29

“So you’re back together?” Madison asked Bryce as they sat across from each other at the cafeteria table.

“Yeah, he apologized for being a douchebag at the party,” Bryce said.

“I heard the cops came. Did he get busted?” Madison asked.

“Nah. He left before that. Jefferson is a jerk, but he’s not an idiot.”

“Well that’s a relief. Oh! Speaking of cops. I’ll be right back. I see Charlie.” Madison slid out from the table and walked over to the school resource officer. “Hi!” she said brightly.

“Good morning,” he said.

“I don’t think we’ve met, I’m—”

“Miss Madison Johnson, ma’am. I know who you are,” he replied, his expression stoic. He made eye contact while he talked to her, but his eyes immediately returned to scanning the cafeteria.

“Oh! Have we met?” she asked.

“No ma’am. But I always read the school paper when it comes out. You’re the reporter,” he said, not making eye contact this time.

“That’s right! Well it’s very nice to meet you,” she said.

He raised an eyebrow. “Is there something I can help you with, ma’am?” he asked, glancing back at her.

“Actually, there is. I was wondering. If I know a license plate number, is there a way for me to find out who owns that car? I looked on the DMV website and I didn’t see any kind of a search feature.”

“No, ma’am. That’s not public record. Privacy, you know,” he replied.

“But if you needed to look it up, being a police officer, you could do it?” she asked, adding a smile after the question.

“Yes, ma’am, if I had a valid reason to look,” he said.

“And would a valid reason be that I asked you to?” she asked, now smiling so hard her eyes crinkled.

He lost the stoic façade and returned the smile. “No, ma’am,” he said with a small laugh.

“Hmm. I was afraid that might be the answer.”

“Might I ask why you’re asking, ma’am?” he said, returning to the straight face he usually wore.

Madison sighed. “Well, see there’s an older guy that I keep seeing around. He might be following me, but maybe it’s just a coincidence. I don’t know. But I saw his car outside my house, and I got the license plate. I thought if I knew his name, I might be able to google him, and figure out if it’s anything to worry about.”

“I see. You could file a police report, but honestly, it doesn’t sound like what he’s done rises to the level of stalking or harassment,” Charlie explained.

“Oh, no. I don’t want to get him in trouble anyway. I was really more curious than anything,” she said.

The officer stared at her for a moment. “Tell you what. You give me the tag and I’ll run it. See if there’s anything you need to worry about.”

Madison’s face lit up. “Oh! That would be so great! Thank you!” She put her hand on his arm.

He looked down at her hand. “No touching, ma’am,” he said.

Madison pulled her hand away quickly. “Oh! Sorry!” She smiled and pulled her phone from her pocket. She flipped through her pictures until she found the license plate and then showed him the screen.

Officer Charlie removed a spiral-bound notebook and a ballpoint pen from his shirt pocket. He wrote the date, the license number, and Madison’s name on the little sheet of paper, and then he returned everything to his pocket. “I’ll let you know,” he said.

“Thank you so much!” she said.

“So?” Bryce asked when she had returned to the table.

“He’s going to look up the plate and let me know if there’s anything I need to worry about,” she said. “I don’t think I’m going to find out who the guy is, but at least we should learn if he’s dangerous, right?”

“Are you worried about getting the cops involved?” Bryce asked. “I mean, are they going to mess up your investigation? Tip off the olds that you’re onto them?”

“The olds’ muscle chased me out of their warehouse with guns, Bryce. I think they know I’m onto them,” Madison said.

“Oh. Yeah. I suppose they do.” He smiled. “But maybe they don’t know who you are yet,” he added.

“Except the mystery man,” she said. “He knows who I am.”

“We need to give him a code name,” Bryce suggested. “Mr. White.”

Madison smiled. “I’m not sure we’re allowed to come up with code names on our own like that.”

“Of course we are,” Bryce insisted. “We’re calling him Mr. White from now on.”

“Like white hat good guys and black hat bad guys,” Madison said. “So Mr. Black is bad, and Mr. White is our hero?”

“He did return your phone,” Bryce pointed out.

“And my license and debit card. Okay. Mr. White it is,” she agreed.

“What’s going on with the other story?” Bryce asked.

“The one about how school recycling is a total sham?” she asked.

“Yeah. Is there another other story?” he replied, furrowing his brow.

Madison smiled. “Mr. P. is going to run it by Principal Anderson before we put it in the paper.”

“He’s going to kill it!” Bryce protested.

“Mr. P. said he won’t. Maybe he’ll just ask us to change some things. Put in a rebuttal. Something like that. I mean, Anderson is Mr. P.’s boss, right? A story like this has to put Mr. P. in a kind of tricky situation.”

“Sure does. Did Mr. P. seem upset by it?” Bryce asked.

“No! Not at all. He seemed pretty excited by the scoop. He used to be a reporter, you know. After college, before he switched to teaching. I think he still gets excited by a good scoop.”

“Well good luck with all that,” Bryce said. “Anderson is gonna be pissed.”

“Yeah. I think you’re probably right,” Madison agreed.

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