Shift into Turbo
The orange pickup followed Adam's Mercedes out of the carnival parking lot, only to get stuck in a major traffic jam caused by a car wreck on the main road. The three girls used the opportunity to explain more about their truck to Rocky and Zack—like how the passenger's side window button moved the seat forwards and backwards, the seat controls activated the wiper blades, and so on. Conner, meanwhile, investigated the backseat with interest.
A big canister of popcorn decorated with pictures of the Time Force Rangers was on the floor, and the sword Rachel had used to open the hood was now hanging across the back of the front seat. Beneath it hung three walking sticks, a baseball bat, a shovel and a large net, the last of which formed a pocket filled with all sorts of interesting things, like action figures, camcorders, a laptop, several photo albums, tons of papers, a huge amount of pay-by-the-minute cell phones still in their packaging, and plenty of snack food. On the seat next to him was a pile of ski masks and wigs, which had been covered by a blanket until he'd gotten curious; Dee had hurriedly leaned across him and swept everything onto the floor, giving Conner space to stretch out across the seat, his legs tangled with Dee's. By the time they'd escaped from the traffic jam, Conner was sharing the tin of popcorn with Dee, vaguely listening to the conversation between Rocky, Zack, Sandra and Rachel and wondering if Dee would get mad if he threw some popcorn down her shirt, or if she'd pull a Kimberly.
"So why are you guys in town?" Zack was saying in the front seat. Sandra was leaning into him by this point, her feet propped up on the dashboard.
"Oh, you know, just sightseeing," Sandra said casually. "Nice place, Stone Canyon. We came through here last year, went to this really nice park…"
"Which park was that?" Zack asked.
"Stony… something," Sandra replied. "Stony river… lake… something with water in it. Haven't been able to find it this time around."
"Could be a lot of places, this being Stone Canyon," Rocky said. "Stony River, Stony Lake, Stony Creek, Stony Stream, Stony Bay, Stony Pond—I think there's a few more, can't name them all off the top of my head…"
"Well, I'm sure we'll find it eventually. Anyway, we heard about Power Rangers Day and came running. We love Power Rangers," Rachel gushed, looking fondly at the Power Ranger helmets hanging from the mirror.
"Rachel's life ambition is to do a Power Ranger," Sandra said in a stage whisper.
"Shut up!" Rachel exclaimed, whacking her shoulder. Zack winced as one of his fingers got caught in the crossfire.
"Nothing wrong with that," Rocky assured her, grinning his head off.
"That's why we adopted specific colors," Rachel said. "We heard the Space Rangers say in an interview that they were very adamant about their Ranger colors, always wore them and everything. So we all started doing the same thing."
"Is that why you all have dyed hair?" Rocky asked, fingering the purple streak through Rachel's hair. The ends of Sandra's hair were red, and Dee's hair was all-green.
"Yeah. Rachel's into purple and blue, I'm into red and black, and Dee's green and brown," Sandra said.
"We do that too," Rocky said, exchanging a grin with Zack. "Never go a day without wearing our favorite colors. I'm into red and blue."
"Black and purple," Zack said.
"Red and, um, white," Conner said. He'd never really thought about his second favorite color, but red and white made up his soccer uniform.
"That's so cool," Dee said. "We've never met anyone who's really adamant about colors."
"Oh, we are," Zack said emphatically. Rocky chuckled. "From clothes to bed sheets to cars."
"We use our colors everywhere we can, too," Sandra said. "Especially in our artwork."
"That whole Sharpie Graffiti Girls thing?" Conner asked. Dee had tried to explain it back on the chairlift, but all he'd managed to comprehend was that it was an underground website relating to "urban art." Conner wasn't even sure what an "underground" website was, let alone urban art. He'd meant to ask Ethan, but hadn't gotten around to it before finding himself in the middle of a clown fight.
"Er… yeah," Rachel said, shifting a bit on Rocky's lap.
"Hey, isn't graffiti illegal?" Conner asked. "You know, isn't it technically vandalism?"
There was a pause. "Only technically," Dee said finally. "If it's done without consent."
"I think I've heard of the Sharpie Graffiti Girls somewhere before," Zack said, frowning as he tried to remember.
"You've probably come across some of our merchandise," Sandra said. "Spencer's carries it, and so do lots of places that sell novelty T-shirts."
"Oh, yeah," Zack said vaguely. "I think I saw it on a T-shirt once."
"We've got a bit of a cult following," Sandra said with a shrug. She nudged Zack in the side. "So, what do you guys do for a living?"
"I'm a fight choreographer in Hollywood," Zack said proudly, allowing the hand on her shoulder to slip so that his fingers were dangling precariously over her chest. "Rocky owns his own dojo, and Conner—"
"I just accepted a scholarship to UCLA," Conner interrupted quickly. That wasn't entirely true. UCLA scouts had been looking at him closely to play soccer for them in the fall, but so had several dozen other schools and he hadn't picked one just yet, and wasn't sure his soccer skills were enough to get him into college; his C-average was starting to catch up with him. Still, scouts from most major universities in the state, and a few that weren't, had been looking at the great Conner McKnight, especially after hearing he'd turn down a spot with the Reefside Wave soccer team to "focus on school."
"So you're a brainy type?" Dee asked in surprise. Despite not knowing him very long, Rocky and Zack both let out snorts of not-quite-suppressed laughter.
"Me? No, of course not. I'm an athlete," he replied quickly.
"We all are," Zack added. "You like sports?"
"We met on the track team in high school," Sandra replied. "We have a few trophies, nothing major."
"I always wanted to take martial arts, though," Rachel said. "We're just never in one place long enough to actually go for it."
"I'd be willing to give you a few private lessons," Rocky told her.
"Really, now? Sounds like fun," Rachel said, exchanging a grin with Sandra.
"We're all really into martial arts," Zack said. "Rocky and I have been into it since we were kids, but Conner just got into it—when was it, Conner?"
"September," Conner replied.
"Adam and I were just saying how cool it would be to spar with—you know—Conner's friends," Rocky said. "See what Tommy's taught them."
"They're pretty awesome," Zack said. "Especially for newbies."
"Thanks, Zack," Conner said happily, feeling a swell of pride and fighting the urge to geek out. The original Black Ranger thought he was "pretty awesome!"
"OOH! There it is! Stony Creek Park!" Rachel shouted, spinning the steering wheel as hard as possible. The truck shot off down a side street heading for the park.
"Are you sure that's it?" Sandra asked, sitting bolt upright so fast that Zack's hand was thrown against the seat with a loud thwack!
"Yeah! See—look—" Rachel pointed at a tree along the road. "That's the tree we hit!"
"You hit," Sandra corrected. She bent over and began yanking large sheets of orange canvas from under the seat. "Dee, unhook the shovel." Dee untangled her legs from Conner's and began fiddling with the hooks securing the shovel to the seat. Conner pulled his legs up to give her more room.
"We were supposed to stay behind Adam," Conner said. "Shouldn't we—?"
"Sorry, but we've been trying to find this park ever since we got back here," Sandra explained. "It's really important."
"Don't worry. We'll catch up with them later," said Zack, who had long since learned that when out with a hot girl, one should put up with any unplanned detours, just in case said detours were to isolated areas where fun things might happen.
"Hey, take the wheel," Rachel said to Rocky. He obeyed, peering out the windshield over her shoulder—which wasn't easy, as she'd decided now was a good time to tie her hair back and strands were flying everywhere. "You guys want to come with us?" Rachel asked.
Conner thought it over, slightly nervous as he watched Dee select strange items from the net-pocket across the seat, such as a crowbar and a video camera. He frowned down at the various objects in the net. His instincts were suddenly informing him that Something Was about to Happen. He wasn't sure what, but it hadn't escaped his attention that every time he'd deviated from the prescribed plan on this trip (mostly when he'd disobeyed Dr. O), something odd had gone down—getting beaten by an old lady with a cane or being pelted with cans of Play-Doh on a mad dash to the elevator, for example. Or maybe he was just a little too used to things going downhill just when things were getting good—like when he was happily looking down Kimberly's shirt and suddenly found himself in an episode of World's Scariest Car Chases, or when he'd been moseying down the sidewalk with his friends and the next thing he knew he was witnessing a conspiracy to cover up the fact that his science teacher had just decked a purse snatcher.
Regardless of what had set off his intuition, he got the feeling that something new and freakish was on the horizon. Even Conner was smart enough to realize that coming across three friendly girls with a thing for Power Rangers was a little too good to be true. Maybe it was the abrupt detour to a secluded wooded area (which never ends well on TV, after all) or the girls' talk of committing petty crimes like fence-hopping and tagging, but reruns of Law & Order were beginning to play through his head. His eyes fell on the multitude of cell phones—weren't the bad guys always using pay-by-the-minutes phones for one reason or another?
"Come with you to where?" Conner asked cautiously.
"To do some art," Sandra said cheerfully, pulling several Sharpies out of the cup holders and passing them out to Rachel and Dee.
Rocky shot Zack a look, as much to gauge Zack's reaction as to keep Rachel's hair from getting in his eyes. Zack shrugged.
"Sure, we'll go," Rocky said, wondering for the first time exactly what they were getting themselves into.
Conner looked down at the pile of wigs and masks. Frowning, he grabbed three ski masks and stuffed them into his pockets.
Tommy and Kimberly sat on a bench near the swings (which, given the carnival's psychotic nature, were dubbed, "Fantastic Fred's Free Falling Fliers"), happily partaking of ice cream (at Tommy's expense). Well, Kimberly was happily partaking of ice cream, and Tommy was happily watching Kimberly partaking of ice cream.
"I think life is sometimes like an ice cream cone," Kimberly said suddenly, taking another lick of her strawberry.
"Why's that?" Tommy asked, praying her metaphor wouldn't end in innuendo like the fries. Given the events of the past few hours, he would probably be able to restrain himself from being embarrassed if she did try something of the sort, but given his new mindset of "Must Get Kim," he didn't think it would be very easy to restrain himself in… other ways. And, as he'd told her when putting Jake in the car, there were children present at this carnival.
"Lots of different flavors, if you eat it too fast you'll hurt yourself, you have several different colors to choose from, and people are sad when it's gone."
Tommy considered this. "Know what I think?"
"I think you're over-thinking the ice cream."
Kimberly ignored him. "When's the last time I got something other than strawberry?" she wondered aloud.
Tommy paused and looked at her. "You know, there is no decent red ice cream out there that doesn't taste like a frozen sugar cookie or a non-alcoholic fruit drink. And there's not really any black ice cream out there at all. When I've burned out on everything remotely white, I usually have to settle for chocolate, or something else brown." He held up his mint chocolate chip to prove his point.
"So our colors choose our ice cream flavors."
"That and so much more."
"But how many people can say their destiny is color-coordinated?"
"Quite a few, actually." Tommy frowned, thinking of the dozens of Rangers who'd come by to gawk at or enlist him. Cole's face in particular came to mind.
Kimberly frowned suddenly. "So what do you think our destiny is, Tommy?"
"What do you mean?" he asked carefully.
"Well, see, one could say we were destined to become superheroes. But we did that already. We completed our destiny. So… what's next?"
Tommy thought about this for a second. "As long as I don't have to start liking a new flavor of ice cream or reorganize my closet again, I could care less."
Kimberly laughed and nearly choked on her ice cream. "Seriously, though. Do we still have a purpose in life?"
Tommy shrugged. "Probably. Just not one that involves spandex."
Kimberly chuckled. "Any thoughts on what it is?"
Tommy smiled at her. "I might have some ideas."
Kimberly blushed slightly, wondering if he meant what she thought he did. She cleared her throat. "Wanna go on the sea dragon?"
Tommy tossed his nearly-finished cone in a nearby trashcan. "Sure."
Kimberly sighed inwardly. Once again, Tommy had said something odd, and now here they were, interrupting their conversation, hopping on another ride and planning to resume their conversation once they got off, pretending nothing had happened. It was seriously starting to wear down her barriers. No matter how much she resolved to stop reminiscing about the past, Tommy kept doing things that made her long to be his girlfriend again.
Maybe he's just cool like that, whispered the singsong little voice inside her head that had tormented her most of the day. Maybe you want to be with Tommy because he's a good catch, not because you're clinging to the past.
Shut up, Kimberly told herself wearily, so distracted by thoughts of Tommy that she bumped right into him. "Why are we stopping?" she asked, sidestepping around him and catching sight of what had made him freeze—Ethan, sitting on a park bench, making out with Anna.
"Aw, how sweet," Kimberly crooned. She was glad to see that Ethan had made a move. As a natural matchmaker, and someone who'd spent years encouraging Billy to not let his dating phobias hold him back, Ethan getting a girl made Kimberly's romantic side squeal with pride.
Tommy abruptly turned left, away from the sea dragon. "I never saw that."
"Why?" Kimberly asked, hurriedly struggling to keep up with him.
"I'm the responsible adult, Kim. I don't think his parents would be too happy if they knew he was at a carnival kissing a girl he'd just met."
Kimberly giggled. "Probably not," she agreed, remembering all the times her father had tried and succeeded in intimidating Tommy. Even her mother had made a few "that's my daughter!" remarks.
Tommy smiled at her. "Oh, well. At least I know that Conner's in good hands."
"What are you doing?" Billy asked curiously as Trini typed away on her laptop.
"Surfing the Net," Trini replied distractedly, glad Billy's alien technology had given her ways to advance her computer's performance. "The logo on that truck—the Sharpie Graffiti Girls of Doom—I know I've seen it somewhere before."
"Trini, give it a rest," Jason said, exasperated. "They're not criminals. Just… Zack's type." Adam chuckled. Jason and Adam enjoyed taking friendly jabs at Zack and Rocky, who often had spectacularly bizarre and chaotic dating stories that reinforced Jason and Adam's thankfulness for Trini and Tanya.
"Find anything?" Billy asked, unbuckling his seatbelt and sliding into the middle of the backseat to get a better look at the monitor before refastening his belt.
"Yeah, actually," Trini said smugly. "They run an underground website where they show off videos of themselves defacing public property."
"They're graffiti artists?" Billy asked.
Jason frowned. "Did you just translate her?"
Trini and Billy ignored him. "They do call themselves 'Graffiti Girls,' Billy," Trini pointed out.
"Yeah, but plenty of groups give themselves weird names! Like… um… Goo Goo Dolls, for example, and—well—but anyway, they really go out and spray paint bridges and stuff?"
Trini nodded. "Yeah. And they have lots of merchandise—T-shirts and hats and stuff, mostly—available for ordering. Two books—Adventures of the Graffiti Girls, which is a novelized version of their little shenanigans, and a book of artwork they've done. Pride themselves on only using Sharpies and never getting arrested." She paused, then added, "Told you they were criminals."
"Well, they're taggers. Not axe murderers. …Right?" Adam asked hopefully.
Trini didn't reply, bringing up another browser window and heading straight for her preferred search engine. After a lengthy pause broken only by occasional rapid-fire bursts of clicking keys, Trini pronounced, "Well, Adam, you were right. They're not axe murderers."
In spite of himself, Adam let out a sigh of relief. "Told you so."
"They're just arsonists, armed robbers, and kidnappers."
"What?" Adam spluttered.
"Oh, and let's not forget the cases of fraud," Trini continued casually.
"You're joking, right?" Jason asked desperately, turning to look at her. Billy's eyes were wide as he read the site she'd found and Trini was smiling smugly at Jason.
"Afraid not. Of course, it's all speculation, but I just finished reading a blog done by a Sharpie Graffiti Girls fan. Seems he was visiting his father, a detective, at work and saw mug shots of girls that looked exactly like the Graffiti Girls on his father's desk. According to his father, they're suspected of pulling several robberies, mostly convenience stores; setting four fires that did a lot of property damage, no fatalities; committing about seven known cases of fraud; and they've kidnapped at least two people, but the victims were returned unharmed, and in one case the ransom hadn't even been paid. So again, no murder. Although it says here that one of the armed robberies attributed to them was committed with an axe."
"Please be joking," Jason breathed, thinking of all the ways Tommy would kill him once he found out that Jason had let Conner go for a ride with axe-wielding kidnappers.
Trini turned the laptop around to show him the page. "Sorry, Jase. It looks like Conner, Rocky and Zack are trying to hook up with criminals."
As one, Jason, Trini and Billy turned to peer out the rear windshield while Adam looked into the rearview mirror. The orange truck was gone.
"Uh-oh," Billy muttered.
"Damn it!" Jason growled.
"When I'm right, I'm right," Trini said, grimacing.
"Hang on!" Adam shouted, and spun the wheel hard to the left while slamming his foot on the brakes. The others screamed; twisting in their seats right before a fast U-turn wasn't a very good idea. Jason hit his head on the roof before crashing against the passenger's side door, while Trini, Billy and the laptop were flung across the back seat.
"Maybe you should let me drive," Jason said shakily, startled by Adam's abrupt metamorphosis to psycho.
"Sorry, man. Rocky's been kidnapped! And Zack and Conner!" Adam exclaimed, knuckles tightening on the steering wheel as he pushed his Mercedes to the limit. "I'm not giving up the wheel at a time like this."
"Look, Adam, we've already been in one car chase today," Jason began, but Adam interrupted.
"Shut it, Jase," he said tersely. "I know what I'm doing. I was a Turbo Ranger."
"Oh, goody—just like Tommy," Trini muttered darkly.
"Look, they're probably fine," Jason insisted. "You're gonna feel really stupid if you bust in waving a Blade Blaster only to find out Rocky just wanted to ditch us so he could get that Rachel chick alone."
"Better stupid than finding out she's decapitated Rocky with an axe!" Adam retorted.
"Gee, why didn't I think of that argument?" Trini said, shaking her head. "Boys," she added in exasperation.
Jason was about to continue talking Adam down, but Billy cut in, having just spotted the sticker-covered truck's taillights disappearing around the bend in a side street. "There they are! Heading for Stony Creek Pa—argh!" Billy's statement became a yelp of worry and horror as Adam made an impossibly sharp left, despite the fact he didn't have the right of way and the road had quite a lot of traffic on it. Jason was able to count six almost-collisions before he closed his eyes, visions of fiery death—so easy for an ex-Ranger to imagine, given their past—floating through his brain.
When Jason opened his eyes, the Mercedes was roaring down Rocky Creek Lane. Jason wasn't stupid enough to make himself even more nervous by checking the speedometer, but judging by how much the scenery blurred as they flew down the road, he'd put them at seventy miles per hour, minimum. Swallowing hard, Jason noticed two things—that he could no longer see the truck in front of them, and that the maniacal gleam in Adam's eye meant Jason was going to avoid any more turns by refraining from pointing out the truck if he saw it again. They flew down the road for several long minutes, but the truck didn't reappear; Jason prayed the truck had turned off down one of the dirt paths through the park, therefore keeping it out of reach, which meant Adam might give up the mad chase eventually.
"Left! Left!" shouted Billy. Jason mentally began placing a voodoo hex upon Billy as Adam yanked the wheel. The car fishtailed into a parking lot.
The truck had apparently already parked—if it was indeed the same truck. Even as Jason, Trini, Adam and Billy climbed out of the Mercedes, they stared uncertainly at the truck. The canvas top was back up, and the roof was no longer sticker-covered; Jason vaguely remembered the girls saying something about having a spare roof. The Sharpie Graffiti Girls of Doom logo had disappeared, as had the stickers on the tailgate.
"Is that it?" Adam demanded.
"There are those decapitated Ranger heads," Billy added, pointing through the window just as Jason caught sight of the sticker with the German phrase for "I eat green beans in the nude" on it.
"Half the stickers are missing," Jason said. "Why would they yank them off?"
Trini knelt down by the blank spot that had once housed the logo. "They didn't. They've put some sort of orange canvas over the sides here, probably to hide who owns the truck."
"That's not a good sign," Jason muttered.
"So which way did they go?" Adam asked, whipping his head around in one direction after another.
"We're not exactly bloodhounds," Trini pointed out, clamping a hand on his shoulder in an attempt to soothe him.
"Don't worry. We'll find them. And it doesn't matter if they're criminals or not, Rocky, Zack and Conner can take them," Jason reminded him.
"I suggest that we split up," Billy said. "We'll be able to cover more ground that way."
Adam nodded. "Stony Creek is a pretty big place. I want to say it's about—" Adam broke off as Jason's cell phone rang. "Who is that? Is it Rocky?"
Jason fumbled with it as he pulled it from his pocket. He paled a bit as he saw the caller ID. "No. It's Tommy."
Four sets of eyes widened in horror. "Don't answer it!" Billy hissed.
"You have to! He might think something is wrong if you don't!" Trini argued.
"Something is wrong!" Adam growled. "We should be looking for them, not—"
"Shh! Shh! Let me think!" Jason yelled. He took a few deep breaths, then flipped open the phone. "Hello?"
"Hey, Jase. What's up?"
"Nothing. Nothing at all. You?"
"I just saw Ethan making out with Anna. Figured I'd make sure that I've still got one teenager entrusted to my care who isn't going for second base." Jason was pretty sure he could hear Kimberly laughing in the background. "You keeping an eye on Conner?"
"Er… yeah… well… we're on our way to the Havoc Center," Jason said. "He's riding with Rocky and Zack."
There was a pause. "What are you not telling me?"
"Well… Rocky and Zack are riding with those girls Zack picked up at the Ferris wheel. Not with us."
Tommy took a moment to digest this. "In other words, Conner's probably gone way past second base by now."
"Not necessarily…" Jason said, which was possible. After all, Conner could be dead, or tied to a chair and giving out his parents' address and annual incomes for the ransom notes.
Tommy sighed. "Well, if you see him doing anything that isn't G-rated, don't tell me. And bro?"
"Going to the Havoc Center probably isn't a good idea."
"Yeah? Why's that?"
"Come on, after all the chaos we've had in the past few days, you want to go somewhere called the Havoc Center?"
"Heh, right. Irony. Irony bad. Um… listen, I gotta let you go. I have to… pee."
"You have to go… pee?"
"Yeah. Right now."
"…I thought you were driving to the Havoc Center at the moment."
"Yes, well, that's not the point. Bye, Tommy!"
With that, Jason snapped the phone closed, praying that the worst thing Conner was doing right now involved going for second base.
End Notes: Coming up on "Of Love and Bunnies," we'll explain how to keep your friends from finding out you've let a minor they're responsible for go for a ride with criminals, and who knows, maybe we'll even have a kiss or two. You never know. Stay tuned.
I'm working on typing up our ideas. I'm up to about chapter 20, but I think I'm going to do a few more before I put them where people can see. I do have two major points from the last chapter finished—the truck and the number "333" and here they are, if you're interested.
That truck was mostly just imagination but also had a lot of blended-in things from real life. For example, my car once had a screw loose on the brake lights that crossed the ground wire and the brake wire and made it so my brake lights wouldn't come on (even with fresh bulbs) and my cruise control wouldn't work when the headlights were on. (I stumped two mechanics with that one; took my uncle three hours to figure out that all I needed was to tighten a screw.) The bumper stickers were a combination of Bryn's sticker-covered car and Freyja's love of obscure quotes, although the one about bird poop was something I made up and the German phrase "I eat green beans in the nude" is my cousin's catchphrase. The convertible top was from my mom's boyfriend's son, Scott, who once got drunk and thought it might be fun to saw the roof off of the top of his un-air-conditioned, beat-up, five-hundred-dollar, rusted-pipe-for-a-bumper Chevy S-10; took him over a week to figure out how to weld the roof back on while making it possible to take it off whenever he wanted without using the saw and the welder again. The horn was similar to a truck owned by Scott's friend; the two used to amuse themselves by parking the truck in our driveway in our frou-frou subdivision right as the school buses were dumping kids off at the corner, so that they could scare the neighborhood children with barnyard noises; kids used to spend ages standing on the sidewalk wondering where the mooing cow sounds were coming from, as the truck was way louder than a stereo. The truck tent and convertible canvas bed cover were just things I found online when searching for truck accessories.
The number 333 is not from a movie or whatever; it's something that happens to me and one of my friends quite a lot. 333 is known as a perfect number, the triple trinity, very powerful and sacred in certain beliefs, particularly paganism, which regards three as one of the most powerful numbers. My friend and I see it all the time, at least a few times a day. Sometimes my head just snaps up to look at the clock and it's 3:33 (even when the clock isn't set to the right time), or I'll be driving by a car dealership and see something like $33,399 written on a windshield. It pops up on the counter on my DVD player, in catalogues, on restaurant menus, in phone numbers, everywhere that uses numbers. It used to freak me out, but I've come to see it in a more positive light. However, I imagine someone like Tommy would find it a cause for worry, given his propensity for weird moments.