“That was quite a show,” Judy said as she entered the room.
“That’s nothing compared to what my mom is going to do when she sees what your goons did to her carpet,” Madison replied.
“We’ve been sitting here for hours,” Bryce whined. “I have to pee!”
Judy looked at him. “We haven’t been introduced,” she said.
“Judy, Bryce. Bryce, Judy,” Madison said. “Bryce is my best friend. Judy is the dragon lady.”
“Dragon lady?” Judy laughed. “I haven’t heard that one.”
“That’s what my biodad calls you,” Madison explained.
“Ah, yes. Lucas Johnson.” Judy sat at the conference table across from the teens. She turned to Bryce, “The door isn’t locked. Bathroom is down the hall on the left.”
Bryce hopped up from the table and jogged out of the room.
“How is it that your father ended up in our employ? Was he a plant?” Judy asked.
“Coincidence,” Madison said. “Where is he? And where’s Mom and Phil?”
“En route to HQ,” Judy said.
Madison looked at her with her eyebrows raised but said nothing.
“CLP is following containment protocol,” Judy said.
Madison continued staring.
Judy sighed. “Richard shared your book report with our superiors at HQ. They were quite concerned about some of your allegations. They need to know how far this information has spread, so they are talking to your parents to find out what they know. It’s not time for the public to know any of this yet.”
“It’s not a book report. It’s a news story. And now that you assholes have confirmed everything in it, I’m going to be sending it to the New York Times,” Madison bluffed.
Judy pulled a cigarette case from the breast pocket of her blazer. She opened it and removed a thin cigarette.
“You can’t smoke in here,” Madison said. “It’s illegal to smoke inside a commercial building in Illinois.”
Judy chuckled as she lit the cigarette. “I’ll pay the fine.”
Bryce entered the room and started dramatically coughing. “What are you going to torture us now?” he asked.
“Sit down,” Judy commanded, suddenly dropping her casual demeanor. “I presume you know all the same things Miss Johnson knows?”
“Yes,” Bryce said, waving his hand in front of his face. “Smoking is so rude.”
Judy took a deep drag and blew the smoke directly into Bryce’s face. “Listen, young man. You need to hear this and accept it. You are to pass the information you have to absolutely no one. Do not tell your parents. Do not tell your friends. If we learn that this information passed from your lips, I will do much worse than blow smoke in your bratty, entitled face. Do we have an understanding?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Bryce said.
“You can go. Take Madison’s car.”
“But… What about her?” Bryce asked.
“Madison will be fine. I’ll be taking her to be with her parents. CLP will ensure they all get home safely, once we finish with the containment protocol.”
“The what?” Bryce asked.
“Bryce, it’s fine. You can go,” Madison said. “I left your brother’s baseball bat by the fence. Don’t forget to take that. You can leave my car at my house and then go home from there. I’ll get the keys from you eventually. Okay?”
“Are you sure?” he asked.
“I’m sure. Just go. It’ll be fine.”
“Alright,” he said. “Can I get my phone back?”
“Say nothing,” Judy reminded him, handing him the phone.
“Yeah, yeah. I get it. Call me when you get home, Mads.”
“I will,” Madison replied.
Bryce left and Madison watched the door close behind him.
“Who was your source in SDIO?” Judy asked. “I have a bet going with Richard. He thinks it was Thorpe, but I’m pretty sure it was McAlester.”
“Neither of those. I’m not sure if I should tell you. I don’t want to get him in trouble.”
“It’s too late for us to do anything about it,” Judy said. “If he told you—a teenager reporting for her school newspaper—there’s no telling who else he might have told. The information is out now. We’re just curious where the leak was.”
“NASA,” Madison said.
“Oh! We were assuming SDIO. NASA makes perfect sense, though. Those science types have no idea how to keep a secret. Let’s see…” She thought a moment. “Thornton, right? He’s still alive?”
“Yeah, he’s up there in years, but he’s living in a nursing home a few hours from here,” Madison said.
“How did you make the connection between this place and brilliant pebbles?” she asked.
“I nicked Mr. Wagner’s notebook. He had Star Wars and NASA logos among the doodles.”
Judy raised her eyebrows. “There must have been more to it than that.”
“Just hours of internet research,” Madison said.
“Fascinating,” Judy replied. “Well, let’s go then. The drive to HQ will take all night.”
“Where is HQ?” Madison asked.
“Omaha,” Judy replied.