LEVEL 2 – 9
Inside the guest bedroom, everything was gutted like a dolphin. Flipped bed. Torn mattress. Furniture disassembled with Ikea like precision. As a flop sweat started to form upon Dylan’s brow, Luke tumbled in through the window behind her and fell face first onto the carpet.
Dylan turned to her brother with a grin, “That whole puberty thing ain’t doing anything for your coordination is it?” Luke didn’t respond. He stood in the center of the room. His mouth was agape. Finally taking in the room for what it was, Dylan dared to ask, “This wasn’t Amie’s room was it?”
Shaking his head, Luke replied in a hushed tone, “I can’t believe someone would do this.”
Dylan tried to keep calm, “Could have just been a burglary gone wrong.”
Luke’s face was flushed as he spoke in a low growl, “This wasn’t a burglary. This was a kidnapping. They took her because of that stupid game.”
Taking another look at the room, despite the wanton destruction, nothing was stolen. In fact, it looked like whoever was here went out of their way to disassemble anything that could be taken apart. Stereo, television, valuables, everything was ripped open, but left behind: everything but the girl. Dylan continued her thought process out loud, “They were looking for something.”
Luke added impatiently, “They were looking for Amie, and they took her.”
Trying to keep a level head, Dylan offered, “Okay, but why her? Amie’s folks are obviously stupid rich. Maybe whoever took her wanted a ransom?” At the mere mention of Dylan’s suggestion, Luke’s face flushed red. Dylan caught his wrist just before he stormed out of the room, and whispered, “Hey!”
Easily slipping out of her grasp, Luke made another attempt for the door. Dylan had no choice but to body slam him against the wall. Leaning into him, Dylan spoke sternly but kept a hushed tone, “Whoever took her may still be here along with whoever else.”
Luke squirmed, “Get off me!”
Dylan threw her body weight into her step-brother again, along with an elbow to get his attention, “Listen to me. There are cops outside, and we don’t know who else still inside. We need to be careful. Out of the two of us, who knows how to sneak around better?”
Shoving Dylan away, Luke protested, “I don’t care!”
“You do care! Because if you get caught or thrown in jail, there’s no one else looking Amie, is there?” Luke calmed his teenage angst. Dylan continued, “If you want my help, and you need my help, you’re gonna follow my lead. Got it?”
Luke barked out, “Yeah? Well, I know the layout.”
Pointing a finger in his face, Dylan snapped, “Fine. But, when you break into a place, you don’t shout.”
In a mock whisper, Luke huffed, “Fine. But, you’re following me.”
Creeping out of the guest bedroom, Dylan walked swiftly down the hall after Luke. She paused briefly at each entryway to the other guest rooms along the way. Out of the three rooms that they passed, all were the same as the first: vacant and disemboweled. What felt like a quarter mile trek deeper down the curving hallway eventually emptied into a large kitchen. It was the same story as the rest of the house. Every square inch looked liked it was raped by a hurricane, and left for dead.
Looking over the kitchen, Dylan directed an irritated whisper to Luke, “Whatever is on you that’s beeping, make it stop.”
Equally annoyed, Luke grimaced, “It ain’t me. Forgot about the alarm.”
Trying to hone in on the beeping, Dylan’s eyes grew wide as she located the source. On the wall behind them was a small little box with a light blinking in time with the beeping. How could Dylan have overlooked that a home this size would have a security system? Before she could succumb to embarrassment, the sound of the front door being thrown open lead Dylan to instinctively pull Luke around into the open pantry. With both of them crammed into the closet space, she quickly closed the door in front of them. They listened in the dark pantry. Marching boots and radio chatter grew near.
Over the officer’s radio, a garbled voice said, “Control to Adam-10, what’s your status?”
A gruff voice answered the radio, “Adam-12 and I are inside the Kobayashi residence. The alarm control panel indicates a possible 10-8 on the property.” Inside the pantry, Dylan and Luke held their breath waiting for the officers to make their next move. Speaking into the radio again, the officer continued, “We’re moving to the west wing of the house to investigate possible break in, stand by.”
Through the static, the voice on the other end of the radio replied, “Acknowledged Adam-10. Proceed with caution.”
As the boots of the officers stomped down the hall, Dylan squeezed Luke’s hand and whispered, “Where’s Amie’s room?”
Answering in a low whisper, Luke answered, “Upstairs, two doors down on the left.”
“On the count of three, we’re going to move very quickly, and very quietly upstairs, okay?”
Dylan took a deep breath, “1… 2… 3.”
Luke immediately bumped into Dylan causing her to knock over something off the top shelf. Whatever she hit caused a domino effect of clattering and clanking cans. Stealth was scrapped. They had no other option but speed. Sprinting out of the closet, the two barely made it to the stairs before they heard a voice close behind them shout, “Adam-10 to control, multiple suspects on the premises, send back up!”
A crackled reply followed, “Copy Adam-10, sending units to your location.”
Running up the stairs two at a time, Dylan and Luke booked it down the west wing. Both officers were nearly at the top of the staircase when Luke pulled his step-sister into a room on the left side of the hall.
Luke dove into the closet and shut the door behind him. Boots were stomping closer to the room, and Dylan was suddenly frozen like a deer in the headlights. She could hear the officers enter the room adjacent to her as they shouted, “Dallas PD!”
Willing her body to move, the young gamer girl ran into the connecting bathroom off to the right. Dylan quickly pushed the door closed, and closed the shutters over the window. She swiftly felt her way over towards the massive shower and stepped inside. Her heart was pounding as she lay down on the damp tile floor. Pressing herself up against the shower curb as close as she could, Dylan held her breath, and closed her eyes.
Seconds later, the bathroom door flew open. She was shaking now. Her blood was boiling. She desperately wanted to breathe and silence the voice in her head screaming to just give up and get caught. These were the police after all. Why was she hiding from the good guys? Why did she even bother hiding when they were probably already looking for Amie? Then again, maybe they weren’t. What if they weren’t cops? As Dylan’s chest continued to burn from holding her breath, an extra weight was added by the thought of being trapped in a strange house and being hunted by strange men. What would they do to her if they found her?
Speaking into his radio, the officer breathlessly shouted, “Bathroom clear, moving up.” As he stepped out of the bathroom, the officer slammed the door shut.
Another officer in the room replied, “Bedroom clear, moving up.”
Dylan still had her eyes shut tight. She was afraid to exhale: too afraid to breath. She heard the footsteps of the officers stomp out of the bedroom and into the next room. Slowly, she opened her mouth and let the fresh air rush into her lungs. Even with her eyes opened, she could barely see. With the shutters drawn, and sun obscured by the clouds, an unusual darkness flooded the bathroom.
Still shaking, Dylan managed to push herself up off the floor when suddenly, the door swung open. This was it. She was done for. There was nowhere for her to go as she slipped backwards on the shower tile. Desperately reaching out for something to hold onto, Dylan’s hand grabbed something metal, a handle, but it was no use. The handle slid out from her grasp. What felt like minutes slowly falling in fear ended with Dylan flat on her back.
Luke whispered, “I thought you said be quiet? It’s just me.”
Gasping for breath, Dylan lied, “I know.” Trying to stand, Dylan reached again for the metal handle. It wasn’t there. In fact, the whole back wall of the shower had rolled back to reveal a small hallway leading into a dark room beyond it.
Dylan strained her eyes and whispered, “What is this?”
Luke flipped on the light switch, but nothing happened. Looking over to Dylan he answered, “It’s the steam room.” He strode into the shower, feeling his way down the hallway and into the dark room. Dylan hesitated for only a moment before following after her step-brother. Her eyes strained to see into the dark box ahead. She’d only gone a few feet into the hallway, but the air began to feel awfully humid.
Crinkling her face, Dylan muttered, “This place feels gross.”
Luke answered matter-of-factly, “Yeah, it’s a steam room.”
“Okay, well this steam room feels gross,” Dylan insisted. Her eyes began to adjust to the darkness. Even though she could only make out the outline of the room’s interior, one thing was certain: whoever ransacked the house missed this gross, hidden room.
Her eyes strained to make out the layout which was only twice the size of the bathroom they’d just come from. She felt the edge of the wooden bench that wrapped around the walls like a horseshoe. Towels were still neatly folded on a wooden rack to her right. Taking another step forward, Dylan yelped as her feet crunched on something. The something didn’t move or attack her. Carefully bending down, Dylan picked up what felt like a large, empty paper bag. Feeling the edges of the bag got something like soft chalk all over Dylan’s fingers.
Making sure Luke was looking away first, Dylan quickly smelled her fingers, “Smells like barbecue coals.”
Luke groaned, “Yeah, that’s how you make it warm. It’s a sauna.” He paused, preoccupied with searching the towel rack, “Amie’s computer was trashed. But the disc was missing. Maybe she hid it here.”
Inching closer to the center of the room, Dylan reached out for what she expected to be a hot coal pit. Surprised to find it cool to the touch, she remarked, “Why dump all the coals into the pit if you’re not going to use ‘em?”
Turning toward Dylan, Luke watched as his step sister plunged her hands into the coal pit. She continued to dig around. Occasionally a piece of coal would smack the floor. Each time Luke would flinched at the cracking sound as each stray piece fell. Finally, Dylan stopped digging. Slowly withdrawing her hands from the pit, she unveiled a one half inch thick, pink plastic binder.
With his jaw on the floor Luke asked, “What is that?”
Dylan tried to read the cover, but it was too dark as she answered, “Something worth hiding.”
As they both crept out of the secret sauna, Dylan and Luke slowly slid the false wall closed behind them. They each stepped out of the giant shower and into the bathroom proper. There was just enough light available for Dylan to read the title of the binder.
BUBBLEGUM BOUNTY HUNTER: Operations Manual
Dylan asked in a hushed reverence, “Luke, what does Amie’s father do for a living?”
Dumbfounded Luke replied, “Mr. Kobyashi owns some kind of software company in Japan.”
“Software? Was it a game company?”
“No,” Luke said emphatically, but stammered out, “Well, she never told me exactly what her dad does. I never really thought to ask. Maybe?”
Holding up the binder in front of Luke, Dylan said pointedly, “I think that ‘maybe’ might lean more towards a ‘yes,’ don’t ya think?”
Luke nodded, “I think we need to get out of here.” Just as Luke made a truly reasonable suggestion, the faint sound of several vehicles pulling into the driveway resonated outside and into the bathroom. Dylan dared to peek through the blinds. Pouring out from no less than three additional squad cars came half a dozen additional police officers.
The investigation was over.
It was time to escape.