“Go for Bryce.”
“Why can’t you answer ‘hello’ like a normal person?” Madison asked.
“It’s an aesthetic. You wouldn’t understand,” he said.
“Whatever. Put me on speaker, I need you to google some stuff,” she demanded.
“Bossy much? Why can’t you google it yourself? I’m still at the game.”
“Go behind the snack shed. I can’t google it myself because I’m driving.”
“Fine. Just a minute.” There was a long pause, and then Bryce returned to the call. “Okay, you’re on speaker. What do you need me to look up?”
“ATF,” she replied.
“Hang on… Okay, first hit is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Why isn’t it ATFE?”
“No idea. But that makes sense,” she said. “How about DEA.”
“Drug Enforcement Administration. What’s this about?”
She ignored his question and proceeded with her list. “CBP.”
“CPP? A bunch of stuff comes up, like Cal Poly Pamona.”
“No. Charlie Bravo Pringles,” she corrected.
“Oh. I don’t think Pringles is the official word for P. Just saying. Hang on… U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Is this for a story or something? These are all government agencies.”
“Ew! It’s a bunch of really ugly food. Meals Ready to Eat Meals. They have meals twice for some reason. Are you going to tell me what this is about?”
“Hmm. Well there’s a ton of different stuff that comes up for that. Nothing like the agencies you listed, though. Do you want me to start listing them all?”
“No, that’s okay. That’s all I needed you to look up. Bryce,” she said seriously, “take me off speaker.”
“Go for Bryce,” he repeated.
Madison smiled and shook her head. “It wasn’t a book club.”
“Oh! The olds! Do all these acronyms have something to do with the olds?”
“Yes. They were all there. All six colors. And they went on and on about all sorts of stuff. I’ll have to fill you in on the details later when I can use my notes. But Jesus, I think this is something big. They were talking about friends at those government agencies. The DEA and the ATF and stuff. They mentioned the UN too.”
“United Nations?” he asked.
“I assume so. I don’t think there’s any other UN. It sounds like they are stockpiling stuff. Drugs and guns. What’s a cistern?”
Madison waited while listening to Bryce tapping and swiping at his phone.
“It’s a water tank,” he replied.
“This is so fucking weird. Okay, I’m going to turn on location sharing so you can see where I am. I’m following Mr. Black.”
“What! Are you nuts? These guys sound dangerous. You shouldn’t be following any of them! Which one is Mr. Black?”
“I think he’s the boss. He ran the meeting. I finished up my pancakes—”
“You had pancakes? Way to bury the lead. I thought you were a better reporter than that.”
Madison laughed. “Well yeah. It was IHOP. That’s what you do. I had to blend in. Anyway, I ate really fast so I finished before he did, and then I waited in my car for him to come out. I’m following him now.”
“Are you keeping a good distance away?” Bryce asked.
“I’m not an idiot, Bryce. Of course I am. Hang on, he’s pulling into a driveway. I’m going to drive by and loop around.”
“Mads, this is scary. It sounds like these olds are up to more than just a caper.”
“It’s just a regular house. Down near the lake. I think I followed him home to his house. His car is in the driveway, and he went inside. Hold on, I’m going to write the address in my notebook, so I can figure out who this guy is.”
“You should get out of there!” Bryce demanded. “What if he saw you? Didn’t you say they’re stockpiling guns?”
“They’re stockpiling all sorts of stuff. They said bullion. I was thinking like for soup, but they said they were going to put it into a safe.”
“So like gold bullion. They’re pirates!” Bryce said.
“Argh,” Madison replied. “That would explain the parrot.”
“There was a parrot?” Bryce asked breathlessly.
“Unfortunately no. They are stockpiling food and drugs and money and guns. Why would they do that?”
“Maybe it’s a doomsday cult. Was there Kool-Aid? Did they have matching sneakers?” he asked.
“Not that I saw. More of a decaf crowd. I didn’t get a look at their feet. They were all sitting down. The main guy, Mr. Black had a Moleskine notebook just like mine. He was writing in it the whole time, even after they finished talking and got their food.”
“Maybe he’s a reporter,” Bryce suggested.
“You are so helpful. Why do you think they would be stockpiling stuff like that? Actually? No jokes this time.”
“Are you still driving?” he asked.
“Yeah, I’m heading back toward the school.”
“We can talk about it when you get here. I don’t know, Mads. I mean, it does sound like one of those religious cults or anti-government groups, right? Maybe once you figure out who Mr. Black is, it’ll start to make some sense.”
“Maybe. Okay. I’m going to hang up now. I’ll text you when I get there.”
“Drive safe,” Bryce said.