The Secret Diary of Cameron Baum

THURSDAYcont...

The mood in Command HQ is sombre.

It's just like old times. Except there is no Colonel Hegerty to constantly remind us that although things are bad now they were even worse in his day. Such a cranky old man. Losing his legs did little to improve his social skills.

Sarah Connor is leaning over the tactical table watching the drone footage obtained earlier play out on a laptop screen, specifically the moment the T-1000 revealed herself by elongating her arm. Quite the money shot.

"Another T-1000," she whispers. "Just like the last one. I thought they were supposed to be rare."

"Rare isn't the same as non-existent," I explain.

"Why here? Why now?"

"Insufficient data."

"And what is it doing in that building with the others?"

"Insufficient data."

"If you don't have anything useful to contribute I suggest you shut the hell up!"

Cranky. Like Colonel Hegerty. Only with legs.

Daniel says, "That's a cyborg? Like you two?"

"Not like us," Cameron subprime corrects. "A highly advanced model constructed of a liquid metal poly-alloy with a molecular memory ability to shape-shift at will. Impossible to destroy with any conventional weapon short of atomic calibre."

"And you've met one of these before?"

"We have," John says. "Years ago."

"So how did you destroy it?"

"Dumped its ass in a vat of molten metal."

"Ouch. Those are pretty hard to come by these days. Not like they're on every street corner."

"The foundry we used went out of business years ago. All that kind of thing's moved to China. I doubt there's a working smelter this side of Pittsburgh."

Sarah Connor says, "Did you find out who owns the Miata?"

"The Miata's registered to a Jennifer MacKenzie. Jen to her friends. She's twenty-five and an english major from Ohio State."

"This isn't the real Jennifer MacKenzie; the T-1000 has merely assumed her appearance."

"So what's happened to the real one?"

"Most likely dead."

"How did you find out so much about her?" Sarah Connor asks Daniel.

"Social media. She's on all the biggies - Facebook, Twitter, Instagram."

"Show me."

Daniel places his iphone on the table and flicks through the pages. There over a thousand entries on each site. Plus photos. And short videos. This girl liked to blog.

"Good lord, look at it all. Why would anyone do this? Don't they have anything better to do than post this inane chatter?"

Sarah Connor isn't a fan of social media, to say the least. Mia isn't allowed to participate, despite pleading and begging to do so like all her friends. No dice. As a small act of rebellion, she's opened a Facebook account for Snowy, posting photos and short clips of his antics. Snowy has over fifty thousand 'friends', and his media attracts thousands of likes. Of course, he understands none of this; he just likes having his picture taken and being made a fuss of. The little furry show off.

"How long has this girl been in Los Angeles?"

"One month. She's hoping to make it big in Hollywood. Not as an actress", Daniel adds. "She wants to write screenplays for movies and TV."

"She couldn't do that in Ohio?"

"Uh - I think the commute would be a bitch."

"Does she have friends here? Family? Someone must miss her."

"Well, she posted daily on social media until ten days ago. Total blackout since then."

"So that's most likely when she met the T-1000."

"Yeah. Be my guess."

"Where is she living? Can we find that out?"

"Way ahead of you." Daniel smiles. "Do you wanna know how I found out? I can tell you. Please..."

John says, "Go on, then. Enlighten us, Sherlock."

"Okay, first I checked her Twitter feed. All five thousand tweets. Two weeks ago she mentions visiting a gym called LA Hardbodz. Great for glutework apparently. There's a matching post on Instagram. See."

Daniel holds up his phone so we can see a picture of Jennifer MacKenzie in a tight-fitting leotard. "Pretty hot, huh?"

"No," Cameron subprime and I state emphatically.

"Few days later she posts some selfies from the beach. In a bikini. Wanna see?"

"John doesn't want to see those," Cameron subprime and I insist hastily.

Sarah Connor smirks. "Would you just get to the point."

"Okay, she also uploaded a photo of the house she's renting on Instagram. Small bungalow. Nothing special. So I did a little detective work. The beach is Malibu. You can see the pier in the background. And there just happens to be a branch of LA Hardbodz in Malibu. So I did a Google streetview trawl of that area and...voila. I found a match. Two-fourteen South Canyon Road."

Daniel triumphantly shows his phone screen which displays the house he described.

Sarah Connor says, "Are you telling me that this girl, a college graduate, is foolish enough to list her address online for just any one to see?"

"Uh -no, not the address just the photo. The rest was me. Of course, it might be a misdirect."

"What d'you mean - misdirect?"

"Well, some people exaggerate their circumstances on social media. To give their lifestyle a more glamorous spin. For all we know she might actually be living in a dingy bedsit in Van Nuys."

"Do you believe that?"

"Not really. This house is pretty ordinary. And it's nowhere near the trendy beach part of Malibu. Be a pretty lame attempt at bling. I think it's legit."

"So she showed up here a month ago," John speculates. "Out of town girl. Just arrived in a strange city. No friends. No work colleagues. Family half a continent away. No one to raise the alarm if she drops off the face of the earth."

"And a writer. Any talent? Or just another deluded wannabe chasing an impossible dream."

"Hard to say. There's nothing much online - apart from some fanfiction. Twilight stuff. Like that author that got rich writing those kinky books. Who knows, maybe lightning strikes twice."

"What is fanfiction?" Cameron subprime and I ask simultaneously. We are really in sync today.

"It's a website where a bunch of dweebs write pervy stories about their favorite shows," John explains.

"If that's a crack about my Rizzoli and Isles fanfics, then I'll have you know they're very well regarded among the fan community," Daniel insists.

"Oh really. These are the stories where they spend a lot of time in the shower together?"

"They're very close friends."

"They'd have to be the stuff they get up to."

"Are you insinuating-"

"Enough!" Sarah Connor barks. "We need to decide what to do next, not bicker about makebelieve bathtubs."

"Actually, it's a shower cubicle. See, Rizzoli is living with-"

"ENOUGH!"

"I think Jan and Lieberman should continue the stakeout," John states. "We need to gather as much information as possible on what's going on there. What's in those crates, for one thing."

"Three terminators working together. We've never seen that before."

"Yeah. Like the world's worst tag team."

"What about this girl, Jennifer MacKenzie? We should contact her family."

"And tell them what? That a cyborg from the future is impersonating their daughter, who's probably dead?"

"They deserve to know."

"I think we need to do a little more digging before then. Cameron and I will head over to Malibu and see if there are any clues there. Who knows, maybe we'll find the real Jennifer tied up in the cellar."

"You really think that's likely?"

John shrugs. "Gotta look on the bright side."

-0-

Malibu.

The very name redolent of surf tossed beaches flanked by the million dollar homes of the rich and famous.

Not South Canyon Road.

Here dwell the little people, the nine to fivers, perhaps those who clean the houses of the rich and famous, pump the gas for their expensive limos and generally cater to their every whim. No surf tossed beaches here. We are several miles back from the coast. It's hot and dry. The road winding and narrow. And not the slightest glimpse of a celebrity. Not even Mama June.

"Two-fourteen, right?"

"Right."

We're in a rental. A nondescript sedan that smells of stale tobacco and a chemical detergent recently applied to try and mask the stench of the former. Daniel and Cameron subprime have the pick up; Sarah Connor needs the Suburban to pick up Mia from school. It is two o'clock in the afternoon and it has taken us thirty minutes to drive here from Santa Monica.

The houses that line the road are single storey with sloping pantile roofs in the spanish style, each with a little plot of land, pushed together like pieces on a Monopoly board. There's no one to be seen. Malibu zipcode or not, this isn't a place for the idle.

"Here we are. Two-fourteen."

John pulls to the kerb. He takes out his phone, holding it up to compare the Instagram picture with the real thing framed by the windscreen.

"Same?"

"Same." I confirm.

He takes out his cell and hits fast dial. Daniel answers.

"Whasup!"

"We're at the house."

"Sure it's the right one? Be pretty embarrassing if it's not."

"It's the right house. Anything moving?"

"Nope. Miata's still here. And the SUVs. One of the guard's stepped out and took a whiz. Not a pretty sight."

"Okay, we're going in. Call if there's any movement."

"You got it."

"You ready for this?"

"I was born ready," I reply. It's a line from a movie.

Chuckling, John reaches down in the footwell and draws two pistols from a canvas holdall, handing me one and tucking the other in the belt of his jeans. Glock nines. Loaded with armor piercing shells. Formidible firepower, although of little use if there is another T-1000 in residence. We think that is unlikely.

"Okay, if we attract the attention of a nosy neighbor, we're college friends from Ohio State. Just dropping by to see how our old pal Jen's doing."

"Shall I do a mid-west accent? Howdy, folks. Corn's getting mighty high. Gosh darnit, Darlene's pregnant agin. Look out for them varmints."

"Let me dothe talking."

"Darn tooting, pardner."

"It's mid-west not wild west, Annie Oakley. And definitely let me do the talking. You stay mute."

"I'm mute? Can I do mime?"

"What? No, you can't do mime. Just stand there, smile and look pretty. Think you can manage that?"

"I think it's within my whorehouse."

"Wheelhouse. Within my wheelhouse."

We walk up the path to the front door, all wood with a semi-circle glass window at head height. John raps on the frame and steps to one side. If a terminator is home spotting John Connor, primary target for the whole of Skynet, will be like every birthday come at once. Except without cake. Or candles. Or party hats. So nothing like a birthday. Stupid human expressions.

No one answers the door.

John cups his hands round his eyes and presses his face against the window. "Look's empty. Let's try round the back."

There's a tall gate at the side of the house. John has to reach up on tiptoe to release the latch.

The backyard is modest, dominated by a stone flag patio and kidney shaped swimming pool. The latter's surface is speckled with dead leaves from a nearby eucalyptus tree. The bottom and sides of the pool have the greenish algae that proliferates if you don't maintain a strict chemical regime. Mia calls this 'pool loogies'. This is not a scientific term, though it seems very appropriate.

The door is locked. "Let me."

"No. Don't break anything. I don't want to let the T-1000 or anyone else know we were here."

John steps back and regards the yard thoughtfully. "I'm a young girl living in a strange city," he muses. "I carry a key with me but keep a spare hidden just in case. Where do I hide it..."

There are terracotta pots grouped on the patio. Cacti and succulents that thrive on sun and neglect. John lifts each pot in turn leaving the biggest, a prickly pear cactus, to last.

Underneath is a key.

"Do I know young girls or what?" he grins.

Not too well, I hope.

The key unlocks the door and we step inside.

"Jennifer! If you can hear me but can't speak just make a sound and we'll find you."

We listen. Nothing.

"Never gonna be that easy, was it."

The house is small, with a combo living room/kitchen layout. A sofa faces a flatscreen TV across a coffee table littered with periodicals. Variety. Hollywood Reporter. Because she wants to be a scriptwriter. Vogue. Marie Claire. Because she's a girlie. And who doesn't love a good fashion tip. Wear white after Labor Day? Not this cyborg.

John opens the refrigerator. A sixpack of Diet Coke missing one can. Yogurts. Jar of anchovies. A carton of milk. The shrivelled remains of a salad item in the crisper. He unscrews the milk carton and takes a sniff, recoiling immediately. "That is some seriously bad milk."

There's a dining table under the window. The surface was once smooth polished wood but now has scratches, deep gouge marks and dark charred craters as if someone used a blowtorch.

"What happened here?"

"Messy eater?" I hazard.

"I don't think this was Jennifer. Someone's used this as workbench. And recently. Check the wastebins."

There's one wastebin, small and made of wicker. I empty the contents on the table. The missing Diet Coke can. An out of date TV Guide. A broken hairclip. And numerous small lengths of copper wire.

John examines the pieces. "Something electrical, maybe? Let's check the bedroom."

The bedroom is large enough for a double bed and a wardrobe. Beside the bed is a side table with two gilt-edged picture frames. One depicts Jennifer MacKenzie in her graduation robes flanked by a middle-aged couple. Parents, presumably. The other has Jennifer stood next to a tall man in military uniform. Both are smiling for the camera.

"Boyfriend?" John speculates. He opens the wardrobe. It's stuffed full of clothes, women's clothes. "Guess army boyfriend doesn't live here."

"Perhaps he's serving overseas in a warzone."

"Safest place for him."

On the wall is a calendar, the type with numbered squares below a pretty picture. The picture is of two kittens in a woven basket wearing tiny scarfs round their necks staring quizzically at the photographer, as if wondering why they're wearing scarves. Cute if you like that sort of thing; barf-worthy if you don't.

John takes the calendar down and finds the present date. He traces his finger backwards over ten blank squares. Then:

MONDAY: Interview

SUNDAY: Gym

SATURDAY: Hair. Wax. Pedi.

"Wonder what the interview was for. Check the drawers. See if there's a diary."

No diary. Hairclips. Several scrunchies. Roll of Tums. An Agatha Christie paperback. A bookmark inserted halfway suggests the identity of the murderer hasn't been revealed yet. Probably the butler. Usually is. It seems to be a job that attracts killers. I'd make a good butler. 'You rang, m'Lord? Please allow me to twist your head off.' Polite. Servile. Deadly.

We go to the next room which is the bathroom. Unremarkable, except for the fact that we use the same brand of expensive hair conditioner. Because we're worth it.

That leaves one more room. With a locked door.

"You hear something buzzing?"

"Yes. From inside."

We draw our weapons. "On three. One...Two...Three!"

I kick in the door revealing a darkened room with shades drawn. A mountain bike leans against a wall, pink helmet hanging from the handlebars. And the source of the buzzing.

A white chest freezer.

A chest freezer large enough to contain a dead body. And cold enough to prevent the stench of decay alerting the neighbors. Body disposal 101.

It's clear John knows all this too from the set of his jaw as we approach.

He takes a deep breath and raises the lid.

Inside are some ready meals, boxes rimed with frost. No dead body.

John exhales and shakes his head. "Man, I thought for sure she'd be in there."

"Yes. The ideal spot to dispose of a dead body."

"You needn't sound disappointed."

"Sorry. Force of habit."

Another buzzing sound, lower than before. A cellphone on vibrate.

"Yeah?"

"The Miata just left. Blonde chick at the wheel." Daniel. Anxious tone to his voice.

"Shit. How long ago?"

"Five minutes. We sent the drone as far as we could. Tracked the Miata to the Ventura Freeway heading south."

"She's coming here."

"That'd be my guess. You in the house?"

"Yeah."

"Find anything?"

"Nope. No one's here."

"Search the cellar? Because in the movies the girl's always down there, tied to chair in their underwear."

"There is no cellar."

"Damn. Life's never like the movies. What you want us to do now?"

"Stay put. Keep the drone in the air. We're about done here."

"Roger that. Good luck."

"We should leave," I advise. "A T-1000 is an advanced model cyborg while I am-"

"An obsolete model. Yeah, I've heard this speech before. And don't worry, we've got plenty of time. It's a forty minute drive from the valley to here."

We go back to the hallway. John looks up and points to a wooden hatch in the ceiling. "We haven't checked the roofspace. Give me a boost up."

I lift him by the legs. He pops the hatch and sticks his head through.

"Anything?"

"Nothing. Dust bunny central."

"There are rabbits up there?"

"What? No, dust bunnies are...never mind. Let me down."

By the front door is a pile of unopened mail, lying where it fell through the letterbox.

"Would you say this is ten days worth of mail?"

"At least."

John pokes through the pile. There are letters, junk mail, a catologue, charity leaflets. He picks up a manila envelope. "From Paramount Pictures. That's a movie studio." He tears it open. "Dear Ms MacKenzie. Thank you for submitting your screenplay 'Turn of the Screw.' Unfortunately...blah blah blah."

"They wrote blah blah blah? How rude."

"It's a rejection letter. Hard pass on the screenplay."

I'm not surprised. Turn of the Screw? Who wants to see a movie about someone using a screwdriver. Very dull.

"Okay, guess we're finished here. Time to leave."

We go out the way we came door is relocked and the key replaced under the prickly pear.

"We'll take the coast road," John says once we're back in the rental. "No point risking a confrontation."

A taxi cab takes the curve and stops twenty yards away. A tall man in tan cargo pants, black tee and khaki army surplus jacket gets out. He pays the driver then turns and stares at one of the houses.

Number two-fourteen.

"What's this bozo want?"

This bozo glances up the street in our direction. I get a beep of facial recognition. "I know him."

"You do? Where from?"

"The picture in the bedroom."

"Army boyfriend? Shit, he picked the wrong day for a booty call."

Army boyfriend strides up the path and raps on the front door. When there's no reply he does John's trick, cupping his hands and peering through the glass window.

"No one's home. Come back another day, buddy," John whispers.

Instead, army boyfriend crosses to the side gate. He's tall enough to flip the latch without stretching.

"He's gonna find the key!"

"Perhaps he's not as smart as you."

"It's hardly rocket science."

We wait. A light goes on in the house. He found the key.

"We have to go get him."

"I advise against it. The T-1000 is inbound. I calculate an ETA of less than twenty minutes."

"I'm not letting that monster kill an innocent man just for the hell of it. Now come with me. That's an order."

Actually, we don't kill just for the hell of it. This is a singularly human trait. Murder for amusement. Although this is probably not a good moment to avail John of this fact. Time and place and all that.

We cross the street then the yard. Through the gate and the open back door.

Army boyfriend is in the kitchen examining the ruined table. He looks up warily as we enter.

"Hey, man," John says breezily. "You looking for Jen?"

"Yeah. You know where she is?"

"Not exactly. Why don't you come with us and we'll talk."

A shake of the head. "I'm waiting here for my sister."

His sister...

If John is surprised he betrays no signand rolls with it. "Right. The big bro. I forget your name..."

"Mason MacKenzie. Everyone calls me Mac."

"Jen never mentioned you were dropping by."

"I took seventy-two hour compassionate leave from the army. My folks haven't heard from Jen for ten days. We're a close family. She calls every day. And she missed mom's birthday. That's not like her. So I promised them I'd find out what's going on."

"And what do you think is going on?"

"That she's been brainwashed by some religious cult. Like the Moonies. Or those Thetan nutjobs."

"Scientologists."

"Yeah. California bullshit. I'm taking her home to Ohio. Whether she likes it or not."

"Why don't you come with us so we can talk. We've a car outside."

John casually takes Mac's sleeve to urge him along. In a flash Mac has him in a choke hold.

I draw my Glock. Targeting graphics lock on. At this range his head will explode like a ripe cantaloupe. "Release him. Now."

"Where's my sister! You know something, I can tell."

"Last chance."

"Cameron, put the gun away," John gasps.

"Negative. You are in danger."

"No. I'm. Not."

John pivots suddenly, jabbing his elbow hard into Mac's midriff. The big man releases his grip and doubles over in pain. John kicks his legs from under him and Mac sprawls on the floor.

"Sit on him!"

I do so. Literally. He tries to push me off but I resist easily. Hydraulics, bitch.

"Listen up," Johns announces leaning over us both. "We're all gonna go take a ride whether you like it or not. And don't try anything stupid. My lady friend here is stronger than she looks."

We leave the house. The back door is relocked and this time the key pocketed. Won't be making that mistake twice. I hold tight to Mac's left wrist. At first he's compliant, docile even. Then as we cross the front yard sensors in my palm register a sudden uptick in heartrate. Skin lividity increases fivefold. Oxygenated blood is rushing to his muscles. This can only mean one thing.

In the parlance, he's gonna try and skedaddle.

He makes his move as we cross the street. He gets precisely eighteen inches before I yank him into line. He cries out in pain. "You damn near dislocated my shoulder!"

"You were warned not to try anything stupid."

"You really are stronger than you look."

If I had a nickel...

The two of us get in the back of the rental while John slides behind the wheel and starts the engine.

"So which one are you?" Mac asks belligerently. "Moonies or Scientologists?"

"Actually, I was always partial to being a Jedi Knight," John quips.

"You'd make a great Obi Wan," I assure him.

"Thanks. Now buckle up, we're getting out of here."

"Why? What's the rush? Is your fake God gonna suddenly swoop down and carry us off to the Rapture?"

As Mac speaks, his anger and confusion palpable, a red sportscar rounds the curve and glides smoothly to a halt in the driveway of two-fourteen. The T-1000, still in the human disguise of pencil skirt, blouse and heels, gets out and walks towards the door.

Mac sees her at the same instant as me. He pounds the window with his fists. "That's my sister! Hey, Jen! Jennifer! Over here!"

The T-1000 turns towards the noise. She sees who's behind the wheel of the vehicle.

John Connor, primary target.

Her lips peel back from her teeth in a feral snarl.

She starts running towards us.

-0-