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Cass and Nat: NorthWatch, #3

Cass and Nat: NorthWatch, #3

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Cass and Nat: NorthWatch, #3

Length:
419 pages
5 hours
Released:
Dec 28, 2020
ISBN:
9781622534654
Format:
Book

Description

After basking momentarily in her father's inauguration and midnight marriage, Cass must race to Boston Children's Hospital to save Little Mac. She's beginning to suspect that she can no longer feast without at least two disasters for dessert. When Little Mac's wheelchair explodes, she's certain.

Cass Watson's father, Glen Watson, is now President. In past months, she has acquired twin brothers, Lep and Little Mac. She loves her new siblings as much as her almost-boyfriend, Keith, but during their first White House visit, her life becomes even more complicated.

The International Academy for Excellent Youth in Washington is dying. Most of the highly and often secretly protected resident children of diplomats and of America's top 0.5 percent have left because of the change in the National Administration. After Cass introduces her entire family at a White House news conference, they greet the press and visitors in the White House East Room. Near the end of the reception, the executive director of the Academy, with the permission of Cass's pa, drops off two nine-year-olds, Patricia and Lemuel Bok.

Cass has always wanted a little sister, and befriends the Bok twins despite what they admit.

EVOLVED PUBLISHING PRESENTS the third book in the funny, fast-moving, action-packed "NorthWatch" series of young adult coming-of-age mystery/thrillers. [DRM-Free]

BOOKS BY MR. CAGEY MAGEE:

  • Cass and Wat (NorthWatch - 1)
  • Cass and Logan (NorthWatch - 2)
  • Cass and Nat (NorthWatch - 3)
  • Cass and Keith (NorthWatch - 4) [Coming Late 2021]

MORE GREAT YOUNG ADULT FICTION FROM EVOLVED PUBLISHING:

  • The "Chosen" Series by Jeff Altabef and Erynn Altabef
  • The "Darla Decker Diaries" Series by Jessica McHugh
  • The "Dirt and Stars" Series by Kevin Killiany
  • "The Desert" Series by Angela Scott

 

Released:
Dec 28, 2020
ISBN:
9781622534654
Format:
Book

About the author

Author, editor, teacher, virtuoso, Mr. Cagey Magee, graduated from modestly bookish, obnoxious kid to obsessive young-adult reader at around the age of eleven. He lived not far from an excellent library filled with novels that led him to faraway universes and fascinating people. He devoured them—the novels, not the people—and soon became obsessed with writing his own horror, young adult, mystery-thriller, and coming-of-age stories. Cagey’s first novel came in at the size of two long books. He quickly learned the error of his ways when he needed to print the thing out and carry it. His current novels are more compact but still a little offbeat. He inevitably falls in love with his characters and really hates to kill them. For Cage, the near future holds infinite marvels. No one is all good or all bad. He loves them for who they are and where they go next, and hopes his readers will hang in there for the bumpy ride.


Book Preview

Cass and Nat - Cagey Magee

Rowling.

Chapter 1 – Death

—2037—

The big bastards murdered my Mac!

Monticello, New York. Meg’s House. 8:00 AM. Lep.

Are you awake-alive, Mac? Lep reached over in bed and shook a shoulder. You alive, BroTwin? When no answer came, he got up on his knees, grabbed both of his brother’s shoulders, and shook the whole damned thing. Nothing came back except a snore scrap that could have been a fuzzy fart. After all the damned crap that had happened, Lep’s job of being a live twin and not a damned dead-body corpse meant lots, so he shook the body again, this time until the eyeballs cracked.

What’s the matter, Leppy? Mac sounded effin drunk.

Effin, I say. I thought you croaked to death.

I was breathing, wasn’t I?

Of course you were. You’d be stiff otherwise. You didn’t answer worth shit, though, and you’re the only one in the whole-entire world who always answers me whether or not I make sense. If you don’t, you’re dead, breathing or not. The thought that we might not make it to eleven together always scares me crappy, and it just almost did.

"Oh, okay. I’m not sure I’m awake-alive, but I’m happy-pleased about everything. We helped our new dad survive a kidnapping and even got to carry guns. Our adults actually trusted us for a change."

"Yeah, Mac, the big-uns did trust us, but maybe they shouldn’t have done. We did sneak our guns back and hid them for the future."

Hey, we both make great marksmanship grades. I know that, but without permission, we aren’t supposed to have guns outside of school, but most kids don’t get around the way we do or shoot worth shit. Don’t tell. If asked, lie. Hey, maybe I should write a parent-care book. Am I awake enough for you now, Lep?

Awake? Alive? I guess. Put your BoyBags on. We need to go find Pip so we can get this day started.

Okay. Mac’s eyes slid half-closed again. I already have my nice warm BoyBags on. Quit whining.

Lep felt ready to kill Mac but only slapped him across the head on his face.

Mac re-awoke up some then. How would you like a black eye, Aleppo? He sounded awake and annoyed but still looked half somewhere else and kinda ashy. At least he’d primed his pump and started his ‘ternal-bust engine.

Confidentially: "I wouldn’t like another black eye, Macee. We’ve traded those too much for my guts to want any more of ‘em. How would you like to get you up and get you going like a whole-entire human kid-person? I’m saying that we’re not going to be first to breakfast or bathroom or shower if you don’t effin cooperate."

Are you saying we’re sweaty?

I’m saying we stink funky-plenty, but don’t misthink that shit. I’m proud of us. Yesterday, we saved Glen from the OmegaTroops and cracked him over his muscle-bound hull with a champagne bottle to launch him off as president of the United States—well, we bandaged him and got him into the plane, anyway.

That’s true, Mac agreed.

And we did his presidential balls, which turned out fun, kinda like a big playdate. And we danced with the rich and pretty and ugly all evening when we weren’t filling our mouth-holes. And we put up with cheek pinching and ass smacking all evening too—I may actually need a four-cheek transplant.

"I know all that. Enough, Lep."

"Shut up your face, Macee. I’m documenting here. After we did his balls, we married nuDadPres to nuMomPrinc at 1:00 AM today. The president and your school principal as Dad and Mom: jeez, that’s a bowely rush if I ever heard one. I don’t remember much marrying because I nodded off asleep. I guess we married ‘em—they’re acting like it anyway. Nat’s walls ain’t ‘ticular thick, him neither. They couldn’t wait to get to it. I do wonder why Nipsy didn’t warn us about the wedding before the thing upped and happened—do not pass ‘Go’—if you know my thinking."

Maybe she didn’t know, Aleppo, or, more likely, maybe she kept it secret for a reason, like to avoid ThePress.

"Anyhow, with all that, we got ourselves a swell set of parents, a brother and sister, the smartest uncle-brother in the world, a grandmother, grandfather-father, granduncle-uncle, and Keithy, whatever he is. I have four kid friends now, counting you, who I don’t count because you’ll stay my twin until one of us croaks dead already. We’ll still be memories, of course. Somebody told me that, and it’s in Harry Potter too."

Anything else? Mac yawned right into Lep’s face.

His breath stinks. Well, last and least, we went to bed without showering. We deserve to stink, but we don’t deserve to stay that way and dump it on other people. Besides, stinking makes me itch.

Mac all quiet stared at Lep for a minute. I don’t feel so hot, Lep, and if one of us becomes a politician, it’s definitely going to be you. You do really big word-gushes for a ten-year-old kid-person.

"I can’t be a politician. People think I’m retarded or, at least, that I have a busted brain train. The rest think I’m nuts. You know that I’m not really any of that, but pretending it gets me lots of stuff. It saves me some griefs, too—fewer fights, more protection. But by the nevertheless, though, who would vote for a crazy person?"

"It’s been done, and I know what you’re doing, Aleppo. I also know you can switch back if you want to. I’ll get up. I do feel kinda odd, but let’s get up and shower. Maybe that’ll help. We’ll need to wear our tuxedo pants. We came here straight from the inauguration ball. Our regular clothes are back at WatTechPrep and at Glen’s floor in Washington. Whatever it is, it’s holding my pants for ransom or something."

Naw. Bored now, Lep wanted to get on with it.

What?

We didn’t get nearly enough sleep last night for growing whatevers, and I meant ‘Naw,’ ‘cause somebody left us clothes. I’ll get ‘em.

Lep scrambled out of bed to the table by the window, grabbed both DisPlastic shopping bags, and lugged them back to the bed with a couple of floor-drags on the way. Hey, Macee, these are our clothes from school. Macee? Asleep again? Oh, he’s gonna get it bad right up his left nose. Oh, shit. That smell. Lep’s roommates pissed that smell all the time. That’s impossible. Mac never—

Lep jumped on the big bed and threw back the blankets, and saw the spreading red splotch on the sheet and on the crotch of Mac’s BoyBags. No, God, you’re fuckin lying to me. TwinBro ain’t sleeping. The big bastards murdered my Mac! Somebody get in here, damn it! It’s a freakin effin ‘mergency! Help! The big bastards murdered my Mac!

Keith, Pip, and Nat almost tripped over each other’s feet, running into the room and to the bed.

Nips followed right behind ‘em, shoved through the crowd, and made it to the bed. She felt Mac’s head, squeezed his wrist, felt his neck, looked at the bed and BoyBags, shook Mac gently, and then slapped his face to see if he would come alive.

Keith. She sounded quiet but as tight as glass. "Keith, call 911 for an ambulance. Tell them it’s a life-threatening emergency. Do not tell them that it involves the president’s son, and get Cass—she’s at the end of the hall. We need her now! Hurry! His heart is beating, but not well."

We can’t lose Mac! Pip blurted. The ‘my-dog-died’ look on his puss horrified Lep.

I’m goin to the hospital with my brother! Lep said. Don’t anyone effin bitch neither, because I’m goin!

Chapter 2 – Bayview House

—2037—

From Lep to Mac and back again.

Boston, Massachusetts. 8:00 AM. Nat

The next morning, Nat Stag, the now limp, exhausted, so-called tech-wizard of WatTechGlobal, led Cass and Lep out of the Boston Children’s Hospital, through the freezing wind to the limo.

Jess popped out of the driver’s seat to open the doors for them. In Boston, January winds like those in Maine penetrated clothing and froze your liver and everything attached to it. With Glen in Washington, Nips had remained at the hospital with Little Mac but had sent the rest of them home to Nat’s house. No one argued. The night had scared and exhausted them.

Nat joined Cass and Lep in the back seat and cuddled in for the ride. Kids, he said, sounding tired even to himself, meet Jess, my bodyguard-chauffeur. She works security at WatTechGlobal over in Cambridge but works for me when I’m in town. She also helps run Bayview House and makes sure that her parents don’t misbehave.

Which they often do. Jess let go a cute little half-giggle laugh. Nat had never heard another like it.

Jess, sitting by the far door is Cass, Nat continued, Glen’s daughter. Between us is Aleppo, Lep. His twin, Little Mac, is in Intensive Care. Nips is still at the hospital.

Hi Jess, Lep moaned in a pitifully pooped singsong. Throughout the night, he’d stayed with his brother whenever the nurses allowed. When he couldn’t, he sat frozen and alert in the waiting room.

Good to meet you, Jess. Cass reached over the seat and shook her hand. Great looking car.

That he is, and thank you, Ms. Watson. Harry is mine, but I reserve him for Nat’s run-around whenever we’re lucky enough to have Nat here. Harry can run non-stop for five days without a charge—he’s a magnificent Elantra limo!

"Please make that Cass, Jess. ‘Ms.’ makes me sound like my dead mother, Skooter. Come to think of it, Pa told me that she didn’t like it either—a strictly first-name kind of broad."

Cass, it is.

Nat sighed and nearly passed out. Maybe I’m getting too old for this. Being the co-owner of a global corporation, the size of WatTechGlobal provided great perks and income. He even owned one of the four penthouses above the mother headquarters. Glen owned one. Logan and Mike owned one each.

Unfortunately, Nat’s best friend and protégé, Mac Beverly, had owned the fourth penthouse. He’d lived there while he plotted against Glen and created the OmegaTroops from recycled teens and tweens. His summer camp, Revelation, provided some Omega candidates. Most came from emancipated street teens drifting in the wind in big cities like New York, Chicago, Detroit, and many more.

Nat questioned whether auto-emancipating all kids at sixteen had been such a great idea; buying Bayview House, though, was. Some years ago, he splurged and bought the property supposedly owned by John Hancock and haunted by his friends. The mansion at the edge of Beacon Hill overlooked the Back Bay residential area, as it once had the Back Bay. The then idiot town fathers filled in the part of the bay to create an upscale residential area.

A personal investment, the revolutionary mansion fascinated Nat. He enjoyed owning a bit of history and of quiet—admittedly spooky quiet. His WatTechGlobal penthouse hadn’t provided that, as someone was always knocking on his door. No one bothered him when he wanted to live free and rest at Bayview. Ghosts and all, it had significantly figured in the Mac Beverly affair. Nat missed Big Mac. He was family and was a treasured part of WatTechGlobal, after all, and his tech skills knew no bounds.

Then there was Lep. Consoling him had become a full-time job, even though Lep had become deathly quiet now. When Nips finally left for Washington, Nat would need both Jess and her nurse mother, Mildred, to help with the twins. Little Mac had survived renal surgery and the loss of a kidney only to end up in an eyes-open coma. The doctors refused to promise that the little guy would escape brain damage and return to normal.

Poor Lep seemed to know all that by instinct. Guilt could not even begin to describe the beating he was giving himself. When the OmegaTroopers whipped Little Mac on NorthWatch Island just before the inauguration, they apparently exacerbated a previous injury. At Nat and Meg’s house in Monticello yesterday morning, when Mac passed out with his shorts full of bloody urine, Lep admitted that he knew about the problem.

Smart kid, if a bit odd. He had begged for adult help, not like him at all.

In the quiet isolation of the delicious limo, Cass reached over, pulled Lep into a tight hug, and eased his head onto her lap.

Nat could not imagine how Lep could survive without his twin. Little Mac’s death would crush Cass too.

She had rescued him from Hawk Island and, from the looks of it, had fallen in silent love with him. Cass allowed her taciturn straight-faced teen-girl flag to fly high—except with children, especially Mac and Lep.

Nat hoped that Cass would change her mind about not wanting children of her own. She would make an excellent mother, perhaps even better than Bodil, the Watson queen. She took six-year-old Nat in and mothered him through an initially precarious childhood.

Jess. Nat felt thoroughly done in. "Please take us to Longfellows first. We need excellent food. Lep will love their Avocado-Salmon Toast. After a Longfellows five-shot re-charge, we’ll go on to the house."

Sure, Nat, and you’re not a macchiato, though I think we could all use one just now.

Can Mac get well, Uncle Nat? Lep left his head in Cassie’s lap and did not look up or change expression.

"You know as much as I do, Lep. The doctor explained it to all of us very clearly. Comas can be mysterious, and their results, unpredictable. What do you think?"

Mac and I are sure that he can get back to normal. Lep yawned. Well, normal for him.

Me too, Lep. Cass gently petted Lep’s head. I think he’ll be fine.

It’s in God’s hands. Nat made a mental note to visit 10:00 AM confession and mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. Every now and then, he needed a spiritual refresh outside of Sunday. He didn’t plan to become an A & P Catholic, ashes and palms. Food and kids first, though.

God thinks Mac will be okay too. Lep sounded halfway past the thin cusp of sleep they were all feeling. She’s just not sure how long it’s going to take.

Lep, Cassie asked, are you sure that unDad, Mac Sr., injured your brother?

Him and others. Damn, yes. His game of Kick-the-Kid came just after he told us we weren’t his sons.

"Do you think it happened because he found out?" Cass asked.

"Naw. Bunch of stuff. He must’ve known for a time. It took unDad a while to cook himself up that friggin’ hot. We knew he’d turned into a volcano with a lid, just not why. When he erupted, he upped and tossed Mac down the hill in front of Hawk House and, when Macee stopped rolling, kicked him the rest of the way to the beach. It’s a long, high hill.

That’s awful. Nat’s face darkened. I can’t believe that my best friend would do that.

Lep ignored Nat. "Mac peed red lots that night. He showed me. I took my feeble life in my hands and told the great unDad. Surprise on shit, he felt terrible for letting his temper make him do it. He tongue-worked me over a long time about how his temper did it and not his big old self. He didn’t even say ‘sorry.’ He never admitted to making mistakes."

Did Mac Sr. do anything to help Mac then, Lep? Nat had just conjured up a whole new set of reasons to kill the dead Mac Beverly, the ‘unDad.’

Sure. We took Mac to a doctor in Bar Harbor, but the red pee had stopped by then. Lep paused and tried to find his voice among his tears. "We told the doc that Mac had fallen down the hill on accident. Bruises had covered him. The doctor told us that if Mr. Redpiss didn’t come back, we shouldn’t worry about him."

That was the end of it? Cass asked.

"No. It sure effin was not! Later, Mac told me that Mr. Redpiss came back now-and-then and every-so-often, but twin-swore me to secrecy on pain of my works falling off and getting eaten by rats. I think we both forgot about it after a while. It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have taken Mac’s word that it didn’t amount to anything. No, I sure shouldn’t have." Forlorn.

It’s not your fault, Aleppo. Cass sounded as though she knew Lep wouldn’t buy that.

That was when Grandma Cali and Aunt Amy showed up on Hawk Island and took me back to WatTechPrep. She wanted to take Mac too, but he wanted to stay and train. It was one of them, ‘Hell no, I won’t go,’ things. He was trying to train his body up to kicking bully-ass. Anyway, Mac told me to leave.

Tears began rolling down Lep’s cheeks and dripping into Cass’s lap as he remembered it all. I almost died without my brother. In my head, I guess I really did. My unDad, the fucking son-of-a-bull-bitch, called me a retard and unsuited for his precious God-damned ass-bullying OmegaTroops.

Lep, Cass cautioned.

"Sorry for the slang, Cassie. I guess I really am unsuitable for everything."

No, you’re not unsuitable for anything, Nat said, smiling as he briefly remembered his six-year-old self. But do reel in the language. We all feel the same way, especially me.

Nat knew that he lagged behind the times. He disapproved of alcohol, sex, pornography, dishonesty, and profanity for kids, even though he knew they all did all that and more behind adult backs. He didn’t like four-letter-words in adults either, even though he hadn’t minded them a bit as a six-year-old dock-kid in Maine. Sailors have incredible vocabularies. So did I. Adopted Mom Bodil had broken him of that with the speed of light.

And Lep, he continued, get that crap out of your mind. I don’t care what Mac Sr. thought or said about you. I know you better than he did.

Sorry, Uncle Nat. Lep’s apologies remained ever ready, as though he figured that if he opened his mouth, he had even odds of making a mistake. It’s just that when I think about the junk unDad did to us, I want a gun. Don’t got a gun, so I use my big fat mouth, my swear-gun, and poison buckshot flies all over the effin damn-butt place.

Nat, and probably Cassie too, very much wished that Lep would drowse off to whatever playground upset ten-year-olds visited when they slept. The little guy had been brave through the whole surgery but now seemed to be swimming through a black hole of hurt. Last night, he shed tears from time to time, but few. Now, though, his memories and false guilt appeared ready to devour the little guy.

Nat felt nearly as unhappy as Lep. Last night, Mac’s heart stopped three times, and the docs seemed to have increasing difficulty bringing him back. Finally, he stabilized.

As painful to consider as it was, Nat could not convince himself that they should maintain Mac indefinitely in his near-vegetative state. That would be Glen’s decision, of course, but Nat would need to handle the matter. He and his uncles, Logan and Mike, managed many of the delicate Watson problems. His brother had accepted the presidency but bowed out of the family in ever so many ways.

Nat couldn’t imagine what Little Mac was going through. Many coma patients were aware of what transpired around them.

Chapter 3 – Mildred

—2037—

I’m in the land of friggin giants.

Boston. Beacon Hill. 10:00 AM. Cass.

A near-religious food experience at Longfellows had helped reduce Cass and her boys’ tension. Now, Cass got her first glimpse of Bayview House through the long cast-iron front fence. It’s a colossal mansion, Uncle Nat.

No, it’s just a big historic house, Cass, probably a haunted one, and definitely a confusing one. I doubt that even I have found all the rooms. I bought it for its historical value, but it was a decent investment too, as long as I don’t improve it too much. It even has the original indoor and outdoor privies. I remodeled all the flushers, tubs, showers, and décor with my own touch.

I’m familiar with your bathroom touch, Nat. Cass yawned. Little Brother Pip wanted to live in the whirlpool at NorthWatch, and Little Mac wanted to crap in the bidet at school.

It’s been done. In hanging urinals too. As far as NorthWatch Castle is concerned, that one is a Mac Beverly knock-off.

The iron entrance gates opened with a faint chorus of squeaks as the limo pulled in. The front of the enormous house formed an oversized U, allowing a dozen or so cars or horses to park off the street but behind the formidable cast-iron fence and gate.

Did George Washington sleep here, Nat? Lep had sat up when the limo slowed and now shook the sleep out of his eyes. He had substantially awakened to enjoy breakfast at Longfellows but had dozed off again on the way here. Of course, a dead man would have awakened in the face of the delightful smells and tastes of Longfellows.

Possibly, George did, Lep. I know that Tom Jefferson and John Adams stayed here for a few weeks once.

Were they married to each other? Lep always figured that the way things were now, they always had been.

I don’t think so. John Hancock owned the place then. He might not have approved.

And all those strong married women, Cass proclaimed in her best Nips voice, were what kept the men moving and eventually founding the country. Among all the interesting patriots of that era, I would most love to have dined with Abigail Adams. She’s my hero.

Isn’t that heroine? Lep reactivated his devious little half-smile.

Don’t be sexist, Lep. Cass’s tone left no room for argument. If women can be husbands, they can damned well be heroes. Abigail would have made an excellent president.

If they couldn’t vote, they couldn’t run. Lep sounded like Pip and Little Mac. John Hancock signed the Declaration of Independence before anyone else, didn’t he?

Yes, he definitely did. Cass had become vaguely aware that she could turn into Nips at will. I suspect that many of the stories about John Hancock and Paul Revere are untrue.

Hancock owned this place, though. Right? Lep could mine information as well as the best computer could.

Yep. Hancock even built it. Cass was beginning to appreciate that Lep always listened and always remembered. And I repeat: indoor privies or not, Abigail Adams would have made a grand president, much better than George Washington, with his wooden teeth and sandstone foundations.

Jessica pulled the limo up to the main entrance. We’re home, Dr. Stag. Jess always seemed cheerful, even in Boston traffic.

Nat had described her as being exceptionally strong too. She once tried to open a stuck door in Bayview House and broke it in half. Nat had also mentioned that all of the house staff doubled as bodyguards. Jess’s father, Jack, even handled Nat’s personal investments.

On this occasion, Jess, once outside of the limo, gave the house’s exterior a once-over before she opened Nat’s door. No sign of life, Nat. Mildred and Jack should be here, though. Jess had always called her parents by their first names.

They don’t know we’re coming. Nat shrugged. Our arrival will annoy your mom something fierce. She doesn’t even know I’m in town, much less about Little Mac’s situation. The nurse in her is going to have a hissy-fit. ‘Have skills will travel,’ is her motto.

Cassie climbed out of the car and stretched her entire body. Worrying quietly in a hospital had never appealed to her, despite her deep fondness for Little Mac.

Lep appeared next to her without the personal fanfare that usually announced him and without the electrical surge that usually super-charged him. He didn’t share that trait with his more secretive brother.

Lep would make an excellent spy, Cassie thought. He can change personas on a dime, particularly from Lep to Mac and back again. She’d even considered the possibility that they could become one person at will.

She and Lep followed Jess and Nat to the front entrance. The front of Bayview House radiated visions of horse-drawn coaches, powdered wigs, and muskets. Cass could easily imagine 1770s clandestine-plotting transpiring here.

If Cass failed to become presidentress, she wanted to become the next best thing, a Stephen King writer who used fiction to attack the age-old white male conspiracy in the Senate, not that she wished to have any other color male conspiracy there. When it came to novels, she worshiped J.K. Rowling, William Faulkner, Mark Twain, Cagey Magee, Victor Hugo, and especially Stephen King. She would be delighted to write as well as they did.

Cass had thought that Stephen had passed some time ago, chuckling, to join the father of horror in the sky. Actually, multi-billionaire Mr. King was calmly sitting in Maine, in his nineties, writing novels under three names, so he could publish all simultaneously. Cass had discovered Mr. King’s continued existence by reading about it at length in the OnishiWashingtonPost, where journalistic excellence still lived.

Jessica opened the polished carved-oak front doors and led the way, Nat behind her, Cass and Lep a couple of feet behind Nat. Men first, women and children behind, just like an evacuation.

The house’s front hall resembled a museum operated by Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, Benedict Arnold, and the like to display their actions and wisdom.

Cass wondered where all the influential women were. Probably in the kitchen, the bed, or the woodwork.

Nat’s historic house appeared a bizarre townhouse plucked from a posh London neighborhood but furnished with an odd combination of local, imported, early-American, and American Indian décor, all immaculate. Cassie could see no dust on the myriad polished surfaces, and the plank floor shined to the point of looking wet.

Lep looked tiny as he gazed up to the high ceiling murals, around at the hardwood paneled walls, and down at hooked rugs, oriental rugs, and the long red carpet that led to the grand staircase. A separate, blue carpet climbed the steps.

So where’s the white carpet? Paintings hung all about.

Nat reached for a long sash hanging from a wall outcropping and gave it a tug.

I bet the sash rings a bell in the basement, Cass said.

Of course, it does, Nat affirmed. "That’s where my servants live, Jessica’s folks and Jessie too. They’re not really servants, though, and they wouldn’t need to live down there. They enjoy the privacy. Along with Mildred and Jack’s preferences, I like to retain the historic ambiance. As I mentioned, I even kept the original privies in the house."

Privies, huh. Lep stopped to think about that. And it has your fancy tubs and pissers too? That’s real history, that is.

They all stood quietly then, waiting for a response to the sash pull. After two minutes or so, footsteps neared from somewhere, and a side door ahead of them squeaked open. Two automatic shotguns appeared, then the two persons pointing them, a woman-and-three-quarters and an even huger man. Cass assumed they were Mildred and Jack.

I’m in the land of frigging giants.

It’s me, guys, Nat announced. Sorry I didn’t have a chance to let you know we were coming. We were at the hospital all night.

Apparently-Mildred slowly lowered her weapon as though she still feared that Nat might be an evil double or a demon wearing Nat’s meat-suit. You lost your cell phone, did you, Natty? On the edge of sarcasm, maybe past it.

We almost shot you, Apparently-Jack told Nat. I prefer not to murder my employer. It would be a terribly final way to lose a job. Then again—

You wanna off me too? Lep put on his best face of mock horror.

Not unless you misbehave. Mildred sounded very serious. You know, misbehave by breaking something or speaking out-of-turn. We are a tidy, fragile, organized house.

Cass, Lep whispered loudly. Tie me up.

Everyone started to laugh except Lep. Eventually, though, he joined in with giggles of his own. It took a lot to really scare the little guy.

Mildred stood at least six-feet-six and weighed probably two-hundred-fifty. No matter, she hurried forward, fell to her knees without apparent pain or breakage, and hugged Lep, whether he wanted to be hugged or not. For three seconds, he looked terrified, probably scared that Mildred’s big body might absorb him. After a few more seconds, though, he hugged her back, as much of her as he could reach around, mainly her neck.

Cassie and Lep, Nat said, "may I present the glue that holds this place together, Mr. and Mrs. Jack and Mildred Zuckerberg-Dung. Jack, Mildred, this young lady is my niece Cassandra—she prefers Cassie or Cass—and my nephew Aleppo, Lep, by a much better name. His twin brother, Mac, is in Boston Children’s Hospital. He lost a kidney and is now in a hopefully temporary coma. We’ve had a hell of a night."

Mildred began, Mac as in—

Yes. Nat obviously had decided not to mince words. Mac Beverly Sr. rejected both boys when he discovered he hadn’t fathered them. Several beatings and kickings from him, and much more from the OmegaTroops, including a brutal whipping, cost Little Mac his kidney and almost his life.

Mildred’s angry eyes and massive rage could have shaken Beacon Hill. She obviously suppressed the comments she yearned to make and stood with Lep still in her arms. I’m Mildred, Leppy. That’s my husband, Jack, and my little daughter, Jess.

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