Sunday, October 3rd

"Are you being serious!?"

My mother paced all around our living room. Her eyes were wide, her mouth hanging open in disbelief as she grasped the top of her head as she always did when she was feeling anxiety about something. I sat upright on our sofa and attempted to make eye contact.

"It wasn't that big a deal," I replied, surprised by her reaction. "The hospital called the police immediately. We just had to answer a few questions and B helped us explain everything."

"Not a big deal?" she repeated. "That psycho could've hurt you! And this was after the psycho living in the attic tried to kill you?"

"That guy didn't try to kill anyone," I corrected with a groan. "All he did was run away and then Deputy Allen shot him."

I hate my mom's tendency to twist and exaggerate details.

"Not helping your case, Terra!"

She pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed.

"When you told us you and that big-haired kid were being 'detectives' this whole time, I thought you were finding lost puppies or something. Your father never told me you were doing dangerous things, running around with crazy surgeons, kidnappers, poisoners-"

"Hey," I interjected. "The poisoning happened at the stupid charity thing you and dad dragged me to, that one's on you. Besides, our cases aren't 'dangerous', they help people. And you guys told me to either join extracurriculars at school or get a job, and I got one with pay that's not bad."

I waved my hand across my chest to display the new designer scarf I was wearing, which I had bought with money from J's less exciting cases. My mom simply sighed, then walked over to me and her hand landed firmly on my shoulder. I looked up at her and saw the stern look on her face.

"You're only fifteen," she said. "You need to be careful."

I scoffed. "You think I don't already know that?"

"I need you to promise me that if you two ever get into a situation that could be dangerous, you'll use your head and get away while you can."

I was genuinely surprised; I had rarely before seen my mother this shaken up about the things going on in my life. I knew she had the wrong impression, thinking J and I were going to get ourselves killed somehow, but I knew my words wouldn't do much to convince her. So not knowing how else to respond,

"Okay," I simply agreed. "I promise."

She frowned for a moment, then flashed me a seemingly defeated, begrudging smile.

"I've got to get to work," she said, walking away to grab her purse from the counter. "We'll continue this discussion later with your father."

I rolled my eyes. "Not necessary, but okay."

She didn't argue any further, she just said goodbye and left. As I heard our front door shut, I fell back onto the sofa and sighed, wondering how deeply my parents would continue to pry into my new extracurricular. That moment, however, resting on the couch in my otherwise empty house, were the last few seconds of normalcy and relaxation I would get before the day went to complete chaos.

It started with an alert sound from my phone. I had gotten a text from my friend Christine, which simply read,

"Turn on the news now!"

Blindsided, I reached over to the remote on the nearby coffee table and turned on our television. In a few seconds, I was watching calamity I never would have expected.

"No one has been injured," reported the woman on the screen, surrounded by police cars and a fast-gathering crowds. "The police theorize the first explosion was only a warning."

The cameras cut to the object of the crowd's attention, a large building with a heavy overflow of thick, black smoke pouring out of its side. The pedestrians of the crowd watched with horrified expressions, some covering their mouths, some crying, some struggling to breath in the smog. A few police tried to push everyone back before the camera returned to the reporter.

"A CD was found outside the premises," she continued. "I've gotten word it's a direct message from the bomber."

The screen cut to black, and audio started. The raspy voice of an old man began over the crackling static.

"Greetings, judges, jury and unlucky staff," the man began, with a sinister joyfulness in his tone. "My name is Simon Greystone. As you're well aware by now, there are explosive devices hidden throughout the building. Consider that first one warning, but trust when I say there's more where that came from. I hold in my hands a detonator that can set them all off at once, and eyes all around reporting back to me. If any of the courthouse doors or windows open, it'll take one push of a button and the building will be a pile of rubble. If you want to live, put your faith in the outside sources. I've left you all a message on the back entrance."

The live view cut back on, as cameramen hastily rushed to the other side of the building. Sure enough, there was big, red spray-paint all across the wall. The man's voice continued, reading aloud all the message on the bricks.

"Hobbits creep silently, helping devils gain fleeting power. Monsters hiding behind our faith, this day will reveal their secrets."

What in the world?

My thoughts racing, I quickly grabbed my phone and took a snapshot of the screen, just in time before it went to black once more.

"There's your key," the man continued, with a sickening cackle. "If anyone can understand it, those crooked judges might have a chance after all. You have two hours."

The live view continued, showing the crowd erupt into calamity. Their horrified yells nearly drowned out the voice of the reporter.

"They're working to confirm the identity of this 'Simon Greystone'," she continued. "No motive or plan has been found for any of this and- Wait… This just in, the Chief of Police has just arrived on the scene…"

The camera cut, and sure enough I saw my father, impatiently pushing through the crowd with his badge held high in the air.

My chest tightened and my skin turned cold all around. The woman reporting the news continued speaking, but my head seemed to drown out her voice until the only thing I could hear was a deafening ringing in my ears. Then, the vibrating sensation in my hand snapped my senses back into gear. I looked down at my phone to see my mother was calling. In the next twenty or so minutes, she was the first of many to call.

I don't know how long I had been pacing all around my living room. My mind swirled uncontrollably with hypotheticals and other grim thoughts, at the center of which stood the image of my father trapped in that building. I opened my phone and looked at the photo of the spray-painted again: Hobbits creep silently, helping devils gain fleeting power. Monsters hiding behind our faith, this day will reveal their secrets. My chest tightened again, and I realized then I hadn't been breathing. I inhaled as much as I could and tried to calm myself down until I was alarmed by the sound of my doorbell of all things.

Upon opening it, I questioned why I was even surprised as J DeMarcus stood on my porch, next to his ten-speed bike.

"Terra!" he demanded as he took his helmet off. "Help needed. Fast."

He ran a hand through his flattened curls and shook his head until they bounced back to life.

"My help?" I repeated, still in shock mode.

"You're watching the news aren't you?"

I glanced over to the television, then looked back to him. "You mean the bomb?"

"Yeah, I'm trying to handle that now, so if you wouldn't mind I need some information."

"Right," I said, quickly pulling myself together. "Come in."

As he entered and closed the door behind him, I ran over to the coffee table and opened my laptop.

"Simon Greystone," J instructed. "That's the bomber's name, get me everything you can, specifically a connection to the courthouse being held hostage."

"On it." I replied, moving my fingers across the keyboard as fast as I could.

In minutes, I had several windows' worth of digital archives opened. I briskly scrolled through each source, scanning for information that seemed relevant.

"Simon H. Greystone," I began reporting. "Formerly a college professor in the field of mechanical engineering, now currently retired and making a continued living off the stock market. And apparently there's a spouse."

"What do we know about them?" J asked.

"Ah, there's the connection to the court. Amelia Smith-Greystone, wife of eight years. Last year she was killed in a drunk driving incident, and her case was handled in that very court by that same judge."

"That's it," J thought aloud. "It's a revenge case."

"Give me a minute and I can find more about his job history."

"No time," he replied. "That's all I needed anyway."

"But I might be able to find something that can help us track him down."

"No need. I already know where he is. Or at least the street: Bellview."

I was taken back immediately. I closed my laptop and tossed it aside.

"You do? We gotta tell the cops!"

"I tried. They wouldn't listen to me. Courtesy of your dad, all the city's authorities have been strictly advised against letting me get involved."

Ugh. I knew my father's hard-headedness would get him killed one day.

"What are you gonna do now then?"

"I know where he is," J answered with a disconcerting shrug. "I was headed over there now."

"By yourself?"

"The cops won't tag along without concrete proof. So when I'm there with him in person I'll call them over."

"He's about to pull off a mass murder and you're just gonna stroll up to see him alone?"

"Don't worry, he's not gonna pull off anything."

"That's not the point!"

He disregarded me, turning around toward the door.

"All I needed was the info. Thanks."

I scoffed, getting up and running around him. I stood before him and crossed my arms, lightly stomping my foot on my hardwood floor.

"No," I insisted. "Will you think about this for a second?"

"I thought about it the whole way here." he replied in frustration.

I sighed, realizing he wouldn't be changing his mind.

"Fine," I conceded. "If you go, I'm coming with you."

"Don't be stupid," he scoffed.

I didn't say anything back, I just crossed my arms and stood my ground.

"Terra," he began.

"You asked me to be your partner," I reminded. "That goes past just tech support. You can't just go there by yourself!"

He threw a palm to his forehead and groaned, as if my insistence on tagging along was just another thing going wrong.

"I guess sitting here arguing about it would waste more time," he conceded, rushing out of the door. "Grab a bike or something and hurry up!"

All my fear and regret at that moment became a knot in my throat, but I swallowed it and ran to my garage. In less than a minute, I was wearing a helmet I hadn't touched in years, dragging my mom's yellow workout bike to the front lawn as fast as I could. J angstily jogged in place, and at the very the instant I got on top of the thing, he took off.

"Hey, wait!" I called out, taking a second to find my balance as I started pedaling. He didn't look back or slow down in the slightest, but I eventually caught up halfway down the road. One sharp turn later, I was back to struggling to keep up. I knew it would be useless to keep yelling out to him, so I simply moved my legs faster. I could almost feel my calves beginning to cramp and sting, but I just pedaled harder.

J and I flew past the street corners, bus stops and sidewalks of Dakota. I felt lost, speeding through areas of the town I had never seen before, but I followed anyway. J didn't use the GPS function on his phone, and he barely even seemed to look around at his surroundings; he just pushed forward with certainty as if he had the whole city mapped out in his head.

Maybe it was a half hour when we finally turned onto Bellview Street. We followed it until we arrived at a huge, vacant parking lot. J slowed to a halt and I followed suit, looking around at all the empty, quiet space around us. I realized the building the parking lot belonged to was a warehouse, which looked abandoned from the outside.

I went to speak, but realized my lungs were dying for air. I gasped and took off my helmet, stretching my legs as I climbed off the bike.

"Is this it?" I asked.

J, who I realized was also catching his breath, simply nodded. He rested his helmet on his handlebars and set the bike on its kickstand, without bothering to lock it up or anything.

"No doubt about it," J assured once he had collected himself. "It's the most conspicuous building on Bellview. Simon Greystone is in there."

There were windows all over the warehouse, but they were so thickly coated in dust and cobwebs that I couldn't see through any of them. J and I walked around the building, over to the double doors we figured to be the front entrance.

"Ready?" He asked, his eyes locked on the handle before us.

"If you are." I confessed, not sounding as confident as I had hoped. Nonetheless, he grabbed the handle and pushed it open. On the other side of the door was only murky darkness.

The sound of clapping hands echoed through the darkness, and in seconds the rows of lights hanging above us activated one by one, illuminating the entire warehouse. I was taken back by the wall to wall piles of crates, each coated with a palpable layer of grime, and in the center of the room an old man sitting in a wooden chair. He was the old man, wearing a fine pressed grey suit that looked like it belonged in the 1920s, and sitting there with an utmost calm expression as if he'd been waiting for someone to enter. When he saw us, however, his patient look turned to one of curious confusion.

"Simon Greystone," J called, stepping forward in front of me. "You'd think someone mounting a bomb threat might be harder to find."

J's voice echoed across the empty warehouse. The old man didn't reply at first, just stared at J as if trying to process his words, or at least the conviction behind them.

"Children?" he finally said. "You came here to find me?"

"No," J replied. "We just go breaking into random warehouses when we get bored."

The man burst out laughing to himself. It creeped me the hell out, but J only seemed annoyed by it.

"Something funny?" my friend yelled out.

The old man calmed himself and spoke, "I've been here waiting here for the police to come kick in the doors with a SWAT team. But from what I can tell the authorities are still running around in circles, then low and behold the ones who did solve the code and find my hideout are a couple of kids? Surely the humor isn't lost on you."

He spoke in a very deliberate and concise way, enunciating every word as proper as can be, sounding like one of my English teachers or something.

"We're teenagers," J shot back. "And it's not like your little riddle was challenging."

Well, I mean, it was a little.

"I take it you're the one who solved it, then?"

"In, like, thirty seconds. Your double entendre was too obvious, 'this day will reveal what's been hidden'. Being that today's the third of the month, I realized you were pointing the police to the number three; your real message was straight up announcing your location, hiding it in the third letter of each word in your lame attempt of being poetic. 'Hobbits creep silently', B-E-L… The rest of it spells 'Bellview', so we went down this street until we found an obvious hiding spot. Big abandoned warehouse, ding ding ding."

"Such frivolity," the old man thought aloud, shaking his head and staring at J with intense fascination. "You describe it like child's play."

"Because it was."

"Tell that to the team of police three times your age, who are currently searching far and wide for my head."

J raised a brow, not sure how to reply. The old man stepped forward, continuing to stare him down with those cold, reptilian eyes. A chill ran through my body as he got closer to us. J subtly extended his arm, as if to protect me.

"Still, that raises the most important question," Simon Greystone began. "How brave do two teenagers have to be to come here by themselves."

"It wasn't Plan A but the police wouldn't listen."

"Believable. No one ever listens to kids. What a pity, though, if they hadn't been so quick to write you off maybe all those poor people at the courthouse could've been saved."

"What are you talking about? Aren't they saved now that I figured out your stupid riddle thing?"

"Ouch, kid. Give a little credit. That 'stupid riddle' is more complex than you think."

J raised a brow, and the old man directed his attention to the nearest corner of the room. There stood a computer console built up onto the wall. Greystone began walking over to it, and J and I followed. Getting closer, I could see the screen was entirely black except for a white cursor in the center.

"This system," the old man explained. "Is linked to the bomb at the courthouse. It will be disarmed immediately if a certain sequence of numbers is entered here."

He pointed to the keypad below the screen and smiled proudly.

"See? There's more to decipher," he continued. "Artful, isn't it? It's something I like to call a death code."

J snapped. "You crazy, old-"

"Easy does it," Simon Greystone laughed. "What good is a powerful mind with a short fuse?"

With that, he turned around and began to aimlessly pace around in thought. J continued staring him down, as if trying to make some detailed deductions about him.

"What's your deal," J called out impatiently. "Apparently this judge is crooked, did he screw you over or something? Is that why you're doing this?"

"Vengeance? I'd hate to think you'd peg me as so superficial. A better descriptor is 'Justice'."

"Justice? How is threatening a judge and holding his courthouse hostage with bombs in any way justice?"

"I'm sure you'll agree 'judge' is a term used loosely. That man's contorted the law, abused his power to play with human fates. The decisions made in that courtroom have ruined lives, and if he lives there's more to come."

"So what, is this some act of vigilante justice in your head?"

"Consider it a balancing of the scales."

"Is that what you told the lackeys that helped you pull this off?"

"It's true, I had help to set this up. Maybe they were inspired by my words and agreed with my perspective on justice."

"Or maybe they're just a couple of common thugs you hired."

The vile old man laughed. "Maybe. But you'll never know, will you?"

His laughter seemed to revolt J. My partner's demeanor grew colder and angrier.

"Is 'balancing the scales' really what you tell yourself?" he demanded. "No, you know that's wong. You're not targeting one man, you put dozens of innocent people in danger too. You're not trying to do the right thing, you're a bitter old man with too much money and time and not enough to care about, looking for an excuse to lash out on the world."

"Well that's a pretty pessimistic way of looking at it."

"But it's right. You don't care too much whether anyone lives or dies, since you left behind this stupid death code, an opportunity for this to be stopped. No, you didn't wanna make a change in anything, you just wanted attention; the whole city to stop and stare at how clever you are."

"Who knows? Maybe," the old man conceded with a shrug. "But can't the same be said of a teenage boy who solves crimes in his free time?"

J had no answer for once.

"I'll give you a hint," The old man rattled off, continuing to pace. "The sequence to disarm the bomb is six numbers, ten individual digits."

"Like that narrows anything down."

"Oh, come on. You're a clever kid. Think about it. Here's another tip, we're done with the first half of the message that brought you here"

J crossed his arms and scoffed. "You expect me to just play along to your stupid game?"

Greystone nonchalantly shrugged. "You've played this far, might as well see it through. Besides, unless you're considering letting all those people die after this much effort after all this effort, what choice do you have?"

"A lot more than you think."

My friend's demeanor was unchanging, his voice hardened and cold. The man's glassy eyes peered at him with question.

"What are you talking about?" he spouted.

"What did you think our plan was?" J replied with utmost condescension, before checking the time on his cell phone.

"I've bought enough time here," the detective explained. "Considering the distance, factoring in traffic and diminishing that by police siren privileges, they should be arriving… Just… About…"

He hung on the silence, and in a few more seconds, the entrance we had found to the warehouse flung open once again. Five heavily armed police stormed in, guns drawn and sights locked toward Greystone.

"Look who's finally here," the man called out as they surrounded him. "The more the merrier."

"Don't move!" One of the cops. Simon Greystone shrugged nonchalantly, and slowly raised his arms as if humoring them.

Lastly, behind them came my father. He had his pistol drawn as well, but as soon as he saw me, he slipped it back into the holster in his coat and ran over to us.

"What are you doing here!?" he shouted in my face, grabbing my arm as hard as he could. In the moment I had no answer, then Greystone spoke again.

"I should've known you were smart enough to bring backup." he called out to J.

"Our whole conversation was recorded," my friend answered, holding up his phone. "Live streamed to the police with our location. It's over, old man."

The man shook his head and let out another deep, skin-crawling laugh.

"Is it?"

He reached into the lining of his suit jacket.

"Keep your hands up!" one of the cops barked, an order that was flippantly ignored.

Greystone quickly pulled out a small device, which looked like a remote with one big button.

"This is a detonator," he explained. "If I hit it, the countdown gets skipped and the bomb goes off. If any one of you makes a move, it's all over. If you want this to stop, I'm afraid you'll have to decipher the code."

The armed men stood there for a moment, exchanging puzzled glances with each other before eventually concentrating their gaze to my father.

"Chief?" One of them said, almost in desperation.

My father had no answer. Mr. Greystone chuckled to himself and shook his head.

"You men put on quite a show," he said. "But after all that fuss look at you now; helpless."

He took a slight step forward and looked my father right in the eye with a cold, violent gaze.

"Remember how this feels," he sneered in a creepy, hushed tone. "Take it in. You law enforcers need to know more than anyone what it's like to be helpless."

My father stretched his arm before me. The armed men around us uneasily raised their guns again.

"As fun as this has been," Greystone sighed. "I know by now an awful lot of backup is on the way, so I'll have to get out of here while I still can."

My father raised his gun.

"You're not going anywhere!" he yelled sternly. The older man reached his free hand into another pocket.

"The countdown's been sped up," he said, completely ignoring my father. "You now have three minutes to enter the sequence. Good luck."

And with that, a piercing screech blasted through the warehouse. I looked up and found the source of the noise was the various fire sprinklers on the ceiling above us. Then, in what seemed like a flash, they erupted and a thick, greenish gas shot out from each of them. Shortly after, the same gas came shooting out from concealed pipes on the wall. In seconds, the room was filled with nauseous smoke. Two of the men fell to the floor coughing and wheezing, and that was all I could make out before the gas clouded my view of the rest of the room. It hadn't visibly made its way to me yet, but I felt my eyes burning.

My father immediately threw his arm over my head, burying my face in his jacket, and started running as fast as he could. I couldn't see anything but I held onto him and moved my legs accordingly until I felt the breeze of the outdoor air.

As soon as we were far enough away from the gas, my father slowed his running to a stop. I pulled myself out of his grip and stumbled until I found my balance. I looked over to my dad, who was hunched over attempting to catch his breath, and saw that under his glasses his eyes were bloodshot. His body was quivering, shaking violently as he heaved. I wiped my own eyes, the pain still there as they teared up.

"J!" I cried out between gasps. "Where's J!?"

My dad looked up at me without an answer, and I immediately turned around and took off, running back to the warehouse as fast as I could.

"J!" I yelled as I approached, before another fit of coughing. Dozens of flashing police lights approaching from all around became exploding waves of red and blue to my watery eyes. I wiped them once more and called out,

"J are you still in there?"

To my relief, once I opened my eyes again, I could see two figures approaching from around the corner of the warehouse. It was one of the policemen from before, holding J's arm over his shoulder as he guided my friend over to me.

Without thinking, I threw my arms around J and embraced him for a second.

"I'm okay…" he wheezed, his voice weak and breathless.

I felt a hand on my shoulder. Pulling away and looking behind me, I saw it was my father, who had now collected himself.

"You kids need to go home." he said simply and sternly.

Before either of us could say anything, his police radio mounted on his lapel cut on.

"Chief," the static-covered voice began. "Greystone's gone; there's no sign of him!"

"Keep looking," my dad demanded. "He can't possibly get far."

"But Chief, the bomb. There's probably less than a minute left, we have to type something in."

With that, the man on the other end began coughing violently. It was clear he was re-entering the building.

"Wait," my dad ordered. "If you type in the wrong thing the bomb'll go off!"

"It'll go off if we do nothing." the man reminded.

I looked over to J, who was staring at the ground and muttering to himself.

"Six numbers, ten digits." He repeated, thinking aloud.

"J…" I said. He looked up at me, with a familiar passion in his eyes.

"Solved!"

My father looked down at him in confusion.

"What?"

"We only have a few seconds." the man in the building called between coughs.

"I figured it out," J clarified. "I know the code! Let me talk to him!"

My father pressed a thumb to the bridge of his nose and sighed.

"Kid, would you-"

"Dad," I suddenly cried out. "Just give him the radio!"

I didn't know what was coming over me, but without thinking I snatched the receiver from my father's hands and handed it to J. He immediately raised it to his mouth.

"Type in these numbers very carefully," he instructed. "Ready?"

"Ready!" the cop replied.

J spoke as clearly and concisely as he could.

"Twenty-five, one, six, thirty-eight, ten, twenty-five."

There was a pause, a brief moment where everything seemed to stop and the world went silent. Then, the static of the receiver cut back on.

"There's a message on the screen," the cop reported. "It says 'Passcode: correct'."

And with that, it was over. Everyone stopped what they were doing, slowed down and sighed. J's legs were shaking until they buckled and he fell to his knees, closing his eyes and letting out a breath of relief. Before we knew it, the sea of cops around us erupted into noise. It took my mind a second to recognize that it was applause and cheering.

Everything from there on seemed like a blur up until J and I took our seats in the waiting area of the police station. My father and all his men were assumedly talking over the case, filing reports and/or doing whatever else police have to do after an incident like this. J had his arms crossed and his head leaned back against the wall behind us, taking all the much needed rest he could get in this noisy, busy building.

"So," I began, nudging his knee with mine. "How did you figure out the code?"

"Easy," J replied, without turning toward me or even opening his eyes. "It was his wife."

"Huh?"

"You said her name was Amelia. When Greystone said the code was six numbers I remembered that, and 'Amelia' has six letters."

"Woah," I said, counting it out in my head. "I forgot all about that stuff I read."

"Just like the street the warehouse was on," J continued. "Her name was hidden in the message. Greystone said to disregard the first sentence, and the A in the word 'faith' was the twenty fifth letter of the second one. The M in 'monsters' was the first, and so on."

"Crazy," I thought aloud. "After everything he's done, it's like his dead wife was the center of all of it."

"It's bugging me too," he replied, opening his eyes and leaning forward in his seat. "He was living a normal life for sixty something years, and then when he lost his wife he threw it all away. And for what? To be a psycho mass murderer?"

J sighed, and his eyes shifted down to the dingy floor tiles beneath us.

"He let his own grief consume him," he said in deep thought. "I guess that messes with me because…-"

"I can't believe this," my father cut him off as he walked up to us with hands full of files and papers. "By now I expect this from you, J, but Terra? You went by yourselves and walked right over to that psychopath? What were you thinking?"

"Dad," I pleaded. "We were just trying to help. I mean, I was-"

"No excuses," he boomed sternly. "If you two hadn't been so lucky you could've gotten killed or worse!"

I began to wonder what would have been worse than being killed, but my nerves stopped me from saying anything. Then, unexpectedly, J spoke.

"We wouldn't have been by ourselves if you would've listened to me in the first place."

My father looked at him for a moment, taken off guard and for once he didn't have an answer.

"Besides," J continued, in a flippant, matter-of-fact tone. "Terra's the one who gave me the clue about Greystone's wife that I used to solve the code. Then she gave me the radio when you were being stubborn. If it weren't for her, a lot of people would be dead right now. So maybe instead of getting mad you should be proudly thanking her."

My father, still without an answer, stared at my friend for a moment, in almost puzzlement.

"I'm not having this discussion." he finally groaned, shaking his head as he walked away. Of course he was the one who started 'this discussion', so I could only take his sudden uneasiness about it as a white flag; the closest he could come to admitting J had a point. In all my life, the only person I had ever seen silence my dad like that was my mom.

I looked over to J, who was now leaning back with his eyes closed again.

"Thanks." I said, wanting to say more but not quite knowing what.

"Don't sweat it." he yawned, before opening his eyes again and meeting mine with a bit of hesitation.

"And thank you," he said. "For helping with your research and for… you know… Having my back today."

I felt myself begin to smile, and realized it was pretty much the first time I had smiled all day.

"Always." I replied warmly.

Just then, another police officer came over to us. It was our trusted friend, Deputy Allen, and he was rushing over with a cell phone in his hand and an urgent look on his face.

"J, Terra!" he called out as he stopped in front of us.

"What's up?" I asked.

"Look at this!" he replied, holding the screen up before us. On it was a live news feed, in which some local reporter woman was in the middle of updating the current case.

"-Tape sent to us, apparently addressed by Simon Greystone himself. The Dakota Police Department is of course still searching for the wanted man, and has promised his capture and arrest, but they've now given us the okay to share what appears to be his final message."

And with that, the screen cut to black, and the sound of air and static picked up by a low res recording device came in. Soon enough, the cold, vile voice that we had all gotten used to came in over it.

"My deepest congratulations," Greystone uttered through a weary and hoarse voice, seemingly out of breath. "Not to the police who will no doubt take credit for saving the lives of the courthouse hostages, but to the one who's actually responsible. If I recall, it was J… That was the name of the boy who solved my code. I hope the city of Dakota acknowledges him. And if you're watching this, you clever kid, I hope I'll see you again soon."

And with that, the message ended, and the screen cut back to the reporter woman. Deputy Allen put the phone away and met eyes with us, a troubled expression on his face.

"He's making a special big deal out of you, J," Allen said, worried. "And the way he's talking, if we don't find him it seems like he'll try something again."

A chill ran down my spine, and I felt my arms and legs begin to tremble. I looked over to J, who was surprisingly calm. He took a deep breath and ran a hand through his curly, tangled hair.

"That's right," he sighed. "But if he does come back, I'll be ready for him."