The Perfect Plan
Just over a hundred years earlier, the house where the Jordans currently lived had been designed with a variety of features not typically found in modern homes. Most were tailored to accommodate the presence of servants – a button in the floor of the dining room where the lady of the house could tap her foot to call her housekeeper, a small bedroom where the housekeeper would reside, and a back staircase from said room to the kitchen for ‘commuting’ to work without using the main staircase. That was reserved only for the family’s use.
Over the years, the Jordan’s house has undergone many renovations, bringing its features more in line with modern expectations. The button in the dining room floor, no longer needed, was hidden under a rug. The tiny room had been expanded and was now occupied by Zach Jordan, the oldest of the Jordan children. And the extra set of stairs had been split in two and repurposed into a pair of closets.
There remained an unused bit of square footage – a small stretch of hallway buried between Zach and Binny’s room that led to the former back stairs. Over the years the remodels left it walled off and now it was only accessible through small panels in the back of Zach and Binny’s closets. This forgotten space was now home to various pipes and wires that needed to travel hidden behind the walls of the Jordan house. It was also home to cobwebs. Lots and lots of cobwebs.
“Yuck.” Binny found herself scraping at her tongue with her hand, hoping that what she’d just inhaled wasn’t a spider.
“Shhhh.” Zach worried they would be heard.
“Don’t worry, they think we’re asleep.”
When Zach and Binny had been younger they’d often played in this secret hiding place. Their parents weren’t thrilled about it as it didn’t seem safe, but that didn’t stop the kids. As Zach and Binny played together less and less, the space remained mostly unused. By the time Cassie had been old enough to want to know about it, neither Zach nor Binny had told her, because they didn’t want her traipsing around either of their rooms to get into it.
Zach and Binny spent most of their evening reviewing the day’s events and trying to realign their understanding of the new world in which they lived.
“We need a new hideout.” Zach was trying to get the dust and cobwebs out of his hair, not liking the idea of having a spider walk on his face any more than Binny did.
“Yeah, I’ll get to work on that right away,” said Binny sarcastically. “Aren’t you freaked out by what just happened?” Zach seemed a little too focused on making sure his hair was spider-free, and not enough on what mattered.
“Let’s see. Our baby sister has a super power and some creepy guy has been stalking her.”
“Maybe if one of these spiders bites me, I’ll get a super power.” Zach tried to deflect.
“Zach!” Binny was getting exasperated.
Finally Zach acquiesced, “He’s a doctor. He’s Mom’s doctor.”
“Exactly. He’s been stalking Cassie, all of us, since even before we were born.”
Binny shot him a look cutting his laughter short. She continued, slowly now, lowering her voice, “Don’t you wonder?”
“Wonder how Cassie got this power?”
Before Zach had a chance to respond, Binny continued. “Apparently Mom had trouble getting pregnant – which by the way I’m not sure why nobody ever told me that – and went to this scary doctor to get experimental drugs. And now Cassie can turn herself invisible and the doctor who gave Mom the drugs is on the phone having equally scary conversations with some guy named Sam. Something is not right here.”
“Mom and Dad seem to think everything’s fine.” Zach countered. Zach’s tone had softened from its usual antagonistic tone since he and Binny had been on their adventure earlier in the day.
“Well sure, thanks to you they think everything’s fine.” Binny raised her eyebrows.
“Right. Sorry.” Zach was contrite.
“Well, I’m not sure they would have believed us even if you had backed me up. They seem to be lost in their own universe these days.”
Binny’s musings had spilled out in a rush. A quiet lull descended on their conversation as neither was sure quite what to say next.
Finally, Zach broke the silence, “Maybe we’re imagining all this?”
“Did we imagine Cassie disappearing? Did we imagine the man talking about ‘danger’ and ‘not scaring the parents’ on his phone call?”
“He could have been talking about something else.”
“How can you be so sure?” Zach asked.
“I don’t know. I just am. He was talking about Cassie. I know it in my heart.” Binny continued. “That man. That doctor. I don’t care that he knows Mom and Dad. I don’t trust him. He scares me. I think he’s hiding something.”
“He’s French, of course he’s a bit ‘mysterieuse’” Zach said in his best French accent.
Zach and Binny broke into laughter.
“Is that what that name is?” Binny asked.
“I looked it up.” Zach said.
“French or otherwise, I don’t trust him. And until Mom and Dad understand that he’s part of the problem, Cassie is in danger.”
“Well tonight made things worse. He brought Cassie back safe and sound, and now Mom and Dad trust him completely.” Zach concluded.
More time passed as the kids pondered their dilemma. This time it was Binny’s turn to break the silence. “Then it’s our job to make them untrust him.”
“How do you propose we do that?”
“I’m not sure yet, but I know who to ask.”
“What makes you think he can help us?” Zach asked.
The next morning had arrived. It was all Binny and Zach could do to get out of the house quietly without Cassie noticing and insisting on tagging along. Penny, who had been in one of her usual perches across the street, attached herself to Zach and Binny’s orbit like a small moon.
“I just know that he’ll believe us.” Binny said.
“What’s his name again?” Penny asked. Binny and Zach had been briefing her on the events of the previous night.
“Oh yeah. My Mom asks him for gardening advice. She’s trying to grow vegetables.” And then she added “Organically.” It was clear her mother had said the word way too often for Penny’s taste.
“Aren’t you worried he’s going to tell someone? Someone else who might be interested in what Cassie can do?” Zach had a look of concern on his face as he wondered aloud.
“I just know we can trust him. He’s different than other adults.” Binny answered in a way that indicated the discussion was closed.
The kids wound their way down towards the woods, with Binny insisting they stay as far across the street as possible as they passed Huitre’s “modern” house.
It only took a few minutes for them to find Caleb. He was crouched over the stones on the edge of a path that had become disorderly through constant traffic. “Hello children,” Caleb said, remaining in his crouch with his back to them. How did he do that?
Binny took the lead in the discussion. “Caleb, we need to talk to you about something.”
“Is that so?” Caleb stayed put.
“Caleb, please.” Binny said.
Caleb stopped what he was doing, rose slowly, and said, “OK.” His smile put them at ease. Even though he was grandfatherly, he never talked down to them or treated them like children.
“We need your help.” Binny started.
Caleb insisted that his legs were tired and led them to a bench a little further down the path, sat down with his palms on his legs and the children arranged in front of him and said “How can I help?”
The kids looked nervously at each other for a moment, but Binny quickly took the reins. “We need to tell you something. Something you might not believe. And we need you to keep it a secret.”
“Sounds like you’ve got something important on your minds.” Caleb said earnestly.
“Do you promise? Promise to believe us, and promise to keep it a secret?” Binny started to plead a bit.
“That’s a lot to ask, you know.” Caleb paused briefly to let his words sink in. Just as the kids started to look a bit nervous, he continued. “But I think you children are clever, and more importantly, I believe your hearts are in the right place. So, you have my promise.”
The fact that Caleb had expressed confidence in their character made Binny feel more grown up than she’d expected. Caleb’s trust in her credibility was exciting but scared her a little at the same time.
After a breath, Binny dove in. “Cassie can turn herself invisible.” With that beginning, the whole story came spilling out just as it had the day before with Penny. Details of Cassie’s power, Doctor Huitre’s interest in Cassie, his mysterious phone call, their parents not believing her, and the most recent information that their mother had participated in an experimental study that was very likely responsible for Cassie’s power. Binny concluded with, “Do you believe us? You promised.”
For his part, Caleb sat silently listening and nodding, but not giving away any of his thoughts on what he was hearing throughout Binny’s passionate retelling. He was polite, but it wasn’t clear whether he believed them or not. Binny found herself trying to stuff more words into her descriptions hoping that sheer quantity of detail would stop Caleb from thinking she was crazy, or even worse, from telling other adults about Cassie.
Finally, when the kids were all holding their breath waiting to hear Caleb’s reaction, Caleb inhaled and asked, “You’re saying she still can’t do it on purpose?”
The kids were momentarily confused. Zach seemed the most surprised, “So that means… you believe us?”
“Of course I believe you. Why wouldn’t I?”
“And you won’t tell anyone?” Binny asked.
Caleb slowly looked up at her and gave her a long look. Binny felt bad for a moment for having doubted him. Caleb continued. “Adults don’t like hearing things like this. They get agitated when the rules of their world don’t seem so certain.”
“But you’re an adult. Why aren’t you agitated?” Penny picked this moment to jump into the conversation with one of her penetrating observations.
A big smile slowly crept over Caleb’s face. “My dear, I’m an old man, not an ‘adult’. Children and old people exist to make adults feel useful. After all, who would the adults boss around if we weren’t here?” Caleb’s eyes were mischievous. “So you see, us old folks are a lot more willing to take the time to believe in things that adults are too busy to notice.”
The kids laughed at this, but Zach still had a slightly puzzled look on his face. “What did you mean when you said that Cassie ‘still’ can’t turn invisible on purpose?”
“Did I say that?”
“You did. You asked ‘You’re saying she still can’t do it on purpose?’ Those were your exact words.” Zach countered.
Caleb’s eyebrows were raised in amusement. “So they were. Well Mr. Jordan, one thing old people don’t share with children is excellent memories. If I said that, I misspoke.” Caleb finished his statement letting it hang in the silence, making it clear that he had nothing else to offer on the topic. Then he turned to face all three of the kids. “You said you needed help.”
Binny jumped in. “I’m worried that the doctor knows what Cassie can do. I’m worried that…” Binny lowered her voice, “he’s told other people and they will take her away and try and see how she does it.” Binny was almost afraid to say the words aloud for fear they would come true.
“I don’t mean to scare you kids. But I think you’re right to be nervous. Not only do adults not like it when the rules of their world are bent, but their immediate instinct is to try to find and control whoever is bending those rules.”
Binny teared up a bit at this thought. Everything she’d been afraid of was now being confirmed by an adult – well, at least by someone who wasn’t a kid. Zach noticed how upset Binny was getting and put his hand on her shoulder. This gave her the strength not to cry.
“Tell me more about the drug the doctor gave your mother.” Caleb said rubbing his chin in thought.
“It was a new fertility drug. She was part of a study. The drug was from Luce Laboratories.” Zach responded calmly.
Even Caleb, who was usually so even tempered, had a look of surprise on his face at that.
“How did you know that?” Binny was surprised Zach knew who’d made the drug.
“The doctor mentioned it yesterday when he was talking to Mom and Dad. He said ‘Luce Laboratories has a lot of studies out there’ when Dad asked him if the drug had been approved by the FDA.”
Penny and Binny were just staring at Zach.
“What? What?” Zach didn’t understand the fuss.
Binny shook her head at Zach but continued the discussion with Caleb, “I don’t trust Dr. Huitre. At all. But my parents are convinced he’s this great guy. At this point I think my Mom would hand Cassie over to him if he asked.”
Binny thought for a moment and then continued, “Do you think that the fertility treatment they gave my mother is why Cassie can turn invisible?”
Caleb replied in a low voice “I don’t know what effect that drug had on your mother or your sister. But I do know that pharmaceutical companies test drugs all the time. The government makes them keep records. Lots and lots of records. And even in this age of computers, they usually have lots of that information on paper in their archives. I think the answers to your questions, perhaps how to discredit Dr. Huitre, and what that fertility drug really was, can be found in the archives of Luce Laboratories.”
Absorbing this, Zach with his characteristic sarcastic smirk interjected, “Oh great. I’m sure we can just hop on a plane to wherever Luce Laboratories is and find out.”
Now it was Caleb’s turn to smirk: “As a matter of fact, you can. But you won’t need an airplane. Your bicycles will do.”