"Where on Earth is Lauren Ridgemount?"
Story Written by Freedom Fighter
You've waited long enough! Here's the final chapter, presented in its entirety with no cuts!
Disclaimer: The characters of 'Stoked' belong to Fresh TV, Inc., Teletoon, and Cartoon Network.
Chapter Nine - City of Love? City of Finit! (03.08.12)
Two bright spotlights illuminated the night sky of Paris, France. Down on street level, a large crowd of dignitaries, hotel moguls, and VIPs were arriving at the Centre Poisson. Security guards did their best to keep the paparazzi and other curious onlookers from getting into the building, or even stepping foot on the red carpet leading into it, as valets helped usher in the invited guests, whether they arrived by limo or of a luxury car of their own choosing. Most had their own drivers bring them in, but Jack had decided to drive in his own car, codenamed Cheetah.
Jack put the car in park by the curb, then he got out, along with Ashleigh, and the both of them were gussied up in tuxedos. He lobbed the keys gently at an approaching parking valet.
"Big tip if there aren't any scratches when I get back."
The valet caught the keys and replied, "Oui, oui!"
Jack joined up with his partner and then the two proceeded to head down the red carpet, side by side. They ignored all of the flash bulbs going off around them, and made their way inside, where a security checkpoint awaited. Once their invitations were checked and they were wanded with a handheld metal detector, the two were finally allowed into the main area to mingle with the other guests.
"Only a mega mogul like Hope would throw such an extravaganza like this just for a silly anniversary party," Jack noted aloud.
"If only it were just that," grumbled Ashleigh. "I'm gonna see if I can locate our inside man."
"And I'm going to see if Ridgemount is here. Gotta make sure the ruse stays in place until Hope can be taken out."
The two men then went their separate ways. Jack stayed with the crowd, heading towards the largest congregation of people, up on the second floor. Once there, he blended in easily. He began to scan the room, searching for Mr. Ridgemount. After a couple of minutes, he found his target...
Or, rather, targets, as he had found Mr. Ridgemount's traveling partners, Reef and Lo. He moved towards them, trying to get close enough to hear what they were saying, while simultaneously staying out of sight.
"Y'know," Reef said, though not clearly thanks to the number of cheese squares that he had in his mouth at this moment, "this Hope dude isn't all that bad, given this spread!"
"Focus!" growled Fin. "You're making a scene!"
"I'm not the only one."
Reef was right, as Fin pulled at the top of her strapless yellow dress, adjusting it for what had to be the fourth or fifth time that night already.
"I can't help it, alright? This thing is too snug AND it itches! Not to mention how thin it is! Ugh! It feels like I'm barely wearing anything!"
Reef smirked as he took a gander at Fin in her dress. But before he could say something sly, he pulled at the collar of his dress shirt, trying to scratch a place on his neck.
"I'm with you on the itching. Man, this blows!"
"Look! This scumbag, Hope, has to be holding Lo somewhere! If we can find and rescue her before Mr. Ridgemount is forced to sign over the deed to Surfer's Paradise and the rest of his empire, then we can stop the deal from happening! Not to mention the fact that we actually get to keep our jobs!"
The two started to walk away, to begin their search.
"Stupid kids," Jack mumbled. "Gonna get themselves killed, that they are."
He was about to follow them when he heard a familiar voice in her ear.
"Jack? Jack, where are you?"
Jack lifted one hand up to his ear to respond.
He made his way back to the escalators, forgetting about Reef and Fin and turning his attention back to his top priority: Lo's safety.
"Are you alright, Lauren?"
"Yeah, yeah. Just goin' through security. Man, these guys are being thorough... DOES IT LOOK LIKE I NEED A PAT-DOWN? IT'S A SIZE ONE, FYI!"
Jack rushed down the escalator, and that was when he spotted Lo, who was getting a little confrontational with one of the guards. He ran over to stop her before she said something that would blow their cover.
"Look, mister, I don't know how they do things here in France, but unless you're intending to take me out on a date, nobody, and I mean, NOBODY, touches me there! Got it?"
"Lauren, there you are!" Jack exclaimed.
He pulled her behind him, and then turned to the guard to apologize.
"Sorry, she's with me."
Jack tugged Lo away, and the guard had no interest in giving chase, as he turned around and continued on to inspect the next person in line. Once he was out of hearing range...
"How many times I have told you NOT to make a scene?" Jack asked Lo.
"I don't want to hear it! C'mon, we've got work to do."
The two joined the ever-growing line of people waiting to use the up escalator. Jack took the moment to give Lo's outfit the once-over. She was wearing a golden-colored dress, which was held up on her shoulders by the tiniest of straps. It clung to her body closely, leaving little to the imagination. Thankfully, the bottom of the dress went down to top of her kneecaps and the top had a flat neckline. It was surprisingly modest.
"What can I say?" Lo was boasting. "I'm a Ridgemount. I have to have class, after all."
Rinaldo De Luca entered the temporary dressing area, where his boss, Fargo Hope, was finishing up preparations for the gala. De Luca had a large contract in hand, about 30-40 pages thick, which he dropped right in Hope's lap as his hairdresser was busy putting the finishing touches on his do.
"It's all arranged just as you commanded," De Luca told him.
"Good." Hope smiled. "And Ridgemount?"
"He is in the building, sir. And he still believes that we have his little heiress."
"Good, good! Surfer's Paradise, as well as the entire Ridgemount Estate, will soon be mine! Mwa ha ha ha ha!"
"So, what's the plan?"
Lo had asked Jack a question, but he was too focused on scanning the crowd, keeping a lookout for anyone that might try to harm Lo.
"Like, hello? Jack!"
"Huh?" Jack finally responded. "Oh, yeah... we'll just wait for Hope to come to us. This is his shindig, after all."
"Seriously? That's your plan?"
"You have to remember that very few people know about Hope's dirty and underhanded business tactics! Taking action first will only make everyone here look on us unfavorably."
"But we're not the bad guys! He and his goons are!"
"I know. But rest assured, we know what we're doing. We're professionals, after all."
Suddenly, the noise in the room died down as all eyes turned to the stage set up at the far end of the floor, and it had three chairs and a table on it as well. A man in his mid-30s was walking up to the microphone to address the crowd.
"Ladies and gentlemen! Thank you for coming here tonight, to celebrate this momentous occasion..."
As he continued to talk, off to the side of the stage stood Fargo Hope, along with two bodyguards. He had a smile on his face as he spotted Mr. Ridgemount walking towards him, who was scowling.
"Where's Lauren?" he asked, sternly.
"You will see her AFTER you publicly sign over the deed to the entire Ridgemount Resorts chain," Hope told him.
Mr. Ridgemount mumbled something angrily under his breath.
"Did you say something, Ridgemount?"
He sighed. "No. Let's... let's just get this over with."
Hope nodded, then turned and climbed the steps up to the stage, just in time to hear the emcee finish his introduction, followed by a hearty round of applause. Hope grinned as he stepped toward the microphone. In the crowd, Lo growled in disgust upon seeing him.
"Merci, and thank you all for coming!" Hope said aloud. "Tonight, we are here to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the opening of Le Riche, the finest luxury resort in Europe!"
As he continued, Reef and Fin entered from the back of the room, with long looks on their faces after their search for Lo had turned up empty.
"But before we move onto the scheduled festivities, I'd like to make a big announcement. Tonight, the Fargo Hope Premium Resorts chain is proud to announce the addition of a new group of resort hotels to the family. These hotels are among the best in the Western Hemisphere, all of them situated in prime beach resort areas."
Lo was surprised at what she was hearing.
"Wait, did he say hotels? As in more than one?"
"And I couldn't be prouder than to welcome these new, high-class, five-star resorts to the chain. Tonight, my friends, we expand westward as I announce the acquisition of the world-famous Ridgemount Resorts chain!"
The crowd cheered, pleased to hear about the announcement. Lo, on the other hand...
"What? No... NO! The original offer was Surfer's Paradise, not the entire... Jack, do something!"
Jack tapped his ear to turn on his communicator.
"321, we've got a Code Orange. What's your ETA?"
He heard his partner agent reply. "T-minus 90."
Jack suddenly heard applause. Hope had introduced Mr. Ridgemount, and he was now walking across the stage, on his way to the table in the center.
"We don't HAVE 90! It's going down now!"
Jack then reached for Lo, to stop her from doing something stupid. Unfortunately, she had disappeared into the crowd. But...
"Out of my way! I'm NOT letting that snake steal what's rightfully going to be mine!"
...he could still hear her, as well as realize that it was fading as she got further away. That was because Lo was heading right for the stage.
"Forget Orange, we've got a Code Yellow. I repeat, Yellow!"
Jack went after Lo. Up on stage, a third, unaffiliated party had come up to take the seat in the center. He had with him the 30-40 page contract which, when signed by both parties, would make the transfer of ownership from Lo's father to Hope official. Upon sitting down, the third party turned to the very last page. Hope pulled a pen out of his breast pocket and he signed the document, right on the dotted line.
He then slid the contract and the pen across the table to Mr. Ridgemount, expecting him to do the same.
"Do it," Hope warned, "or else..."
Mr. Ridgemount picked up the pen and leaned forward. Hope rubbed his hands together in anticipation. The takeover was nearly complete.
"Daddy, NO! DON'T SIGN IT!"
Mr. Ridgemount stopped upon hearing his only daughter's voice. He turned to the crowd, which parted so that he could see Lo, who was still about six people or so from the stage. He was relieved to see that she was safe, and not in Hope's hands. Hope, on the other hand, was already motioning for the nearest guards to handle this unwanted interruption.
"This guy's a lowdown, good-for-nothing swindler who had me kidnapped and was willing to off me all just to get you to hand over the entire family business without fail. He is the worst kind of scum! Whatever you do, DON'T sign that contract!"
The two security guards reached Lo, and they grabbed her by the arms.
"Daddy!" Lo cried out.
Her father stood up and turned towards Hope to demand for her release. But before he could open his mouth, Hope already had a reason to not listen to it... by pulling out a handgun from inside his blazer and pointing it right at his head. The crowd gasped audibly in response, while the third party witness got up and ran off the stage.
"You will sign that document, Mr. Ridgemount. Or else!"
Suddenly, from the back of the room, about a dozen police officers rushed in, charging for the stage from both sides. While doing so, though, the sound of a single shot being fired could be heard. A woman in the room screamed as one of the officers, just as he had passed by her, fell to the ground, the victim of a bullet to the head. Things became panicked as the crowd started rushing for the exits, and more shots began to be fired. Two officers on the opposite side of the room were taken out before the remaining men started ducking for cover.
Meanwhile, of their own volition, the two men who had a hold of Lo started heading towards a hallway off to the side. Seeing this, Jack pushed his way through the crowd to try and cut them off. But he was not the only one spurred to action, as Reef and Fin were moving that way as well.
"Are you MAD, woman?" asked Reef. "You're gonna get me killed!"
"If I'm so crazy," Fin shot back, "then why aren't you running away like everyone else?"
"Because somebody has to protect you!"
Gunfire then began to exchange between the French police and the Italian mafia employed by Hope. A bullet whizzed by Reef's right ear, and in fright he dove for the floor. Fin squatted down to him, as he curled up with his knees against his chest and started shaking.
"Sure... YOU'LL protect ME."
"This is no laughing matter!"
"Look, scaredy puss, just keep low and out of sight! Now, come on! Daddy's little princess isn't gonna save herself."
Not that Lo was not willing to try, as she tried to wriggle out of her captors' grip. Her father was not having much luck, either, as Hope was forcing Mr. Ridgemount towards the exit as well. But...
"Cela est loin assez! [That's far enough!]"
The man was holding a gun in one hand, which he had pointed at Hope's head, while he used his other hand to look for his ID badge. Finding it, he flashed it, showing that he was the French Intelligence agent that Ashleigh had gone off to find. The agent started to put it away, but he became startled when he felt the barrel of a pistol press into his left temple. That firearm was being held by De Luca, who had come out to see his men in a firefight with the local law enforcement and Hope in a bit of trouble.
"You were saying?"
"I say you're sloppy," stated Ashleigh, appearing behind De Luca and pressing his gun into the back of the bigger man's head. "Now, be a good mafia don and hand over the gun before this has to get messy."
"Drop it, spy!" exclaimed Hope. "Or else Ridgemount gets it!"
"Si vous le tirez, alors je VOUS tire! [If you shoot him, then I shoot YOU!]" declared the French agent.
"Do it, and it's au revoir," threatened De Luca.
"I remind you that I have a license to kill," growled Ashleigh. "And I'm not afraid to use it."
"WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?" yelled Mr. Ridgemount. "Since when does violence solve ANYTHING?"
As they thought of an answer, Jack rushed in out of nowhere and tackled Hope to the ground. Upon impact, Hope's gun fell out of his hand, and then he continued rolling right off the far end of the stage. De Luca pulled his guy away from the French agent and aimed it at Jack's head. But as he pulled the trigger, Ashleigh reached in and pulled the arm down just enough for the bullet to land short. Ashleigh and the French agent then teamed up and jumped on De Luca, hoping to take the Italian man down.
But upon seeing their boss in trouble, the two men pulling Lo away stopped under a doorway off to the side. They forgot about their assigned task and rushed to help their don. That turned out to be a bad decision, as without warning, the room was suddenly rushed by a combination of the French Intelligence and the local police. Even though the mafia had superior firepower and had nearly wiped out the initial batch of cops from the room, they were now finding themselves completely outnumber by a ratio of three to one. A few mafia men continued to fight, but they were taken down in a snap, and the remainder of the group quickly tossed their weapons aside and rose their arms up in surrender.
The officers surrounded everyone, including De Luca and his two men, Jack and Ashleigh, their French accomplice, Mr. Ridgemount, and even Reef and Fin.
"Hands off!" shouted Fin, as one officer tried to put handcuffs on her.
"Hey!" Reef exclaimed. "We didn't even do anything!"
One of the French Intelligence agents walked over to the man who was helping Jack and Ashleigh, and demanded an explanation for acting without authorization. After a few minutes, the head agent's look of displeasure grew and grew. Still, he motioned over one of the lead officers on the scene, and after talking for a minute, that officer signaled to some of his men to uncuff a few people. The restrains were immediately removed from Jack, Ashleigh, and their French accomplice, as well as Mr. Ridgemount. The police then began moving all of those still handcuffed to one side of the room, including...
"What about us?" questioned Reef.
"We're innocent!" claimed Fin.
Mr. Ridgemount marched over to the head French agent.
"Those two are with me! Release them! They have nothing to do with Hope and his rubbish!"
Jack nodded to the French agents, who complied with their request. The two teens were freed, and they ran over to the others.
"Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!" complimented Reef, wrapping his arms around Mr. Ridgemount in glee.
Mr. Ridgemount pried Reef from him, not happy with the teenager's display of affection. Fin, meanwhile, walked over to Jack.
"I still don't approve of how you whisked Lo away," she growled, "but Emma and the guys were right. You're not such a bad guy after all."
"I appreciate it, lass. Though I suppose I owe all of you an explanation. As well as French Intelligence and the local police."
Ashleigh sighed. "This is gonna be a long night."
"I'm not willing to forgive you so easily," barked Mr. Ridgemount as he confronted Jack. "For starters, WHERE'S LAUREN?"
Jack quickly scanned the room. To his surprise, Lo was nowhere to be found.
"Jack," Ashleigh interrupted, "hate to say it, but Fargo Hope's MIA as well!"
In the parking lot, a sportscar roared to life as the driver started the engine. Fargo Hope was behind the wheel, and he was itching for a getaway. Up at the front entrance, Jack emerged from the building, racing past the few officers and the valet workers congregated there. He ran to the large keyring box holding all the keys to the cars the valets had parked during the night. It only took him seconds to figure out what Hope had stolen as his getaway vehicle.
"Son of a..."
Sure enough, he turned left and saw the Cheetah screeching around the corner, planning to speed in front of the building on his way to the only exit of the parking lot.
"You're not escaping," growled Jack. "Not with HER."
He pulled out a spare key fob he had in his pocket. He pressed a button, and suddenly a communications link with the car's computer activated.
"C-3, override command. Passcode B-0-6-7."
The computer's female voice responded through the fob's speaker. "Override confirmed."
"Activate emergency protocol. Command Delta!"
The Cheetah raced by at what had to be about 90 kph, and climbing. Then, without warning, Fargo Hope flew out of the top of the car, as well as the seat he was in, as he had been ejected from the vehicle.
"That's not Del- LAUREN!"
With no driver, the car continued driving forward. The right side hopped up onto the sidewalk, hit a lamppost, and then slammed right into the trunk of a large tree just feet from the lot's exit. The car immediately burst into flames as the engine compartment was completely crushed upon impact and had been pushed into the passenger compartment. Jack was frozen in horror, unable to do anything as the car quickly became engulfed in flames. That was quickly followed by a small explosion, as the gas tank had ignited.
"No. No, no, no, no... NOOOOOOOOOOO!"
He screamed in anguish, with arms raised towards the heavens, over letting such a tragic event occur on his watch.
"GEEZ! Overdramatic, much?"
Jack stopped screaming, turned to his right, and found... Lo standing right next to her, safe and sound.
"LO! But how did..."
Ashleigh walked up and answered the question for her.
"After those grunts let her go, she actually did something smart and found a hiding place. We found her on the opposite end of the floor, hiding behind a statue. Poorly, I may add."
"Hey! I'll have you know I was NEVER the first one found in hide-and-seek as a child."
"So you WEREN'T in the car? Thank goodness!"
He breathed a sigh of relief, then wrapped his arms around Lo in an embracing hug. One that lasted all of one second, when Lo's father made it known he was present by coughing. Threateningly. Jack quickly let go.
"199's not gonna like what's left of that," noted Ashleigh as he pointed to the still-burning wreckage.
"Blame the computer," Jack told him. "Command Delta was supposed to kill the engine, not activate the driver-side ejection seat."
"Speaking of... if it ejected Hope from the car, where is he?"
They got their answer a few seconds later...
Fargo Hope landed in the parking lot on another car, still strapped to the car seat, back first. He groaned in pain before, out of the top of the seat, the parachute deployed itself. Far, far too late to be of any use.
"See?" Jack pointed out, as policemen ran past him and over to Hope. "Blame the computer."
Meanwhile, Lo was on the receiving end of another hug, one which her father let occur this time because it was coming from Fin.
"Oh, man, am I glad to see you in one piece!"
"Finally, this is over!" Reef declared. "That was WAY too much chasing you around the world for my own good!"
"Thanks, guys! I'm just relieved that I can finally put this all behind me and finally, truly, finally go home!"
"Lo is right," Jack thought. "Hope has been exposed for the fraud he is, De Luca and his mafia goons are gonna get the book thrown at 'em, and Lo is safe and sound. She's finally going to go home. Go... home."
Jack sighed as he watched Lo continue to celebrate her reunion with her father and her friends, wondering if this truly was the end of the road for their partnership.
Two days later, at Charles de Gaulle International Airport...
The Ridgemount family private jet was ready to be boarded. Reef and Fin raced for the gate, both attempting to get in first in order to claim the window seat. Lo and her father casually walked after them, but Lo stopped when she heard a familiar voice call out to her.
"Lauren! Wait a minute!"
She turned around and saw that it was Jack, running to catch her before she left for home.
"May I have a minute, Daddy?" Lo asked, sweetly glancing up at her father.
"Alright. See you on the plane."
But before leaving the two alone, Mr. Ridgemount shot a warning glare at Jack.
"If she's not sitting next to me in sixty seconds, I know who's to blame! And remember, I've MET your boss."
With that, he exited. Lo giggled, then apologized for him.
"Sorry 'bout that. You know how it is..."
"Perhaps it was a mistake to have A do the debriefing after all. Man, he's got quite the glare."
"What do you expect? You 'kidnapped' me, remember?"
"I remember. So... come to wish little ol' me aduel?"
Jack laughed. "I'm pretty sure you mean 'adieu.'"
Lo playfully punched Jack in the chest. "Oh, you."
"But, seriously. Miss Ridgemount... Lauren... Lo. We've been through a lot this past week or so. And it's made me think. This originally began with me coming on to you in order to get you to come along with me on this mission. At first, I was doing it because it was part of my job, and you really seemed genuinely into me. But then, the other night, in Venice, after I came back to check on you after your 'emergency'... despite how mad I was about that, I started feeling different about you. You know, yes, my job is to protect you, but, suddenly... I began caring about you. As more than a person. As, well, how do girls like you put it, 'the one?'"
Lo hushed him right there and then by raising a finger and placing it on my lips.
"Oh, I think it's cute you're gonna miss me, Jack. But, truthfully, I couldn't. You being a spy is great and all... but it's too dangerous! Plus, what's the point of traveling the world if you can stay around long enough to go shopping! And, not to mention, it's been far, far too long since I've caught a wave! I'm a surfer chick, babe! And there's me inheriting the family business at some point, of course. Your line of work... just not good for my health! Or my tan."
Jack sighed. "I see."
Lo felt sorry for her savior, protector, guardian, and one-time suitor. She got up on her tiptoes and gave Jack a farewell kiss on the cheek.
"You're always welcome to drop by the resort if you're in the area on of your missions. Who knows? Maybe I'll teach you a thing or two about hanging ten!"
With that, Lo ran off, waving goodbye before disappearing into the tunnel leading to her family's jet. Once on board, she took her seat next to her father.
"Pilot?" Mr. Ridgemount said, motioning to the front of the cabin, "Let's go home!"
Lo smiled as she hugged her dad, glad to finally be reunited and be out of danger. The threat of corporate takeover from hotel mogul Fargo Hope had been dealt with, and thus, things could finally get back to normal.
"So," Lo shot a suggestive look up at her dad, "after all that's happened, perhaps you'd let me back up in the penthouse so I can live under your protective watch?"
But the frown on her father's face indicated that he was thinking about that.
"If anything, this whole fiasco has taught me you're not observant enough to realize you're being played for a fool! You still have a lot to learn, young lady! Back in the penthouse, preposterous!"
Lo huffed, folding her arms over her chest and grumbling unhappily. Across the aisle, Fin let out a chuckle.
"Looks like everything's back to normal."
"All except for Lo, that is."
"I can hear you!" yelled Lo.
Reef and Fin laughed as the Ridgemount private jet taxied onto the nearest runway and took off, heading home. For Lo, it was not the happiest ending, per se, but at least she knew she was one last plane ride from finally returning to her ethic-learning summer.
And, for now, she did not want it any other way.
Eighteen months later, a story that was originally planned to be 13 chapters long, was almost completely cut down to just four, and finally ended up nearly in the middle of those two numbers with nine installments, "Where on Earth is Lauren Ridgemount?" is finally done!
It's been a long road, but I'm just glad to have this completed at long last. This was supposed to have been finished up before last summer's "Fresh Challenge: Vets vs. Groms," and more than half a year after that ended, this tale reached its end at long last.
Since the first chapter was released, I've seen the entirety of the second season of "Stoked" in the process. Suffice to say, things changed a lot in that, though many people would agree 'not' for the better... but hey, this is still a friendly reminder as to how the show was near the end of the first season.
That being said, there probably won't be any more "Stoked" stories from me. But that doesn't mean they're gone for good. Case in point, crossovers with other shows are still possible - including the long-delayed Reunion Special from the aforementioned "Fresh Challenge," coming later this month! So who knows what's in the future?
Anyway, I'll end with the usual. If you read all the way through to the end and you liked what you said, please leave a review! I'd really appreciate it! And don't forget to check out my other works, too.
With that said, see you next time, folks!