandy's feet. "Love those boots, Mamma."

"I fit in now, don't I?" Brandy had bought a pair of Justins when they moved to Rusk. They looked good with her Levis and Oklahoma Sooners T-shirt. She checked her hair, then turned to Mikka, dressed in a white Kennedy Elementary School T-shirt and red shorts. Her black pigtails reached her shoulders. "You get the salad. I'll carry the chairs and chicken."

As they walked, Mikka said, "I saw eagles carrying people."

"Huh! What, Punkin'?"

"Yesterday at school, I saw eagles in the mist from the fountain."

Brandy stopped walking. "Eagles?"

"Or condors, maybe. Big, like small planes."

"Punkin'..."

"Then the wind blew the mist away. I didn't make this up!"

Brandy smiled and stayed positive. "You've had a lot of stress, what with snakes falling out of the sky and all. You might have imagined something."

"Okay," she said with a shrug. "Where do we meet Trent?"

"Front of the gazebo. We'll put the food on Amy's blanket. There'll be enough to feed an army."

As they walked across the parking lot, Brandy looked forward to an evening of music. Anything to get her mind off what had happened. What would the Plot Squad say about the postmaster bombarding the town with rattlesnakes? she wondered. Then there was the other question: would her friends like Trent? He wanted to meet the Plot Squad, a four-person writing group mentored by Owen Diggs. Brandy wanted Trent in the group. She'd felt her attraction for him growing, crowding out the pain of seeing Jeff Stecker and Devon Lanier embark on an affair. Devon was recently divorced from Whit Lanier, the wealthiest rancher in eastern Oklahoma. She had money, beauty and talent—especially in writing and rodeo, where she had won awards in barrel racing. Jeff was single, a 31-year-old high school English teacher and assistant football coach at Rusk High School. What a package, Brandy thought—Yeats and cleats. Why did she always fall for conflicted guys? However, Trent had taken her mind off the disappointment of losing Jeff to Devon.

Brandy saw out-of-state license plates from Arkansas, Missouri and Texas. Burkett and his band had driven from Guthrie to headline the Bluegrass Concert series. The band, clad in faded jeans, shirts and cowboy hats, was going through their sound check. Sunset bathed the top of the trees in gold, and the heat gave way to a gentle south breeze.

"Brandy! Over here!"

Amy sat on a blanket near the gazebo. The thin Vietnamese looked the same as when she'd driven Brandy to the soccer field four hours earlier--jeans, boots and a Gap T-shirt which matched her now-combed black hair. Beside her were a dish of blackberry cobbler and a half-gallon of ice cream in a cooler. She smiled at Mikka. "I staked out a good spot for dancing."

"Cool!" Mikka said.

Brandy asked, "Anybody else here yet?"

"The Rodeo Queen will make Jeff late. And Trent's not here, either."

Brandy and Mikka spread the food and unfolded the chairs. Mikka went to the gazebo to get autographs before the band started playing.

"I hope it's okay I invited Trent."

"Okay? Hey girl, he'll ease your lustful thoughts about Jeff."

"He's already done that. He's got certain...qualities."

Amy sampled the potato salad. "Like dimples, lashes, a tight butt and a British accent?"

"He likes the same movies and books that I do. Gives backrubs and foot massages. Likes Mikka. Sounds British and kisses American."

"Ummm! Works for me!" Amy looked at her watch. "Wish they'd show up. I'm starved."

"Momma! There's my dance partner!"

Mikka ran toward Trent. Though he wore the same jeans and T-shirt, he still looked British, out of place...and worried. He carried a bucket of Buffalo wings and a six-pack of Coors Light. "Hey, Punkin'," he said, seeming to force levity. "Going to dance with me?"

"Yeah! After we eat."

"Hi, there!" Trent said, smiling down at Brandy and Amy.

"Hi," Brandy said. "Take a load off."

He put down the food and stretched his lanky frame next to Brandy's chair. She noticed the freckles high on his cheeks. He rested on one elbow and checked out the crowd with darting glances.

Amy said, "Here comes the Rodeo Queen and Jeff."

Brandy saw Devon and Jeff walking through the crowd. Everyone stared at Devon. Her auburn hair, beneath a white cowboy hat, looked even darker in the shadows. Her golden tan contrasted with her smile and the whites of her eyes. She wore tight-fitting rich. Brandy admired her graceful walk. At her side, Jeff waved at parents of his football players. At 33—two years older than Devon—he still moved like a linebacker, although at 205 he carried a few extra pounds. His thick hair looked jet black, and his brown eyes twinkled.

Jeff wore faded Levis, a black Polo shirt with "Rusk Football Staff" in gold script over his heart and New Balance training shoes. He carried a container from Robbie's Rib Shack.

As the couple approached them, Devon said "Hi." Her gaze swept over the two women, held for half a beat on Trent, and settled on the girl. "Hey, Mikka!"

"Hi, Devon! Hi, Jeff!"

After they placed their food on the blanket, Devon turned to Brandy. "Sorry we're late. Had to feed my horses."

"No problem," Brandy said. "Devon, I asked Trent along tonight."

"Great!" Then she looked at the potato salad.

"Momma, I'm starved!" Mikka said.

"Then let's eat."

Brandy savored the food, the music and the camaraderie of fellow writers. Although the Plot Squad members differed in personality, they shared a common bond: writing young adult fiction. Brandy had met Amy, manager of the local Radio Shack, soon after the move from Compton a year ago. Amy, 30 and single, had introduced her to Jeff. Later she invited them to join her and Devon to form a four-person writing critique group.

Amy wrote action-adventure featuring Becca Gee, a Texan with a black belt in Taekwando. Jeff wrote fantasy novels with an Oklahoma protagonist, Wade Heskett, who ventures into Cyberworld, where digital icons rule humans. Devon wrote romantic suspense about Savannah Vaughn, a mountain climber who solves mysteries at resorts.

Mikka rushed through supper and wiped cobbler from her mouth. The band started playing Cotton Eyed Joe. Mikka jumped to her feet. "Can I have first dance with Trent, Momma?"

"Sure."

Trent and Mikka joined the dancers.

"We'll keep 'em company," Jeff said, pulling Devon to her feet. Soon ten couples of all ages danced in front of the gazebo as music belted across the park.

Brandy turned to Amy. "Let's not let them show us up."

The speakers were loud, but Brandy was having too much fun to care. Byron Burkett's fiddle sang to her soul. Amy moved like a lynx, and Brandy kept pace with her. She watched Mikka's pigtails bouncing as she danced with Trent. The Brit had taken to country music. He stared at Mikka, as if he wouldn't let her out of his sight. Devon and Jeff retreated into themselves, their bodies rhythmic as the tune built to a climax. Brandy saw the others form a circle around Devon so they could watch her dance.

With almost no pause, the band started playing Fire on the Mountain. Trent and Mikka kept dancing. So did Jeff and Devon.

Brandy and Amy took a break and walked back to the blanket.

Despite the music and food, Brandy felt tendrils of tension in the crowd. Friends and neighbors kept stopping by to ask if there was any word on why Ethan Stone had acted this way. Everyone was trying too hard. She knew that no one who saw the havoc on Main Street—crashing cars, shocked pedestrians, careening police cruisers—would ever forget. Brandy still felt fear.

After a few more tunes, the band took a break. Brandy leaned over and kissed her daughter. Mikka looked up, her eyes filled with love and innocence. Something about the moment evoked the image of Kodi Coats, a fictional character Brandy had placed in a milieu called Dreamscape. In a universe containing every character and nightmare entity created since the dawn of time, 17-year-old Kodi embodied Brandy's dreams: a Beverly Hills lifestyle, a family untouched by crime, writing contracts with producers. Brandy had molded a literary prodigy from the clay of wishful thinking.

She envied the synergy of that other Plot Squad in Dreamscape: Kodi, Becca, Savannah and Wade--four characters created by disparate personalities and welded in a writing assignment from their mentor, Owen Diggs, a 60-year-old disabled dwarf.

Brandy watched Mikka enchant everyone by describing a scene from The Lord of the Rings—the wizard Gandalf's battle with the Balrog in the Mines of Moria.

Brandy knew Mikka won people with her heart. She captivated Owen Diggs when Brandy introduced them one day at the newspaper, where he did the page layouts. Owen had heard about the Plot Squad. Soon he asked for a meeting. Over ribs at Robbie's, he convinced the Squad to meet for monthly writing critiques at the library so he could "refine their talents for publication." Flattered by the attention of a published writer, the group had jumped at the chance.

Brandy remained quiet, alone with her thoughts. Jeff and Devon walked to the gazebo to buy a CD. Trent and Mikka went to the gazebo to talk to with the band members.

Brandy and Amy were alone.

"Whatcha thinking about?" Amy asked.

"Oh, how Owen got us together so he could hammer passive verbs and comma splices out of us."

"Passive verbs and comma splices are nothing compared to the Granite Mountain assignment."

"Where all our Dreamscape characters meet at an arts institute in Oklahoma?"

"Yeah," Amy said, dipping a spoon into a freezer of homemade ice cream. "You had a cool idea to make Kodi as a teen writing instructor from L.A. Then the teacher and three students bond for life."

"Owen figured out we'd have to know each other's characters to write that assignment," Brandy said. She watched Jeff and Devon talking to Byron Burkett at the gazebo. She thought about their characters, Wade and Savannah, and how they'd been attracted to each other from the first day. "Even their characters love each other."

"Did you think they wouldn't?"

"Guess not."

"What surprised me is that Devon, in her story, let Savannah and Kodi get along so well."

"Why'd it surprise you?" Brandy asked.

"Are you serious? Kodi had the hots for Wade the first time she saw him in class!"

"She didn't" Brandy snapped, feeling her face burning. "You misread her."

"Hah! Girl, the dwarf picked that up the first night we read our stories." Amy pointed the spoon at her. "Hello! Kodi can't keep her eyes off Wade, and Savannah wants to kill her for it."

"Yet Savannah accepts Kodi as a teacher," Brandy said.

"Sure. Savannah's practical. She protects her turf, but she wants to get published." Amy pointed at Devon. "Just like her creator."

The band returned to their positions on the gazebo. Mikka and the other three rejoined Brandy and Amy.

Devon smiled at Mikka. "Honey, how'd you learn to dance so well?"

"Just in my bones, I guess."

"She wore me out," Trent said.

"I love you guys!" Mikka said, her eyes shining.

Everyone stared at her with affection. Jeff pulled Mikka into his lap and hugged her until she giggled. "Gimme her!" Devon said, wrestling her away from Jeff and wrapping her in her arms.

Only Trent's expression betrayed something different, irony perhaps—even fear.

Mikka wiggled free and crawled back to Brandy. "Can I buy a CD?"

Brandy took a ten from her wallet. "Better hurry. They're almost ready to play. And don't wander off."

Trent followed her with his gaze.

"What do you think of our motley writing crew?" Devon asked, smiling at Trent.

"Motley? You're all going to get published."

"I'm voting you in!" said Jeff.

For once, Trent seemed at a loss for words. He started to say something, then held back. The crowd buzzed low, amiable now as the breeze whispered through the trees. Yet, to Brandy, something still seemed amiss.

Amy broke the silence. "Trent, what did you think about today? Bet you people across the water never bombarded anyone with snakes."

"No," he said, "but our Irish neighbors charmed them into the water."

Everyone laughed.

Brandy felt happy that the Plot Squad seemed to like him. He would contribute to the meetings, and she loved being with him.

Trent seemed to relax a little, engaging Jeff, Devon and Amy in conversation about their interests. He seemed to know American football, asking Jeff about the Rusk Buffaloes' shift to a spread offense for next season. He queried Devon about her barrel racing prowess. "Expensive horses!" Devon answered. He even knew about Taekwando, asking Amy about her attack moves and how she used them in writing about her Dreamscape character Becca Gee.

Bryan Burkett struck up another tune.

Something in the lyrics seemed to startle Trent. "Where's Mikka?" he said.

Then Brandy realized her daughter had been gone for some time.

"Over there!" Amy pointed to a shadowy area beyond the gazebo. "She's with Harriet Drotts from the library. Probably talking about her favorite bo—"

Trent dashed away, almost knocking down one of the dancers, and ran toward Mikka and Harriet. Brandy and the others followed.

Trent reached Mikka and jerked her away from the startled librarian. Mikka cried out in surprise, then broke away and ran to her mother. Tears streamed down her cheeks. "He hurt me! I was just talking—"

The other three joined them, puzzled looks on their faces. "What the hell?" Jeff muttered.

Trent stared at Harriet as if she was an alien, though she looked plain as dirt in a flannel shirt and baggy jeans. However, her gunmetal gray eyes betrayed a glacial look.

"Barbarian!" she snapped.

After an awkward moment that drew attention from onlookers, Harriet stalked away into the darkness.

Brandy left Mikka with Amy and charged over to Trent. "What on Earth!" Her mind flashed back to his strange statement earlier at the soccer field: It's started.

Trent stared after Harriet. The breeze brushed a lock of hair across his forehead. His cheekbones reflected light from the stage.

At last he turned to Brandy.

"I'll say it again: keep a close watch on Mikka. Don't leave her alone. Do you understand?"

"No! I don't understand! What upset you?"

"That last piece they played...." Then he turned and walked toward the parking lot.

Brandy watched him until he was lost in the crowd. Then she knelt in front of Mikka. "What's the title of that last tune?"

Mikka looked up at her.

"Double Trouble."