Disclaimer: 'Power Rangers' (all incarnations) belong to BVE, who are related to Disney. No infringement is intended.
By Etcetera Kit
Part Four: On the Line
Chapter Twelve: Adoring Fans
He had a thorn in his side right now and it had a name – Andy Kruper. The loser was out on bond again and, this time, had disappeared. He wasn't drunk at his house and his wife wasn't concerned about losing her house. She had said, in so many words, that the place was a dump and Collins could have it. That meant he had to do actual research and enlist the help of the Silver Guardians' geek squad. They had a list of places that were likely hideouts for Kruper. He was checking them out today – and taking Kendrix with him.
Eric spread some butter on his English muffin, reaching for the jar of jelly on the island. Kira and Cam had been working on bringing in some people with more petty charges and were having a spat about where to start today. Why was it that no one argued with him? Oh, it was because they still thought he was going to buy an Uzi and start taking it to people.
Mike had wandered into the kitchen a few minutes ago and looked awful. (He had probably been having a great time last night.) Eric kept his comments to himself and tuned out the bickering and questions, eating his food.
"Are you all right, Mike?" Kendrix asked. Her cereal spoon was halfway to her mouth and she was gaping at their commander.
He shook his head. "I'm staying here today."
Ah – he would have those too if he had been commander of this bunch. In a way, Eric was almost glad that he wasn't the commander. He wondered how long it would be before someone gave Mike an ulcer. However, Mike tended to care entirely too much about the process of things – a mark of being in the GSA for so long. With bounty hunters, one couldn't nitpick the processes involved. Bounty hunters were a law unto themselves. Almost anything went. Then again, Collins was on Mike's back more so than someone in a Silver Guardians' command position. Money talks.
"We know where Chandler is going to be. Let's get him first."
"We know where all these people will be. We can pick them up in a logical order around town."
Mike groaned and disappeared back into his room.
"Shush," Eric said to Cam and Kira. "He's under the weather."
"It's all this fighting," Kendrix said. She paused and looked concerned. "Should he go to the doctor or something? I don't remember him having migraines before."
"Yeah – it might be a tumor."
Eric got a withering look in return for his attempt at humor. "I doubt it's a tumor," she said. "But it has to be stress-related."
"Seeing as we're not privy to his private meetings with Collins, I'd gather you're right," Eric replied, stuffing the last of the English muffin in his mouth. "I'm just surprised he hasn't had a heart attack yet."
"That's not funny," Kendrix said, frowning.
He swallowed his food. "Was I trying to be funny?"
"I guess not," she agreed grudgingly.
"Let's go," Cam said to Kira, putting his dishes in the dishwasher. "If we take my car, we need to put gas in it."
Kira nodded, probably being quiet and amendable in light of Mike's illness. She followed suit and put her cereal bowl and spoon in the dishwasher. The pair of them left the kitchen, going out the side door to the garage. A moment later, they could hear a car pull out of the garage and the door slam shut.
"Where are we going today?" Kendrix asked.
"We're checking out the list of places that Gabe gave us." He reached into the pocket of his jacket, which was sitting on an empty stool. "I think we should start with the seedy hotels and the whore houses on the list."
Kendrix looked highly disgruntled about the side of town they were going to be haunting, but didn't say anything as she finished the last of her cereal. He glanced to the closed door to Mike's bedroom. It was surprising that Corbett hadn't started getting stress-related illnesses sooner. The stacks of FTAs were growing, just like the bond agency. Collins was also starting to take more dangerous bail bonds, in light of the fact that all of them were rangers. Aliens made up most of them, having strange powers or reactions to Earth's atmosphere. He was starting to see where the elemental powers from the ninja training would come in handy – he could have used an earthquake a few days ago.
"Ready?" he asked her.
She nodded, her ponytail bouncing as she did. He fought the urge to adopt a goofy smile. There was something about that blonde hair – like it was inconsistent with her personality – that made him laugh. Bouncing ponytails just didn't fit into his image of Kendrix as a science oriented geek for all intents and purposes.
"Let's take my car," she said as she put up her dishes. "But you drive."
Eric gave her a mild look. "All right." He knew where that was coming from. Kendrix hated driving through the seedier parts of town, but knew that her car was best for those areas. It was in better shape than his junk bucket, had fully-functional seatbelts and was bigger, meaning they would win in a car crash or if they needed to run someone over. If it had been any other assignment, there was no way Kendrix would let anyone besides her drive her car.
He put up his dishes as well and caught the car keys that Kendrix tossed to him. They got into the car and pulled out of the garage. Eric handed her the list of places. "You're the navigator," he said.
"That works if you follow directions," she muttered.
Eric gave her a sidelong glance. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Some other people around here don't know left from right."
He thought about the implications of that for a moment. Then he went over various possibilities of who the offending person might be. All signs pointed to Kira, whose driving skills he abhorred anyways. "I know where these places are," he said. "Just read them off and check them off the list after we stop there."
Kendrix was silent, frowning out the window.
"You're prettier when you smile."
She turned to look at him, an expression of pleasure and shock over her face. He just gave her a small smile before turning to the road. God, he would date her in an instant, but there was just too much baggage, baggage that only Kira knew about.
Cam pulled his car into a local gas station near the heart of town. It was almost always busy and crawling with cars and people since it was convenient. Kira gave him a sidelong glance and unbuckled her seatbelt as they got out of the car. She watched idly as Cam pushed the correct 'pay outside credit' buttons and began to pump the gas.
"I'm going to get something to drink," she said. "Want something?"
He shrugged in indifference. Kira knew what he would want anyways. She turned towards the convenience store and pushed through the glass doors. The doors swung shut behind her, closing off the noise of the cars and the smell of gas. It was quiet in here with one or two others besides the clerks roaming around, picking out snacks and paying for gas.
Kira made her way to the back of the store, where the coolers full of sodas and liquids were. She located a cherry Coke for herself and then scanned the shelves, eventually finding a cherry-vanilla Dr. Pepper for Cam. There was one way to get Cam to do anything – and that was to take away his coffee and his Dr. Pepper. One or the other he could live without, but both? He crashed and burned faster than anything she could think of.
She passed the candy isle and considered getting something to share, but decided against it. Breakfast had been a little while ago and there was plenty of food to eat at the townhouse. Besides, Cam probably had a stash of something in his car and all she had to do was ask about it.
Someone else was in line paying for gas with a credit card. Kira tapped her foot impatiently and let her eyes roam. There was a magazine stand – all the untrue tabloids and ridiculous stories proclaiming things like 'alien baby found in Manhattan' and 'Oprah's latest weight gain.' Like anyone actually cared about those types of things?
The person in front of her was taking forever. She picked out one of the least lurid magazines and idly flipped through it, balancing the drinks in one hand and turning pages with the other. It was the normal teen magazine flippancy. She smiled at the pictures of the latest boy band and all the ridiculous facts like 'favorite color' and 'favorite food.' It had been a long time since she read magazines like this and ate up the pointless facts. Her view of boys and the music industry had crashed in junior high. She had dreamed of coming onto the scene and creating a revolution in music – not becoming another teen pop idol like she had. None of her early songs were on her albums and that was some of her best work. She had quit while she was ahead, before she could turn into Kylee.
There was a small 'news' section in the back of this magazine. It had the whereabouts and information on some of the hottest stars. She scanned through it – knowing that most of it was untrue. Her eyes froze on the last mini-article. She couldn't breathe, black spots dancing before her eyes.
Grammy-award winning pop star, Kira Ford, is reported to have been seen in Silver Hills, Washington. According to passersby, she works for the millionaire, Alan Collins, as a bounty hunter. This bounty hunter team is affiliated with the elite police force, the Silver Guardians.
That was it. That was all it said.
But she knew that her cover had just been blown.
Who would have done something like this – gone to the magazines and reported her current whereabouts, no matter how small a detail? It couldn't have been anyone on the squad or anyone associated with Bio-Lab, especially since most of them didn't listen to the kind of music that she had played. Who…
Her ex-manager, Eddie… He had been the one upset when she left show business, citing all the money and albums and platinum records she could have. But it hadn't been her earning those things that he cared about. The more money she made, then the more money he made. He had been waiting his entire life to manage a successful pop star. It had been his dream. This was probably his sick idea of revenge. She shouldn't have told him about the job she had been thinking of taking or where it was.
It was only a matter of time before fans descended upon Silver Hills and their townhouse. She almost felt sick thinking about what the others would be subjected to. None of this was fair to them. She needed to leave, but go where? And then leave the others to deal with the aftermath of this? A lump lodged in the back of her throat and she tried valiantly to swallow it. She wasn't going to break down in the middle of a gas station.
She jumped at the sound of her name, expecting to see a rabid fan. It was just Cam. He looked concerned.
"What's taking so long?" he asked.
Kira looked up. The picky person who had been paying for gas was gone and the clerk was flipping through a magazine, looking bored. When had that happened? Almost on auto-pilot, she held out the magazine to Cam. It was still turned to the offending page.
Cam gave her a curious look and took the magazine. His dark, almond-shaped eyes scanned the page and then froze, coming to what she had read. He looked worried, but not about the article – he looked worried about her. He replaced the magazine on the stand and took the drinks from her, pulling out his wallet to pay for them. She didn't react as the clerk gave him his change. He picked up both the bottles and took her hand, pulling her back to the car.
His grasp was strong and warm – she didn't want him to let go, but knew that she had to in order to get in the car. Cam was silent as they got settled in the car, putting the drinks in the cup-holders near the floor. His hand gently rested on her shoulder, those dark eyes asking her a question that she wasn't sure she could answer.
"Are you going to be all right?" he asked softly.
She tried to swallow the lump, tears stinging her eyes. She didn't want to think that Eddie could be so callous as to do this. People didn't get better as time went on – they just thought of more ways to be cruel.
Cam gently pulled her into his arms, a move made easier by the fact that neither of them had their seatbelts on yet. He settled her against his chest and she breathed in the familiar scent, wanting that familiarity and comfort. She wanted the stability that Cam provided. He accepted her as what she was – and had known her before the pop diva status. If there was one thing she knew about, it was that he was extremely loyal. He wouldn't leave her high and dry in a situation like this.
The tears she had been trying to hold back began to flow. Silent sobs shook her body as she buried her face in Cam's neck. His arms tightened around her, letting her know that he was still here, here for her. He murmured words of comfort that she didn't comprehend. She just took comfort in his nearness.
This was a nightmare she desperately wanted to wake up from.
"You want me to go in there and get him?"
"You're more than capable of it. Morph, if it will make you feel better."
Kendrix glowered at Eric. He picked the absolute worst times to have complete and total trust in her. He also picked the worst times to overestimate her ability. Kruper was forever being brought in on domestic abuse charges. He was chronically high or drunk. How was she going to bring him in on her own?
The other odd thing she had to grow used to what were their relatively non-secret ranger identities. Wes had mentioned to his father about their ranger powers and that led to some experts from Bio-Lab seeing if they would replicate the powers, which they couldn't. In other words, people from the company knew who they were, but most normal civilians didn't know about their ranger powers. Of course, Bio-Lab employees were used to having rangers around.
"I'll take the back," Eric continued. "If something dire happens, scream."
"Easier said than done," she muttered.
"Kendrix, if we don't move in now, then Kruper will get away."
He would play into her strong sense of responsibility. She unbuckled her seatbelt, glancing at her morpher in the same gesture. No – it wasn't necessary to morph. Kruper tended to come quickly enough when someone pointed a gun at him. Of course, he knew them and their methods and had become more devious each time around. This was stupid. He would come in and some of the women in that dump of a hotel would probably help.
Kendrix nodded; her gun in place under her jacket where it wasn't visible, but was accessible. She could also pull out her Thunder Staff quickly enough if the situation deteriorated into a fistfight or escalated into a fistfight, depending on how one looked at it. They had learned in their first few battles as Thunder Rangers that their weapons could be called upon outside of their morphed form.
They got out of the car and entered the dark, dingy lobby of the hotel. If she hadn't been a bounty hunter, then she probably wouldn't have known that places like this existed outside of the movies. People lounged around the lobby and a fifty-ish woman was behind the desk looking of hair dyed once too often and one-pack of cigarettes a day.
"I'll go talk to the manager," Eric said in an undertone. "Go upstairs and get Kruper. If he's bolted, come back and report that."
"Eric, I'm not stupid," she snapped back.
Eric winked at her before sauntering up to the front desk. The woman immediately fluffed her hair and smiled brightly at him, revealing yellow, rotting teeth. Eric working his charm on these people… Kendrix shook her head and glanced at the malfunctioning elevator. It was probably best to take the stairs in this case.
The stairs were blessedly free of people and other signs of life. She climbed them quickly, glad that the ninja training had given her a little more speed. Cam had said something about them being able to ninja-streak, which would definitely come in handy if people started shooting at them. Of course, she was also supposed to be able to start a bonfire with her mind if the ninja training were completed.
The hall was dark and dank, smoke drifting. A few people were gathered at the far end of the hall and paid no attention to her. She reached into her jacket and pulled her gun out of the holster, before coming to a halt in front of room 304. Both hands on the gun, she kicked at the door, almost expecting it to cave in.
"Yeah?" came a familiar voice from inside.
"Andy Kruper? This is your bond agency."
There was silence from within. Kendrix aimed a deft kick at the doorknob and the cheap, flimsy door gave way. It swung open, revealing a disturbingly quiet room. She edged into the room, fighting the urge to wrinkle her nose at the filth that covered the place. It was absolutely squalid. What kind of self-respecting human being lived in a dump like this? Then again, hers was not to judge here… she just had to bring him in.
Her heart was pounding in her chest. "Kruper!" she called, her mouth suddenly gone dry. "Come out with your hands up!"
"You'll have to catch me first!"
Kruper, himself, jumped out of the bathroom, completely naked and covered from head to toe in Vaseline – and it was not an impressive sight. He was high – again. Kendrix put her gun in her holster, seeing as he didn't have a weapon, and pulled the handcuffs from the back of her jeans.
It was a long and ridiculous capture, but she managed to tackle him and get the cuffs on him in spite of the Vaseline. This was not helping her mood. She dragged Kruper to the elevator and prayed that it would work.
"Nice one, babe," one of the guys down the hall called as the elevator doors slid open and she pushed Kruper inside.
Eric was waiting for her in the lobby, the woman behind the desk still batting her eyelashes at him. He raised an eyebrow as she pushed Kruper out into the lobby. None of the patrons paid any attention. Kendrix gave him a steady glare that dared him to ask questions. And he didn't as they put Kruper in her car – getting Vaseline all over her back seat – and took him down to the Silver Guardians' headquarters. The guardian stationed at the back door didn't say anything either, but she could tell that it would be talked about the moment they left.
The paperwork couldn't go fast enough. It was an eternity before she was outside by the car. Her knees felt like jelly all of a sudden and she leaned against the car for support. Eric came up beside her and wrapped an arm around her waist, keeping her upright.
"You did good," he whispered.
She stared into his eyes. He really did have mood stone eyes. They were that dark brown color of melted chocolate right now – soft and alight with a fiery passion. She wanted to say something to him, but words failed her. He leaned closer. 'Oh my God, he's going to kiss me,' she thought, just as his lips gently brushed hers. He gently teased her into opening her mouth, making her body burn with sensations she hadn't been aware she could feel.
Her cell phone rang. Eric gently ended the kiss as she pulled her phone out of her jacket pocket, hands shaking. His arm was still wrapped around her waist and she was all too aware of his heat, his closeness… "Hello?" she asked.
"Kendrix!" Cam said into the phone. "You guys should get back here."
She could hear a distant roar in the background, like fans at a concert screaming. "Cam?" she questioned. "What's going on?""Just get back here."
To Be Continued...
Author's Note: Has anyone else seen Shimazu Returns? Didn't Cam look like the Marlboro man at the very end? Could have just been me - it must have been the hat...