Deborah Jackson

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Update--Time Meddlers Undercover

To get you up to speed, I'm just finishing a second draft of Time Meddlers Undercover. It will need a bit more tweaking before being subjected to an editor, but progress is being made. I've had that "eureka" moment, which means I think I've figured out the greatest flaw and corrected it. Now you wouldn't want to see a second book unless it's every bit as exciting and interesting as the first. Patience is required. For a sneak peek, I'm adding the first chapter below. Beware, though. This is not the "final" draft, so there may be changes made again.

Chapter One

Bite the Bullet

She was doing it again--tempting fate. No sane kid would go back in there. No sane kid would blindly follow Matt, who dared cars to crash into him and plunged into reckless adventures without a nibble of doubt or fear. Was that it? Had she lost her cool, logical mind?

Sarah shivered and paused at the threshold to Matt's old house. She sank her teeth into her lip as she pushed the door a crack wider. She had to keep going. Matt would notice if she lagged too far behind. She winced as the door rasped on rusty hinges, then crept into the foyer, her powder blue sneakers treading lightly on the hardwood floor. Not lightly enough, though, as a creak leaped off the floor, ricocheted in the hall and up the massive, winding staircase, mocking her like a witch's cackle. No matter what Matt said, this house truly was haunted. A chill breeze swept through the corridor, lifting ringlets of hair off the back of her neck and rustling past her to flutter over Matt's bristly head. He didn't turn around or even seem to notice. He was making for the stairs, his Nikes leaving definitive tread marks on the oak floor like an animal's footprints in mud.

"Matt. Take your shoes off," Sarah whispered.

"Why?" he asked in a rather loud voice.

"Because," she said, pointing to the tracks he was leaving. "What if Nadine's around?"

"Nadine's long gone," said Matt. "The cops are still searching for her. She's probably in China by now."

"I wouldn't be so sure. All of her belongings are still here. At some point she's going to come back to get them. Now that the police aren't watching the house anymore, this is her chance. What if she catches us snooping around?"

"I don't see what she could do to us. She's just one scrawny woman."

"She did quite a bit of damage for one scrawny woman." Sarah shuddered. She could never forget that evil woman with ice chips for eyes and a bony face that, if it hadn't been coated with make-up all the time, would make her look like a hag. Nadine had been Matt's guardian for the past twelve years since his father had disappeared, but she had cared little for him, doing the bare minimum to keep him clothed and fed. All she'd really cared about was gaining control of the multiverse time machine--Matt's father's creation--and making those who stood in her way disappear into the past.

"She's gone now," said Matt, gazing at Sarah calmly. "So we don't have to worry."

"I can't help it," she said, still whispering.

"This is my house. We don't have to whisper. And we don't have to sneak around like a couple of thieves."

"Then why are you hunched over? And why are you walking on tiptoe?"

"Oh," said Matt, straightening up and placing his feet squarely on the floor. "Got me there. But hey, I kind of like being a detective."

Sarah smiled. "Admit it, you'd do anything for a thrill."

"And you always come with," he stated.

Sarah eyed him narrowly, but she couldn't deny it. Why did she always have to come with? Was it because they were best friends, or was it something else? Was it the aura of mystery or the sense of adventure--which always seemed to accompany him--that she couldn't resist? Her heart pattered as she surveyed the gigantic hallway of the decrepit mansion.

"Right," she said, looking away to conceal her frown. Well, at least there was a good reason for her to consent to this little break and enter. Matt still maintained hope that he could crack the code that Nadine had incorporated into Dr. Barnes's--Matt's father's--computer. She'd ensured that Dr. Barnes would remain trapped in the past, using his own creation—the time machine—against him. Sarah and Matt had been searching for this code for the past year, ever since Matt had come to live with her and her father, but with no luck. Scientists had been selected to assist him, but no matter how much they battered at the wall Nadine had erected in the computer, they couldn't break it down. But maybe, just maybe, they could find some clues the police might have missed in Nadine's personal paraphernalia.

The stairs groaned as they mounted the spiral staircase. "It sounds like a banshee," said Sarah, giggling a little hysterically. Matt just rolled his eyes and kept climbing. It looked like he was trying his best to climb casually, but soon he'd hunched over again and his toes barely touched the steps. He turned back and winked.

"You really get into this, don't you?" said Sarah.

"And you don't? I seem to remember you breaking into the lab last year."

Sarah ground her teeth into her lower lip, remembering, yes, that she, the girl who always abided by the rules, had become somewhat of a delinquent since she'd met Matt.

"Let's not talk about it. Let's just find Nadine's code and get the heck out of here." She'd forgotten to whisper. Her words bounced off the vaulted ceiling and seemed to rain down on her.

"Shh," said Matt.

"Nothing to worry about, he says," she muttered, tiptoeing into the hallway close behind him.

They stopped beside the elaborate French doors leading into Nadine's old bedroom. Matt pushed them open hesitantly. A gush of stale air rushed into the room, stirring up cobwebs and driving some scuttling insect out from under the furniture.

"I swear this place is haunted," said Sarah. "How did you ever live here?"

Matt shrugged. "You survive, I guess, with what you have. The house never bothered me. Just Nadine."

He walked purposefully into the obsessively ordered bedroom. Dust clouds seemed to follow him.

Sarah hung back for a second. Crossing this threshold seemed like crossing into another time period. Nadine had state-of-the-art organizers, computers and video recorders on the desk she kept in her room. There wasn't a paper to be seen, and everything was filed, even her make-up and perfume. Not a wrinkle deformed her bedspread or a mislaid item of clothing spoiled the creamy carpet. It seemed even the spiders had been reluctant to spin their webs. She walked over to the dark mahogany dresser.

"What are you doing?" asked Matt. "You're not going to go through her underwear, are you?" He crinkled his nose.

"The police have already looked through this room. If she left anything, it would have to be hidden somewhere they'd missed or didn't want to look through."

"Okay," he said. "You can do it. I'll look through her desk." He opened the top drawer of the matching mahogany desk.

Sarah sorted through the drawer, lifting and shaking underwear, examining pantyhose. She ran her hand along the bottom and back panel, but could find nothing unusual. She slammed the drawer shut.

"Anything?" Matt asked.

"Nothing but skimpy silk undies."

Matt shuddered.


"No luck," he said. "Maybe we should try somewhere else." He gently clicked the next drawer open. A slightly louder click came from downstairs.

Sarah froze. "Matt. Did you hear that?"


"There was a noise downstairs. I think it was the front door."

"That's impossible," whispered Matt. "I locked it after we came in."

"And who has the key?" asked Sarah, raising her eyebrows.

"Oh no," said Matt, shaking his head vigorously. "Not good."

"We’ve got to hide." Sarah looked frantically around the room. She dove for the closet door at the same time as Matt. They scrambled inside and pulled the door toward them just as a floorboard creaked on the top floor.

Sarah and Matt peeked through the crack they had left between the door and the jamb. A thin scarecrow of a woman thrust her high forehead and narrow nose through the French doors into the room.

"Bloody kids," she muttered, her greasy blonde hair hanging in tangled clots around her face. Devoid of make-up and creased with frown lines, her face was like a white mask. This was nothing like the Nadine that Sarah remembered. It seemed that life as a fugitive had wreaked havoc on the formerly immaculate woman.

Nadine wobbled on the chipped heels of her pumps toward her dresser. She wrenched open a drawer and withdrew some underwear and knee-highs. "Bloody miserable kids," she muttered.

Matt made a motion with his hand around his ear. Sarah nodded.

Nadine turned abruptly and headed for the closet. Sarah and Matt quickly backed up--it seemed forever--in the enormous walk-in until they hit a wall. Long evening gowns hung beside them in the corner. They snuggled in behind the silk layers and puffy taffeta. Sarah held her breath as the woman teetered into the closet-warehouse and thrust aside dresses and suits.

Sarah and Matt shrank together as she came dangerously close to their corner. Finally, she withdrew some items of clothing and stumbled back into the room. The door to the closet remained ajar.

Matt and Sarah sighed quietly and rested their heads together, but Sarah sensed something in Matt that was more that just fear. His neck and shoulders appeared tight, his eyes narrowed with intensity. Sarah tried to snare Matt's arm as he sneaked out from behind the gowns and crept toward the opening. Matt shook off her hand. It seemed like he'd come to a decision and she probably wasn't going to like it. He pantomimed attacking Nadine, making punching motions.

Sarah shook her head. Was he crazy? That woman was evil. There was no telling what she would do.

Matt clenched his fist.

Sarah grabbed his arm again, pleading silently for him to reconsider. Matt looked at Nadine, now hunched over her make-up table trying to repair her face, then back at Sarah. She shook her head again. Why couldn't he see that this was madness?

Matt ground his fist silently into his hand. With his chin thrust out, he inched up to the door. Sarah stepped in behind him and peered over his shoulder. Nadine was getting up from the table, her icy blue eyes now enhanced by dark make-up. She crossed over to a mirror beside her bed. Strange. She'd just spent five minutes staring at her reflection in front of her make-up table. Why was she looking in another mirror? Sarah's brow puckered as the woman reached out and caressed the smooth surface. She must see more in that ghastly face than Sarah did. With a jerk, Nadine slid the mirror aside to reveal a square steel door with a dial on the right-hand side. A safe! She spun the dial right, then left, then right. Click. It opened. She reached inside and clamped her spindly fingers on a dark object with a bluish sheen.

Matt coiled back, ready to spring on her, but he froze in that position. Sarah peered over his shoulder and sucked in a gasp.

The object was a gun.

Sarah yanked Matt back into the closet, clamping a hand over his mouth.

Nadine moved as a distant shadow through the room, the gun extending from her hand like an additional appendage. Any thought Matt might have had about jumping the woman seemed to have sped out of his mind. He was heaving silently, his eyes flicking from Nadine in the other room to Sarah with her hand still clenching his mouth. They heard a click as Nadine released the clip to check if the gun was loaded. She slammed the magazine back into the pistol. The snap echoed throughout the room and seemed to drum right into Sarah’s head. It was getting harder and harder to breathe. She couldn't believe it when Nadine touched her lips to the barrel, then slowly lowered her arm and aimed at the closet.

"I'll get you kids," she snarled. "One of these days, I'll get you back." She laughed--an eerie high-pitched laugh that sent chills down Sarah's spine.

Nadine tucked the gun into her purse and walked out the door, leaving the safe wide open. Her sneer was still vividly imprinted in Sarah's mind as she heard the front door slam shut.

Matt sighed loudly. Sarah couldn't seem to catch her breath. She was gasping, hyperventilating. "I . . . don't . . . feel . . . so good."

"Look at me," said Matt, grasping her by the arms and making her face him. "Calm down. She's gone. We're okay."

"I . . . thought she . . . was going . . . to shoot us."

"So did I," said Matt, "but she didn't really see us. She only pictured us in her mind. We're safe for now."

"For now," heaved Sarah.

"Besides, what kind of detective are you if you can't face the wrong end of a gun barrel once and while?"

"Matt. I just decided. I don't want to be a detective anymore."

Matt let go of her arms and walked into the room.

"Matt. I'm waiting for you to say the same thing."

Matt didn't answer. Sarah reluctantly left the shelter of the closet.

"What are you doing?"

He was heading for the safe.

"Have you flipped out? Let's get out of here."

"I think she left something."

Sarah shuffled behind him and peered into the murky black hole. "I don't see anything."

"Voila!" Matt held up a tiny ebony capsule.

"What is it?" she asked.

"I think it's microfilm. This might be our code."

"Why would she use microfilm? It's way outdated."

"I know it's kind of strange, but then again, she's kind of strange. I don't really care as long as I've got something to go on now." Matt’s face seemed radiant as he clasped the film to his chest. He peered into the safe again and removed a bullet.

Sarah backed up a step.

"It's not going to bite," said Matt, "unless it's in a gun."

"I hate guns."

"I don’t think we have to worry about guns or Nadine anymore," he said. "Because, with this," he threw the microfilm up in the air and caught it, "I'm going to set my dad free."

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