Disclaimer: DON'T OWN.

Sorry for the really bad excuse for Charlie's parents being gone. It was either that or they were alcoholics, which is kind of clich├ęd.

Chapter 3

"Uh, no. I'm not letting you drive to D.C. by yourself. I'm coming too." Charlie says heatedly. Claudia opens her mouth to argue, then realizes she has no choice but to let Charlie come to D.C. With her. I have no wheels. I KNEW I should have learned to hot-wire a car. She nods grudgingly and heads towards the car, picking up the rope on the way. Charlie hurries to catch up and jumps in the car.

"I just gotta pick up some things at my house and we'll leave." he says as he starts the engine.

Claudia raises an eyebrow at Charlie. "What about your parents? Won't they, ya know, wonder where you are?"

Charlie snorts. "No. They went on vacation about a month ago and decided not to come back. They're probably partying somewhere."

"Oh." She can't think of anything else to say to that so she keeps quiet.

They pull into the driveway of a rather shabby one-story house. Charlie pops the trunk and gets out of the car. He pulls a telescope out of the trunk. Claudia notices that it looks an awful lot like the one she has seen in the corner of Artie's office, only newer. The two of them enter the house. "Please. Make yourself at home." Charlie says before disappearing into a back room, carrying the telescope. Claudia flops on the sofa, the day catching up with her. It's almost four in the morning. she thinks. I should probably get some sleep before we leave for D.C...

The next day...

Claudia wakes up to blinding sunshine filling the tiny living-room. Someone (Charlie, obviously)had covered her with a blanket. She sniffs the air, thinking Is something burning?

Just then, "SHIT!" someone shouts from the next room. Claudia dashes towards the source of the voice and finds Charlie in the kitchen, standing over a smoking frying pan. She giggles quietly to herself as Charlie pours the flaming eggs into the sink and turns on the water. The flames grow higher. Claudia calmly picks up a fire extinguisher and puts out the eggs. She turns to face him, a hint of a smile on her face. "WHAT were you doing, exactly?"

Charlie holds out two pieces of burnt toast. "Making breakfast?" he offers weakly. Claudia snorts, holding back laughter, then gives up. She laughs until her sides ache, and as Charlie watches her, he begins to laugh as well. Soon there are tears rolling down their faces and they are gasping for breath. "Ch-Charlie," Claudia hiccups,"I can only think of one person who is a worse cook than you, and I work for him. I swear, that man can't even boil water."

She walks over to the refrigerator and looks inside to find pickles, some bologna, and a carton of milk with an expiration date two weeks previously. Closing the fridge, Claudia sighs, "I miss Leena's cooking." She turns to face Charlie again. "Well, I guess we'll skip breakfast then. Let's hit the road!" Charlie and Claudia walk out to the car, Charlie stopping to grab a wallet and a backpack out of his bedroom.

The next evening they stop at a motel in southern Wisconsin. As they eat in a small restaurant Claudia apologizes to Charlie for dragging him to D.C. with her.

"As if I could have passed up a road trip! This is the farthest east I've ever been." he admits. "And I could hardly let you go alone, Miranda." he blushes slightly as he says the last bit, but Claudia does not notice.

Two days later...

Halfway across Pennsylvania, in the middle of nowhere, the car dies. "DAMMIT!" Charlie yells. "We're like, thirty miles from the nearest town."

"So we walk for a while and buy or rent a car. It's not that big of a deal." Claudia saysconfidently as she pulls the rope and Charlie's bag out of the backseat of the dead car. Charlie shakes his head.

"No, we can't. I only have... $32.49 left in my wallet." His face lights up. "But I DO know how to hot-wire a car."

Claudia stares. She had originally judged this guy as... well, kind of a nerd. A sweet nerd, but still. She never would have guessed he could steal stuff. "Seriously? Can you teach me?"

Charlie laughs. "Sure. But we gotta find one first. Come on, let's walk. It's getting dark."

They walk for about two hours until they find a farmhouse. By this time the sun has set. The family in the house seems to be asleep. Charlie opens the door to their car, which thankfully is not locked, and sits down in the drivers seat. Claudia sits in the passenger seat. Claudia looks at Charlie expectantly. "Well?"

Charlie pulls a panel off the dashboard and messes around with the wires inside. "Okay, Miranda, it's real easy. Like this." And with that the car starts. "See?" Charlie says, looking at Claudia intently. She applauds.

"Great job, Charlie! Now lets get out of here, before-" The lights in the house turn on. "GO GO GO!" Claudia yells. Charlie pulls out of the driveway as a man runs out of the house, screaming to his wife to call the police.

They tear down the road as fast as the car can go. As they approach the next town they see a police car. Swerving to avoid a collision they spin into a cornfield. The police follow them into the cornfield but Charlie drives back out and just barely manages not to crash into a tree. The police, however, are not so lucky. They ram right into the trunk and their car starts to emit steam. Charlie and Claudia drive off, breathing fast.

"That... was really freakin' close." Claudia says, grinning from ear to ear. "Where did you learn to drive? 'Cause they obviously forgot the lesson on brakes."

"Nah. I just skipped that day." Charlie replies, mirroring Claudia's grin.

The next afternoon...

"Well, here we are." Charlie says. They stand in front of a government warehouse in D.C. Claudia walks toward the door.

"Do you want me to come with you? It'll take less time if we both look for your boss." Charlie states matter-of-factly.

"No, it's okay. I'll be fine. Top secret, remember? Sorry." Claudia apologizes.

She walks into the warehouse and her breath catches in her throat. This warehouse is at least as big as THE Warehouse and is completely filled with filing cabinets. She runs down the rows until she finds the W's.

"WE, aha! Weisfeld...Weisfeld...where are you, Artie?" After going through nearly two cabinets full of WE names she finds one labeled Weisfeld, Arthur. "Let's see where you live then, Artie." She pulls it out and gasps.

Full Name: Arthur Weisfeld

Gender:M

Birth date: 10/31/52

City of birth: Fairbank, SD

Status: being monitored as plausible candidate for project #82538104

Underneath this is a picture of Charlie.

Claudia runs out of the warehouse. The same clothes. The same telescope. The same abysmal cooking skills. How did I not realize this before?

"Did you find him?" Charlie/Artie asks. Claudia stares at him and her bottom lip trembles. "Oh, God. He's not dead, is he?" Claudia laughs a bit hysterically.

"No, Artie Weisfeld's not dead." She starts to cry.

Artie's mind reels. "Your boss's name is Artie Weisfeld? But... I'm... oh my God."

Claudia nods. "I know. All this time, and you've been right here."

Artie thinks for a moment. "But.. this means we're no closer to getting you back. 'Cause he... I mean I was our plan, ya know? Crap!"

Claudia sighs. "I know. Now we'll have to find the Warehouse itself, which, believe me was hard enough the first time, when I had a computer. Without one-"

"No, I meant, 'Crap, the police have caught up with us.' Run!" He jumps out of the car and starts to run away, but they are surrounded. They point guns at him and at Claudia, who slams the door of the car, her heart pounding.

"Turn around, hands on the car!" a police officer shouts at her. She tries to turn and feels a tug. The rope is caught in the door. There is a rushing sound as everything vanishes...

And the police, the car, and 'Charlie' are gone, replaced by the red convertible Claudia had recently recked and Artie as Claudia knows him.

"Hey, Miranda. Haven't seen you in a long time." Artie says smiling.

"Artie! That was the most bizarre-"

"You think you had it bad? Imagine it from my point of view!" He looks a bit angry.

"I'm really sorry. I didn't do it on purpose." Claudia mumbles. Artie laughs.

"I know. It's not your fault. These things happen." He walks over and puts an arm around her.

"How long was I gone for? Were you all really worried?" she asks in a rush.

"No, when I saw you were gone and the pile of stuff on the floor, I remembered when I was seventeen finding a girl in the desert. I CAN put two and two together. And you were gone for about five days, the same amount of time you spent in the past." They get in the car. Artie glances at Claudia as he starts the little red convertible. "You know it was because of you I started working at the Warehouse."

Claudia looks incredulous. "Really?"

"Oh yes. After I was arrested for the car thing I spent three years working for the government instead of prison. Then when... you know..." he trails off, hoping Claudia DOES know about the espionage so he doesn't have to explain.

"Yeah, I know, go on." she says impatiently.

"Yes, well, after that, Mrs. Frederic came to see me in prison and made me a deal, which I only took because I remembered you talked about the Warehouse and that I was your boss so I figured..."

Claudia whistles. "And all because of this." she holds up the rope. "What is this, anyway?"

Artie pushes his glasses up his nose. "It's called the Hangman's Friend. A pull on it combined with a rush of adrenaline sends the puller to a different point in time. Quite a few villains escaped justice with this thing."

"Just out of curiosity, why 'Miranda'?" Artie asks her.

Claudia smiles sadly. "My mother's name was Miranda."

"Oh." Artie says awkwardly.

"Why 'Mike'?" Claudia asks as well.

"Um, Mike was this really popular guy at my high school. Girls seriously flocked to him."

Claudia, who isn't really paying attention, says, "As soon as we get back I'm having a piece of pie. I have really missed Leena's cooking."

Artie, still thinking about high school, mutters to himself, "It didn't hurt that Mike was really good looking too. And I was just this geek..."

Claudia stares, grinning at Artie. "I dunno, I thought you were kinda cute." Artie raises an eyebrow.

"What happened?"

The End

Okay, was it totally obvious the whole way through that Charlie was Artie? Or did it just seem that way to me since I wrote it? Please review!