Disclaimer: Digimon—not mine!
Yes, I am alive everyone. And I'm planning to make up for lost time in the next few weeks…hopefully. Well, the site won't let me upload so I'm doing things a little unconventionally. I had a document saved on here already, and I just replaced it with this text. So here's hoping it works! Oh yeah, and I do some jumping between characters and places in this chapter, just for the record.
Thanks to: stormsight, Kay, unknown, and Kat, and all the other reviewers.
Dedication: Brenda for probably being this story's number 1 fan times infinity and for all the friendly threats. Keep in mind I know where you live too.
Chapter 14: And the Winner is. . .
This was it.
He'd never dreamed things would turn out this way. When Agent Jones first told him about the mission, this image didn't come to mind. There was action, adventure, and drama and success. Things were exciting and eventful. Everything was straight from the next Oscar-winning movie.
We aren't supposed to be sitting up in a crowded balcony—where there is no freaking room to breathe—watching a bunch of hot girls dance. The most exciting thing that'd happened to him in the last three hours was when the girls had come out to dance. But even then he'd been too preoccupied to really care.
Tai always had hated whiners. But now, that's all he felt like doing. It was boring. It was hot. It was slightly nerve-racking. It was uncertain. It was boring. It was all, hopefully, building up. It was annoying. It was boring. It was almost pointless.
Did he mention it was boring?
Seeing Sora's enthusiastic rendition of the dance had successfully knocked Tai out of his very foul mood, but as things went on, he was slowly slipping back in. Sure, he'd led the cheering when her name was announced, and she, in complete shock, stepped forward to join the others in the top ten, but that had been about all that'd elicited anything more than the stern look that graced his face. Even Mimi's selection into the top ten didn't do anything for him.
This wasn't what they were supposed to be doing. Was it? Shouldn't they be out there right now, hiding backstage and monitoring everything around them to know exactly when the Beauty Queen Killer would strike? Tai definitely didn't approve of Agent Jones' game plan. But if he chose to question it, would he end up the same as Matt?
Matt was most likely being interrogated, yelled at, probably spit at and stripped of his FBI badge. Or so Tai had thought nearly two hours before. But that was before he, and the others on the FBI, realized Matt had pulled a quick one on them. He'll be in even more trouble now. Tai knew the blond would be facing serious consequences once he was tracked down. There was no way he could avoid it. However, until that happened—something Tai hoped would take quite some time—he prayed Matt was out there fighting the good fight and figuring out some way to pin the murders on one of the suspects before anyone else got hurt. Maybe Matt and Sora were right about things.
He didn't like being a sitting duck, particularly when he could be out doing things that could help the cause. It didn't look like the others around him were minding the situation too much. Some were lounged in their chairs, scoping out the area and waiting for the top ten girls to get back on the stage. Others chatted good naturedly about the girls, situation with Agent Ishida, and anything else to pass the time. And Izzy…
"Dude, this is no time for solitaire!"
The computer whiz glanced up at his friend. "It's not my fault I'm bored. What else am I supposed to do?"
Tai slammed the laptop shut, missing the look of horror on Izzy's face. "Not play solitaire of all things. . ."
The auditorium had been rather noisy up until that point. But at the sound of a bloodcurdling, scared-out-of-the-mind scream, everyone hushed instantaneously. Tai stood up, peering over the balcony wall in search of the victim. He soon realized his mistake, their mistake. It's backstage. There's no one camped out down there. Whose stupid idea was this?
Izzy too seemed to get the message. "There are guards down in the main auditorium. They'll be able to get there quickly."
"They'll call us down if we're needed," Davis answered. "If not, they'll report it as soon as they get a chance, and we'll know what happened."
"I don't care what they do. It's what I'm going to do."
"Tai," Joe tried to stand up to reason with him, "calm down. What are you doing?"
He glared at the men around them, and all shrunk back from his icy stare. "I'm doing what I get paid for. . ."
This was it.
Sure, the Beauty Queen Killer had struck before and had caused considerable damage in different areas, but this was the first time the killer had done so in front of others. Matt bounded down the stairs, taking them two or three at a time, and hoping to God he didn't somehow trip and tumble down them. He was so concerned about getting down there and figuring out what was going on before anyone else got hurt…particularly Sora.
"Sor, what's going on?"
"Sora? Sora, damn it! Talk to me!"
Matt did not like being ignored one bit. T.K. constantly did it to him when they were younger as a way to prove a point. While he knew the redhead—stubborn as she was—wouldn't do that now, it still thoroughly bugged him, especially given the circumstances.
He flew down the last set of stairs, barreling through the open door into the main room where everyone was crowded near the food table in the center of the room. Still in his disguise, Matt knew the FBI officials who had apparently decided it was finally time to do their job wouldn't take any notice of him. He was not dressed in incriminating colors nor out of place; the other flower delivery guys were still here, as well. And if questions were asked, he would not be noted as someone who had been here before. No one had ever seen him before. At least in this get-up.
The now-brunette searched the growing crowd, eyes trained for Sora's red hair. After a moment of searching, he finally found her perched on the ground next to Catherine. Though her back was to him, he immediately could guess her demeanor. Everyone around them was slowly backing away, as if listening to orders barked out by a confidant dictator. She was in her "control" mood, the one she got when she just oozed power and authority. Matt knew that look all too well, and though he wouldn't admit it to her, he was kind of jealous of just how well it worked. It definitely gets a better response than any of my glares. Dude, stay on task; it's no time to be daydreaming about a girl when there's a murderer somewhere in the vicinity.
Sora carefully guided Catherine through the breathing process, slowly calming the hyperventilating woman down and getting her somewhat out of the intense shock she appeared to be in moments before. "What's going on here?"
Mr. Fujiyama, accompanied by two men in tuxes, burst into the middle of the room. From his prior digging, Matt knew the men accompanying him were chairmen on the board responsible for the competition. The board Mr. Fujiyama reports to.
I'd better keep my eyes open here.
"What's going on?" Mr. Fujiyama panted out. He looked all around, surprised at the amount of people here and the state they all appeared in. "We all heard a scream; it was impossible not to hear it."
All eyes focused on Catherine. Matt rolled his own, knowing that, especially after being attacked or roughed up or whatever had happened to her, Catherine was probably not in the best state to be talking right now. Fortunately for her, Sora found her voice. "She was attacked, Mr. Fujiyama."
"Attacked?" one of the men looked dubious, as if questioning how that could possibly happen. "But security. . ."
"Security did nothing." Sora was on fire now. Matt had seen that pent up anger directed at him before, and he knew the men were in for it if Sora wasn't able to calm herself down soon. "We were all changing, getting ready for the swimsuit segment—if you couldn't tell…" she trailed off, cheeks heating up as she looked down at the one-piece swimsuit she found herself wearing.
The only thing she was wearing.
And she most certainly does not look bad…focus!
Sora had regained her wit. Though, luckily for her as her temper was still at boiling point, it seemed the same could be true for Catherine. Well, she had regained her wits for the temporary instant. "I think I can take over, Sora Lynn. But thank you for helping out. I owe you."
"Don't worry about it," the redhead gave her friend a hug, and Matt could tell she was genuinely concerned about Miss Georgia.
"The story please, ladies," one of the men tapped his watch expectantly. "As touching as this is—and as happy we are that you are in one piece, Miss Georgia—the clock is ticking away."
"Right, I expected that." Catherine's voice was somewhat shaky, as if serving to contradict the in-control exterior she was wearing at the moment. Matt shook his head, wondering how long her façade would end up lasting. This was only the first bit of added pressure after the attack. There was still the aftermath she'd have to deal with if she decided to continue with the competition. I'd better keep a close eye on her. She's going to be even more vulnerable now.
"So anyway," Catherine continued again, "I finished getting changed into my swimsuit and everything. I figured get in, get out; I'd have time to check myself over in the large mirror out here before everyone else got out here, and since I'm keeping the same hair and make-up from the opening, I had nothing to worry about, right?" She looked around her. "Wrong, apparently. So I get out here and all, waiting patiently for everyone else to meet me here. I hear these footsteps—and they were loud footsteps, nothing like the light ones we should have with the shoes we have on. I turn to look and see who's clobbering up to me, and there's this ugly man. He's got dark clothes on and like a nylon or something covering his face. But that so didn't cover the fact that he needs plastic surgery or something to get rid of whatever malady is plaguing him. He told me to bow out of the competition, say I cheated or something, broke an ankle, couldn't go on with it…make up some kind of excuse or he'll just have to leave a permanent one on me. That's when I freaked. Screaming was the only thing that came to mind. He tried to rush me—I ducked to avoid him, but I broke a nail in the process…anyone have a fake nail I can put on? Okay, I'll stay with the story," she rolled her eyes at Mr. Fujiyama, who had motioned for her to get back on track. "He heard footsteps of people coming and took off sprinting in that direction."
Matt's eyes followed her finger to the exit on the right side of the stage. There's guards stationed outside every exit, checking identities and not letting very many people through. There's no way he could have escaped…which means…he's still somewhere in the building. The agent felt his eyes shift back to the girl who was getting more and more questions thrown at her now that she finished her story. She gave them a good outline of the plot, but the details are all missing. In order to figure it out and hopefully crack this before anyone else can get hurt, I'm going to need to talk to her.
He snapped out of his thoughts as he heard some arguing in the background now. It appeared the time for questions was now over, and those in charge were, for the time being, content with what she said. "I understand you want to partake in the competition, particularly as you've made it this far and with the scholarships and title at stake, Miss Georgia, but you have to be careful," Mr. Fujiyama studied the girl. "Your safety is the number one priority. I don't think it's the best idea for you to continue with this pageant, given everything you've been through and the added elements that are going to come into play if you continue in it."
"Be realistic, sir," one of the men in suits called out. "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for her. She is in the top ten women in America out of the hundreds and thousands who tried for this spot. Look at everything that's at stake."
"I understand that." Mr. Fujiyama paced back and forth. "And I want her to have a chance for the scholarships and the title of Miss America. But I'm more concerned about her safety. She's more at risk than the others because she has already been attacked once by the Beauty Queen Killer. That may pose the risk of making her an easier target than the other women, if he or she strikes again."
The other man didn't seem to know who to agree with. "I say you each pose some good arguments, but the fact of the matter is that we don't have much time to delay. We've already pushed an extra round of commercials through. People in the auditorium are starting to wonder. Soon the nation will be starting to wonder. And it'll be no surprise that this incident—yes, we all know it's true—will make the morning headlines in every paper. Journalists live and breathe gossip. We need to figure out what's going to happen and figure it out now. The only logical suggestion is to ask you, Miss Georgia."
"I agree," Mr. Fujiyama injected. "You can either choose to continue on in the pageant and see what happens from there. Or you can opt out of it now, and stay back here with a bodyguard supplied by the FBI to make sure no danger befalls you again."
Catherine glanced back and forth from person to person, eyes then darting to Sora, her friends, and the other contestants all clumped around her. "I came here to compete and that's what I'm going to do. I thank you for the offer of protection, though. I will accept it, if the offer stands, the moment I'm cut from the pageant, or if I win, the moment I am crowned. But I don't think I'm the only one who'll need the protection."
The grim look on Mr. Fujiyama's face surprised Matt. If he was the Beauty Queen Killer, he'd want her to be in the competition so he could eliminate her. But then again if he'd already eliminated her, he wouldn't have to worry about her. I wish I'd paid more attention back in psychology. Mr. Fujiyama's still a suspect, but it seems like he truly cares about the safety and well-being of the girls. I may be looking a bit too far into things, but I don't think you can fake that kind of feeling.
"I guess you'll be going back in then. But if something arises, a bodyguard will be immediately assigned instead of the terms you stated. And I will not hesitate to get a few more bodyguards down here to help supervise things."
That'd be my cue to exit. As quietly and unnoticeably as he entered, Matt snuck back into the corners of the room, adamant on getting Catherine alone and questioning her in more detail. There was a key element missing from the puzzle, and he knew it was needed in order to pin the title of Beauty Queen Killer on someone. But for now, Sora, it's all up to you. . .
"I can't believe she was attacked,"
"I know. Well, at least they didn't go for the prettiest. That's obvious."
Sora rolled her eyes at the comments floating around her. She tapped her foot impatiently, willing the clock to speed up and move faster. Sure, her nerves were part of the reason for her demeanor, but she knew they weren't the main reason. If I had it my way, I'd get out there, get back in here and work on the case with Matt. That's what's important. I can't let another one of my friends get hurt.
The top ten girls were all crowded together on one end of the stage, waiting for the band to start playing and announcer to say their names. But at the moment, the host was trying to transition the show from the long gap while explaining things away to the audience, both live and on-the-air. "I tell you, I'll never understand women. Apparently, one of them freaked out and let out this high-pitched scream when she saw one of the other contestant's swimsuits. Word on the street…or at least what I've heard from the stage hands is that next year, the pageant's looking to only buy that type."
The audience laughed at his dumb joke, and he continued on with one more to lighten the mood up a little bit. "That was lame."
Sora smirked, making sure no one was in close enough proximity to question why she was supposedly talking to herself. "I've heard worse."
"Hanging out with Tai it wouldn't surprise me."
She rolled her eyes. "Be nice, Matt. What's up? Have you picked up anything new?"
Sora could hear some typing in the background. "From what I've picked up, the FBI has finally gotten some sense knocked into them and now has guards stationed closer to us. And they're sending for one to watch Catherine. But they're still not in any ideal location. And I'm running a search on the top ten contestants. I want to know if there's anything particular that may set one of the girls apart and make her the next target."
"You know," she murmured back, "that's probably a good idea. It's a pity we hadn't thought of that before."
"But there's something else?"
"Hit me," Sora responded, keeping watch out of the corner of her eye on the monitor to see how much time she had left before having to go out. "But make it quick; I've got to be out there in the next few minutes."
"I got this idea. . ."
Sora groaned. "Is this what you said to yourself when you decided to escape from the FBI?"
"I thought you said you were short on time? Besides, I'm being serious. I just want your blessing on it cause it kind of concerns you."
"Let's hear it then."
"No interruptions, please." He waited, as if expecting her to say something. When she didn't, he continued on. "I want to talk to Catherine on my own and see if I can get more information out of her. You and I both know that her accounts weren't full of details; and those details could provide us with the key we need."
"How does that concern me?"
He was waiting for that. Now, the question of how to say it came into play. "The only way she's going to let me and actually talk is if I use my credentials. That will mean letting another person in on it. And I may have to blow your cover as well, just in order to get this information."
Sora could see it would not be an easy choice. On the one hand, this whole game of incognito was about secrets. Right now, she was living and dying by them. Matt too. If her secret got blown and Catherine let it spill, the consequences could be dire. But if he didn't talk to her and didn't let her know this stuff, she would be too hesitant to speak. She might create an even bigger problem, thinking he was there to attack her when he was really there for her protection.
So what's the solution.
"Ladies! Report to stage left immediately. When Mr. Homasaki says your name, go out just like you practiced," one of the stage hands called out.
"Sora? I know you have to go but. . ."
"Use your best discretion, Matt." Sora hurried over to where the girls were rounding up. "I trust you, remember that. You and I may have to bend a lot of unwritten rules tonight. But as long as the intentions are for the best…just do what you have to."
Matt smiled, and though she couldn't see it, she could tell he was letting a rare one break his normally cool exterior. "The same to you. And, I may be a bit biased, but I definitely think you're the most beautiful women out there, and if I was a judge, I'd choose you."
Sora fought off a blush. "You got me already; you don't need to flirt."
"It's true, though," he replied back with all sincerity. "Knock them dead out there. . ."
She smiled to herself, knowing she had to be grinning like an overexhuberant child. But did she care? In the midst of all the chaos, trouble, nerves, and turmoil it was nice to be complimented and, if only for a brief few minutes, act as if this was just another day, in another place without so much riding on tonight.
Gwen, the first person named to the top ten, was the first to go out. As the guest musical group The Fray launched into their number "Over My Head (Cable Car)", Sora waited patiently for her turn. Miss Arizona left next at the proper time, and Sora knew she was next. She had no idea what to be prepared for. This was much different than the preliminaries. This was much different than anything she'd practiced with Gennai. Hell, this was much different than being out there in the opening because this time she was actually alone.
"Miss New York. . ."
Here it goes. Sora stepped onto the stage and nearly froze as the lights hit her and the applause rung around her. She never really realized how many people were in the auditorium until she was out there by herself. In a group of fifty plus, yes, it did look like a never-ending sea. But right now, all on her own, walking over to the front of the stage, Sora felt like she was being paraded in front of a very large, very intimidating army.
I hope I don't trip.
As if knowing her emotions and feelings, Matt's voice quietly spoke through her necklace. "Smile and loosen up. The judges love you—trust me; I'm looking at the records right now. You placed fourth highest in the prelims…and that's saying something for a girl who got roped into being in this pageant."
Though it was impossible to respond to this comments because of the circumstances, Sora's smile reflected her answer. "I'm proud of you, too." She counted to ten as the instructors had told them all to do before moving onto the next block. "Listen up; I found out a few things from my digging. The Beauty Queen Killer is apparently looking to eliminate the competition and clear the path for one of the contestants. That's why none of the attacks have been really serious."
Sora paused once again and forced a smile as the crowd began to cheer again. You know, I've always been good at multitasking, but paying attention to Matt is really hard to do right now, especially with these lights. It's hotter than hell up here, and I'm even wearing a swimsuit. Sora squinted in the lights, noticing how there were some pointed at the group and some hanging behind them.
As she shifted to her spot next to Miss Arizona, the redhead couldn't help but notice the light's booth. The men and women inside apparently were getting the message, and were working hard to get things fixed. But Sora's attention shifted to something else, something…peculiar. Nearly thirty feet above the light's booth…well, there was no way…was there? She could've sworn she'd just seen someone up there. But there's no seating up there or any stairs or paths leading up there. I didn't even know the stairs went up that high. I thought the light's booth was the highest thing here. Maybe I'm just seeing things in the light.
"…she's been targeted already, as has Catherine."
Shit. Now what was he saying?
"I take it by your slightly confused look that you weren't paying attention to much that I was saying, were you? It's okay. Just keep an eye on Gwen, Miss Nebraska—Oikawa's niece—and yourself. If my predictions are right, you three could be the next targets. And ouch! Catherine doesn't look so hot out there."
It didn't take much to see that Matt was right. Miss Georgia's legs shook as she crossed the stage, and she looked like a deer caught in a set of headlights, standing in front of America. Her smile tried to cancel that look, but even it couldn't redeem it.
Poor Catherine. But this looks like only just the beginning. . .
Thirty minutes later
"In my hands I hold the envelope that narrows it down to five lovely ladies," the host spoke as much to the crowd as he did to the ten anxious women before him. They all held hands, standing in a line in their evening wear dresses and wondering which would continue on and which would be eliminated.
Okay, this is definitely nerve-wracking. And I'm not even all gung-ho about this. I wonder what's going to happen if certain people get cut. Catherine doesn't stand a chance in hell anymore. She could never get herself back together after the shake-up, and I think the judges could tell that. From what Matt told me, they didn't inform the judges about the details of the matter. That means no pity points.
"In no particular order I present your top five. Miss Nebraska!" The pretty blonde stepped forward, giving a shy smile to the crowd and beaming down at the judges. Watching the interaction, Sora could tell Oikawa probably wasn't being as unbiased as he should as a judge. But would he rig the whole competition just so she could win? Would he stoop that low? "Miss Mississippi!"
Mimi let out a little shriek, and Sora couldn't help but smile along with her friend. This was what Mimi wanted after all. She had done very well in the opening rounds, but it was hard to know for sure if she and the others had gotten in on technical default with the sure elimination of two of the ten girls. "Miss Hawaii!" The brunette walked forward to the cheers of the crowd. "Miss New York!"
Sora wore a forced, gracious smile as she joined the others in line, feeling like she was stepping to her death wish for being there. "And finally…Miss… Massachusetts!" Yolei rounded out the last of the group, and Sora felt now, more than ever, that she was signing her death certificate. Three of the five girls who were cut had been attacked.
The redhead was almost certain Gwen should've had a spot in the top five. But after the incident…well, it's the same as Catherine. Matt had successfully predicted one of the next targets, and Sora couldn't help but feel guilty they were unable to stop the Beauty Queen Killer or prevent him from hurting Gwen, too.
The girls had been waiting in the wing for the evening wear segment this time. It didn't hit Sora that something was up until Gwen sneezed for the second or third time. "Are you okay?"
"I don't know," her voice sounded a little bit scratchy. "I felt perfectly fine before the pageant began. I don't think nerves could make me feel as yucky as I do now."
"What's all wrong?" While the others had all backed away disgusted, as if Gwen carried the plague, Sora approached the girl, concern running deep in her eyes. I don't think this is pure coincidence.
Gwen rubbed at her arms. "I can't stop sneezing and scratching. I…oh no!"
At once, all eyes focused on what Miss Minnesota was pointing to. Her arms were covered with small red bumps and indents. "You've got hives!" Miss Arizona cried out. "Stay away from me!"
Gwen hung her head, admitting the diagnosis was true. "They just came out of nowhere."
"Are you allergic to anything?"
"Nothing that I can think of that would be here…except, except certain types of flowers. Like daffodils. "
Jun put a hand on her friend's shoulder. "Did you get any before the show started?"
"I don't know," Gwen admitted. "There were large mixtures of things. I never had a chance to look with all the chaos and rushing for time. But anyone who would've sent flowers to me knows that and wouldn't do that."
As the girls around her gossiped about the subject, Sora could only shake her head at their naïveté. Anyone who isn't the Beauty Queen Killer. . .
Catherine slammed her dressing room door shut. With a heavy sigh, she slumped into the chair seated in front of the mirror provided for her. Well, I tried. I came here to win, but thanks to that Beauty Queen Killer, had my chances shot down.
Right now, she wanted nothing more than to head back to the hotel, take a nice long shower, and after catching up on her rest, head back to her home state, away from the drama she found here. But she knew that wasn't possible as there were still the end ceremonies to look forward to. I hope one of my friends wins. There are some of them in that final group that don't deserve it. Gwen should've been in there in place of one of them. And there's no way that Miss Nebraska should've made it. Can you say obnoxious? I wonder if the Beauty Queen Killer will attack. . .
Her hands grabbed the desk ledge in front of her, knuckles turning white from grasping it so hard. Relax, maybe it's just one of the other contestants. She turned in her seat, but was not rewarded with the sight of one of her friends.
Part of a body…a leg…a leg of a man. . .
Catherine stood on two shaky feet, clutching a hairbrush, the first thing she saw that remotely resembled a weapon, and approached the door, ready to nail him when he entered. The body walked all the way in, and as he turned to quietly shut the door. . .
"What the hell?"
Catherine had shut her eyes, not wanting to see what came next. But his exclamation broke her out of her trance. The man, probably around her age with brown, blondish hair, was rubbing his temple and trying not to wince. "I'm not afraid to scream."
"Please don't; I have enough of a headache without that adding to it. And you needn't shriek anyway. I'm not here to attack you."
"Then why are you here?" Her hands rested on her hips and she stared the, admittedly, pretty boy down.
"Agent Matt Ishida, FBI. I'm here to ask you. . ."
"They're assigning you to be my bodyguard?"
"No, I'm working on more important things."
The girl stared at him. "From what everyone in charge has been saying, security is supposed to be the number one concern, especially given the circumstances. But apparently you don't agree." Catherine narrowed her eyes. "How do I know you're who you say you are?"
"Would you like to see my id?"
"Yes, in fact I would."
Rolling his brilliant blue orbs, Matt dug into his pocket for his wallet and badge. "There. Make you happy?"
She studied the badge and information, occasionally glancing up to look at him. "Dude, you have blond hair in the picture."
"So?" Matt couldn't believe this woman. She can be more stubborn than Sora gets when she's mad. "I'm undercover at the moment."
"But you chose to become a brunette? No offense but that look just doesn't suit you. And why's everyone jumping on the brunette bandwagon? Seriously, it was okay when only a few were going dark-haired but now it seems like everyone is. What's originality, huh?"
"Nevermind," the man replied, glad he'd confused her and shifted the conversation. "Look, are you convinced I'm who I say?"
"Yes." She was still slightly suspicious though. "Haven't I seen you before?"
"Probably," He didn't even skip a beat before answering. I'm surprised she hasn't made a connection to the club yet. "So can I ask you some questions about what happened earlier in the competition when you were attacked?"
"I guess so. But I already told my story."
Matt gestured for her to sit back down. "So what did the guy who attacked you look like?"
"He was wearing all black and had a nylon-thing over his face."
He raised an eyebrow at the girl. "Anything else? A few specifics really wouldn't hurt right now."
"The guy was thin and tall, probably even a little taller than you. He had a sort of high-pitched voice. It really didn't seem to fit him." Matt jotted the notes down on a napkin, the first thing he could find to write on. "Oh yeah…and he had these weird bandages on his hands. You know, if I'm not mistaken, I'd say he had some on his face, underneath his maskish thing."
That caught the agent's attention. Matt moved over to the desktop she was sitting at and took his laptop computer out of the bag he'd brought with him. Plugging it in, he accessed the files he and Sora had been using for their "unauthorized" work. "Did he look like this?"
A picture of the supposed Black Widow showed up, and Catherine's gasp gave Matt all the information he needed to confirm it. "So he's the Beauty Queen Killer?"
"No, he's working for someone else. And it's my job to figure out who he's working for." Quickly, the man typed in all the notes he'd gotten from Miss Georgia. "Did you happen to see where he went after you screamed?"
"I assume he went to the exit and ran. I mean, wouldn't you do that?"
Matt looked at the girl. "No, I wouldn't. There were guards at the exit. He would've been sealing his fate."
"Well," she hesitated, "maybe he didn't run to the exit. I thought I saw a door open about halfway down that hallway. But there weren't any doors there. I just assumed I was imagining things or that it was the exit and the guards were coming into see what was the matter."
That just may be the key I'm looking for. Matt pulled up the blueprints of the Majestic Theater from Izzy's computer. Zooming in, he studied the layout of the building and was discouraged to find there was no such door in that place. "Maybe. . ."
Both turned as the door began to open again. In walked the person Matt had least expected to see and one of the people he didn't want to find him.
The new inhabitant nearly did a double take as he saw through the disguise. "Matt?"
Taking a deep breath, Matt stepped forward. "Tai, before you say anything. . ."
"Look, Matt. As of right now this is a whole different ballgame with two sides: the side that wants to sit back and the side that wants to stop the Beauty Queen Killer. Screw Agent Jones. I don't know how you got back here or how you avoided all the agents here, but, you know what, that's on the bottom of my priority list right now. I'm here to help you and Sora. I can ask questions of the two of you later."
In the past two weeks, Matt Ishida had made a lot of conclusions regarding one Tai Kamiya. I have officially met the one person who is a bigger mystery than I am. But mixed in with all the goofy, dubious, foolish, absurd, and downright strange interpretations of the spiky-haired boy was one he had just come to now. Tai is very smart. I think he and I are going to be good friends.
"Um, okay, I'm just going to pretend I know what the two of you are talking about." Catherine scratched her head. "But, um…new dude? Who are you? Haven't I seen you before? And are you two talking about Sora Lynn?" It was as if a light bulb suddenly went on in her head. "Hey, aren't you the guy Mimi hooked up with?"
Matt fought back a smirk as Tai tried not to wince. "Mimi and I have been hanging out a lot." He glanced at Matt. "Is it okay to tell her about me and about Sora?"
"Why do you keep calling her just Sora?"
"She knows stuff she probably shouldn't anyway; we may as well." He turned his attention to Catherine now. "Everything you hear in this room is strictly confidential. If any of this gets out, the lives of many will be in danger and you will not be on the good side of the FBI."
Catherine's' face was blank. "I like to gossip as much as the next person, but give me some credit. I know when to keep my mouth shut. I promise not to talk as long as you fill me in on what the devil's going on with you two and how Sora Lynn is connected to it all."
Matt held up his hands and directed the girl's questioning looks to the other man in the room. Taking a deep breath, Tai wondered how he could explain this. "I'm Tai Kamiya with the NYPD. Some of my colleagues and I, along with Agent Ishida from the FBI, were brought in to stop the Beauty Queen Killer. Our superior officer from the FBI settled on a plan to plant an agent, or in this case a soon-to-be agent, as a contestant. You know this person as Sora Lynn Rogers, Miss New York."
Catherine gasped, hands going to her mouth in shock. "So…so you mean Sora Lynn's not Sora Lynn?"
"Try Sora Takenouchi, NYPD officer and most likely FBI agent in the very near distant future."
Tai exchanged a nervous glance with Matt. It looked like the girl before them had a lot more questions ready to swing their way. Neither knew how much more they should tell the girl, or rather wanted to tell the girl. "Matt? Come in, please, Matt. . ."
They were saved in the most unlikely of ways.
"Speak of the devil. . ." Tai mumbled, thanking the beauty pageant gods for Sora's timely request. Catherine perked up at the noise, wondering where it was coming from and just how this would fit into the things she'd been hearing about.
"Sora? What's up?"
"Matt. . ." He knew something was up immediately. She sounded hesitant and uncertain, almost fearful. "It's happened again. The Beauty Queen Killer has attacked again."
That was not the news he had wanted to hear. "It's not you is it?"
"No. He got to Mimi."
"Mimi? What happened to her?"
Matt found himself almost pinned to the floor at that comment. Tai and Catherine had been listening intently in silence up until that point. But at the name Mimi, both lunged at him, tackling him down in their haste to know more.
"Sora, what's going on? Is Mimi alright? Where is she? Let me know!"
"Tai? What are you doing…" She let out a gasp, "…was Matt caught?"
"He's with Catherine and me right now; I was assigned to be her bodyguard, and Matt was in here questioning her when I came. Now tell me about Mimi."
The three were dead silent as she talked, all struggling to hear her. "Mimi had a cup of some herbal tea in her dressing room and had been drinking it in between numbers to help her voice stay strong. She was supposed to sing an Italian aria for the talent segment. It happened five minutes ago. We were waiting to go out there, and she tried to speak and nothing came out. Yolei felt her forehead and it was burning up. Miss Nebraska's pre-med and diagnosed her with some form of a swollen throat, probably caused by something in her drink."
"So someone took her drink from the room and put something in it?" Matt was the first one to find his voice.
"That's the thing," Sora paused, and her puzzled manner was evident. "The drink never once left her dressing room. And the only people who've been in it—because guards have been placed in front of each door—are the final five contestants and Mr. Fujiyama. But Mr. F stood by the door the whole time, going nowhere near the drink."
Catherine didn't have to have studied to become a police officer of FBI agent to figure where this was going. "So it was one of the contestants in there."
"Well, we can eliminate you," Tai wisely said, "and Mimi, obviously. So that leaves us Miss Hawaii, Miss Massachusetts—but isn't she you guy's friend too?—and Miss Nebraska. Matt, can you run a check on all of them on your computer?"
The blond was one step ahead of him, already typing in the first contestant, though he had a suspicion of his own on which it was. "Don't worry about it," Sora's voice crackled through. "I already know who it is."
"Miss Nebraska," Sora repeated. "She was too quick to jump in about everything, too knowledgeable on the subject at hand, too happy that it had worked, and just too guilty. I don't think any of the others could tell; no one knows the things I do."
There was a quiet gap for a few seconds as the reality of the situation sunk in. "You know, why am I not surprised it was her?" Catherine spoke up. "I never liked that girl. She was too fake and super obnoxious. If I had to hear one more time about how she was valedictorian of her high school class, won this apparently prestigious award from Creighton University where she graduated with lots of honors and is now in medical school there, and how that Oikawa dude is her uncle, one of the judges, and this amazing architect who helped renovate this place, I think I could scream. Or hang myself. The second option sounds better."
Matt stopped listening before Catherine ragged on about her death options. The wheels in his mind were spinning. Two weeks ago, the jigsaw puzzle had been laid out for him and the others with minimal pieces. They'd put together the border first, getting some of the inside pieces together but struggled with the harder parts. He and Sora had ventured closer to completion with their extra investigating but were missing that one last puzzle piece to finish it off.
And thanks to Catherine, we now have it.
"Sora, are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
"That we just found the Beauty Queen Killer?"
"Definitely." Matt grinned to himself. "Thanks for the extra information, Catherine. It's going to help us nail Oikawa and his niece."
"But I don't understand."
Matt held up a hand. "You'll find out when everything's over. Knowing anymore could put you in some more danger." Another piece of the puzzle clicked in his mind. "You said Oikawa helped remodel this place?"
"Remember how you told me you thought you saw a door open up and the person who attacked you go into it?"
"Yeah?" She still looked confused. "Oh! Do you think Mr. Oikawa built an escape route or hiding place of some sort?"
Tai, who'd been awfully quiet while letting all the information come together, finally spoke up. "That would be a very feasible idea. I was wondering about that too when they told me your story and assigned me to be your bodyguard. I wonder where it leads."
Sora let out another gasp. "The area above the lights booth!"
"Huh?" the two males asked, not sure what she was getting at.
Catherine on the other hand understood right away. "Did you see that too, Sora Lynn…I mean, Sora? I thought I saw someone walking up there, but I didn't understand how."
"Me too. That's where the two accomplices, Tut and Black Widow are probably hiding out, waiting for the winner to be crowned now so they can cause one last bit of mayhem if Miss Nebraska isn't crowned."
Matt stood up, renewed with a source of motivation and determination. This news had more of an effect on me than I thought it would. He felt his pockets as he was ready to leave the room. Damn it. "Tai, can I borrow your gun just to be safe? I don't know if I'm going to need it, but I don't want to be in a situation that could go bad without it."
Tai rose to his feet as well. "I'm going with you, man. I'm not going to see another woman I care about hurt."
"Your place is here, Tai. You need to stay here in case one of Oikawa's flunkies is stationed down here to attack again. I'm under the radar, and I need to push this one in Agent Jones's face."
After a moment of hesitation, Tai unstrapped his gun from its holder. "Be careful, man. You never know what can happen. But don't be afraid to call for help."
"Thanks," the agent murmured. He walked over to wear his laptop was plugged in. "I've tapped into Izzy's bugging system on here. You should be able to access almost anywhere in this theater from it."
"Can I let the others in on what's going on?" Tai finally remembered the others
"It probably wouldn't be the smartest thing. But you can tell them that you've been hearing some rumors backstage about one of the contestants being involved with things. Just kind of plant the idea in their head. You don't have to say any more or any less."
"Okay," Tai dubiously answered.
"It's for the best, Tai," Sora quickly replied. "Oh shit; it's almost my turn. Good luck, Matt. Keep Catherine safe, Tai. Catherine, keep Tai out of trouble."
Matt nodded to the two in the room, tucked the gun, in its holder, into his sweatshirt and headed for the door. "Wait a minute!" Catherine exclaimed. "Sora said there's a guard stationed at every door. There's no way you're going to get out, especially with a gun."
Tai looked between the two of them and then stared at the door for a few seconds. "Guys, I have a crazy plan. And, given the circumstances, I'm not afraid to attempt it. You guys with me?"
Catherine and Matt both scooted closer, and the lone female had no idea what she was in for…
Breathe. You can do this, Sora, but you have to concentrate. That's the only way you're going to nail this, or at lest make the judges believe you are playing some masterpiece. But is it worth it? I mean, we already know who the Beauty Queen Killer is. It's not like I really still need to compete in this competition. But I just can't blow my cover like that. I'm stuck here, and that means I have to "compete" and make it seem like I really do want this title.
Sora squinted in the light again as she waited for Mr. Homasaki to introduce her and her talent piece. Of the contestants, she was the fourth to perform. Miss Nebraska started things off with, in Sora's opinion, a very screechy alto saxophone solo. The piece sounded really difficult to play, and it made the woman hit a couple very high notes, notes that Sora thought sounded awful together. Course I may just be bitter because I know what she did to Mimi and that her uncle is the Beauty Queen Killer. Mimi came next and her performance was doomed from the very start. Her voice could barely be heard, and she had problems even hitting the low notes. Everyone had tried to convince Mimi not to take part in things, to bow out gracefully, but she wanted to go down as a fighter. Next came Miss Hawaii, who, in typical beauty pageant fashion, performed a baton routine. Sora knew Yolei was going to do a violin solo after her.
So it left her. . .
"Now performing a piano piece entitled "Yamora" is Miss New York, Sora Lynn Rogers."
The clapping started, and Sora took another breath, this one deeper and more powerful. I can't let myself get all worried about the Beauty Queen Killer. That's Matt's job for right now. Thinking of the blond made her remember something he had told her when she first started preparing for this number with Gennai.
"Just imagine that it's only you in the room. Then imagine two people walk in. They are your parents. You're determined to show them everything they've missed—putting it all together in one song."
Her fingers began to dance across the grand piano, and this little distraction managed to clear her head of the activities surrounding her for the temporary time being. . .
10 minutes later. . .
When she signed up for this job, she had not expected to get as into it as she was now. Probably because I somehow made it into the top three with one of my friends and the enemy. Sora stood on the stage, between Miss Nebraska and Miss Massachusetts, waiting for the host to give them directions on what was next to come. Two ladies joined them on stage and maneuvered Yolei and Sora over to a soundproof booth with headphones for them to put on so they would remain in the dark about the final question.
"Good luck," Sora mouthed to her friend, genuinely hoping Yolei would be crowned the winner.
"Back at you," the girl replied with a smile.
Right now, she was trapped in this soundproofed bubble, one that prevented her from knowing what was going on in the outside world. I have no way of knowing if Oikawa's going to launch an attack right now. She wouldn't put it passed him, especially because she thought he'd launched another one at Catherine during the talent segment, though Matt passed it onto her that it was just a diversion so he could sneak away from the guards. Very tricky, but I don't like being kept in the dark.
That's exactly how she felt at the moment. While she couldn't hear anything outside of the room or inside, for that matter, the redhead felt a vibration near her neck right around where her necklace was placed at. Matt…
Sublimely, the girl adjusted her headphones so the very bottom tip of her ear remained uncovered. "I've found the door and made it up to the extended balcony. There are two people up here, presumably Tut and Black Widow, but they're sitting around, waiting for something. I bet they're waiting to make sure Miss Nebraska's crowned the winner. I don't see any guns close by that could be used to fire at the stage. They were probably given orders not to because it would create too much of a conspiracy. But…there's something they're holding onto over there. I don't know what it is. I need to get closer. Good luck down there. That's all from here. . ."
Sora longed to tell him to be careful and to wish him good luck, as well. But under the circumstances, well, she obviously couldn't respond. The door opened up, and one of the girls came over to her. "It's your turn, Miss New York."
She exited the soundproof walls and walked towards the host. "How are you, Miss New York?"
"I'm doing well, thank you."
"Alright, I'm going to ask you one final question, and you have one minute to answer it."
The announcer cleared his throat before beginning. "There's been a lot of animosity in the United States due to the war in Iraq, the battle for immigration reform, eminent domain, and other political problems. Most of us are neither making the country's decisions on what to do nor are politicians who can speak and be heard. In your opinion, what role can you and others as typical American citizens do to help end this animosity and make your voices heard?"
Stay in character. The question wasn't a hard one; there was just a lot of information. Sora knew she would be fine once she started talking. It was just a matter of building and expanding on one point. "I've learned a lot of things from the special needs children I've been working with over the past few years. But the most important thing they've taught me is that ignorance is bliss. When one is ignorant, he or she takes forgranted a problem or an issue and only sees a blind view of it. They are either only willing to look one direction or not care at all. To escape that problem here in America, we need to educate ourselves on all sides of the matter, not just the side we support. That will help us smooth over relations. And it can also build up our own knowledge and confidence in the matter, leading to us taking actions like writing letters to our senators and representatives and getting involved in interests groups and such."
"Thank you very much, Miss New York. Take your place over there." Sora put on another fake smile for the crowd before walking over to stand next to Miss Nebraska. The easy part's over now. Now it's time to nail the crooks.
"May the best woman win," the redhead boldly whispered out of the side of her mouth.
Miss Nebraska looked surprised at being addressed. "Yes, may the best win. . ."
He could hear everything clear as a bell up here. And seeing wasn't much of a problem either, though, at the moment, he was almost directly above the contestants' heads. The two figures—Arukeni and Mummy, as he heard them refer to each other—standing no more than one hundred meters to the right of him were holding sharp knives and scissors, holding onto a series of cords that had been redirected from the light's booth to right in front of them. Matt had a very large suspicion he knew where this was going. And I'm not going to let it happen.
"Ladies and gentlemen. It is now the moment we've all been waiting for." Craning his neck from his perch, Matt could see all the women on the stage—perfect targets—with the top three in the very front. "A representative from the accounting firm Riesenberg and Co. will now hand me the envelope with the verified results."
"That is correct," the man replied. "These have been checked and double checked for precision and accuracy."
"Thank you, Kenny. And now, the results. Our second runner up, winner of a $15,000 scholarship is…Miss Massachusetts!"
Cheers went up in the air, along with sighs of disappointment as Yolei humbly accepted her flowers. She mouthed another 'good luck' to Sora before heading off to stage right, where the runner-up would stand by her.
"And now, you're first runner-up, recipient of a $20,000 scholarship is…Miss… Nebraska! That makes our Miss America 2006 Miss New York, Sora Lynn Rogers. . ."
A/N: Come on; how many of you saw that one coming? Well, detail jam-packed chapter. I thoroughly hope you all enjoyed this chapter. And I promise lots of excitement in the next one. And I apologize for any grammar/spelling errors…I proofed this rather quickly in hopes I could get it up. But I'll probably go back later and fix anything I missed. Please, please review…I love to know what you guys think about things. Thank you for your patience and dedication!