The next morning, Kyle’s father’s secretary, Sheila, showed up at the door of his English class. Kyle felt a paralyzing sense of dread pass over him. Professor Morelli walked over to the door. Sheila said something to him in a low voice.
Morelli turned around and scanned the classroom. His eyes focused on Kyle.
“Mr. Dunlap?” he said.
Kyle got up, slung his backpack over his shoulder, and walked over to the door. Sheila motioned him outside and Morelli pulled the door shut, leaving them alone in the hallway.
“Your dad wants to talk to you,” Sheila said. “He said it’s extremely urgent.”
Kyle nodded and followed her down the corridor, his heart pounding harder with each step. The situation brought back a painful memory. The last time he had been called out of class was when he was eleven years old, when his mother had died of a massive stroke. The assistant principal had simply told him that his father wanted to talk to him; he didn’t learn that his mother was dead until he reached the hospital.
When he and Sheila came around the corner where the English department offices were located, he was surprised to find his father standing in the hallway, next to a small room reserved for seminars. Kyle had assumed that he was waiting in his office in the engineering building.
Kyle Senior thanked Sheila as she continued down the hall and out one of the exits, leaving them alone in the hallway. Something was definitely wrong. His father’s face was drawn and cheesy looking.
“Son,” Kyle Senior said, his voice strained, “I want you to know, I didn’t have anything to do with this.”
Kyle swallowed and glanced at the seminar room door, which was closed.
“There are some people here who want to talk to you. They’re from the—”
The door opened. A well-built man in a dark blue suit looked Kyle over, then turned to Kyle’s father. “We’d like to speak with him alone, professor, if you don’t mind.”
“No,” Kyle Senior said, looking guiltily at Kyle.
“Come on in, son,” the man said. He put a firm hand on Kyle’s shoulder and guided him into the small room. Something about the way the hand felt told Kyle that it had spent much of its life guiding people into small rooms.
There was another man sitting at the conference table. He also wore a suit, but he didn’t have the athletic, clean-cut look of the first man—he wore glasses, had a sagging belly, and his brown hair was a bit disheveled. He merely nodded to Kyle.
The brawny man motioned to a chair directly across from the other man.
“Why don’t you have a seat?” he said to Kyle.
Kyle guardedly set down his backpack and complied. The brawny man sat down next to the other man. They both just sat there, side-by-side, gazing at Kyle as if they were sizing him up.
“Mr. Dunlap,” the brawny one said, “we represent the United States government. We understand that you know the location of this unusual water that the chemistry department has been testing here. Is that true?”
Kyle looked at him for a moment, then at the other man. “What are you, CIA agents or something?”
The two men exchanged glances. “That’s really none of your concern,” the brawny one continued. “Do you or do you not know where the water sample came from?”
“Why do you want to know?”
They glanced at each other again. “Listen, son,” the brawny one said, “you could be in a lot of trouble here, and I would strongly advise you to cooperate with us.”
“Kyle,” the other man said in a much gentler tone, “that water is very...special. If it fell into the wrong hands, it could be very dangerous. You don’t want that to happen, do you?”
Kyle let out a short laugh. “I’m not in the fifth grade. I know all about the specific gravity being greater than one, and the isotope theory.”
The two men exchanged glances again, both looking surprised.
“What do you want it for?” Kyle asked. “To make a weapon or something?”
The brawny man’s face seemed to turn to stone. “Now you listen up, son. We don’t have time for any crap. You can either tell us where this water came from or—”
The smart-looking man touched the other one’s wrist. “Let me handle this, will you?”
The brawny man glared at Kyle for a second.
Brawn and Brains, Kyle thought.
“We can see that you’re a bright young man,” Brains said, in an academic tone that reminded Kyle of his father. “I’m sorry if I seemed condescending. Of course you’d want to know what we intend to do with your discovery, and—”
“It’s not my discovery,” Kyle interrupted.
“It’s nobody’s ‘discovery.’ It’s just water from a spring, that’s all.”
“Well,” he said, smiling, “I’m glad that you feel that way. And if that’s the case, there shouldn’t be any problem telling us where it is.”
Kyle looked at Brawn, then back at Brains, groping for some excuse.
“We know about your friend, Kyle,” Brawn said.
Kyle tried not to show any reaction.
“Where is she?” Brains asked.
Kyle was silent.
Brawn slowly rose to his feet. “Look, son, you can either tell us where she is now or—”
“Kyle,” Brains broke in, “it’s very important that she get immediate medical attention. We really have no idea what her, or anyone’s, reaction might be to a new water isotope. I know you don’t want her to fall ill, and neither do we.”
Kyle chuckled softly. There was greed in both men’s eyes. “You don’t care about what happens to her. All you want to do is see what it did to her and find out if you can do it to somebody else.”
They glanced at each other again, as if they were surprised at Kyle’s audacity. Brains took off his glasses and polished the lenses with his tie. “I can see that you have a very jaded view of your government,” he said, “but we really are interested in the new isotope for humanitarian purposes.”
“Oh, is that so? Like what?”
“Well,” Brains said, putting his glasses back on, “there are a lot of possible applications. It may be useful in medicine...agriculture...environmental cleanup...”
“Yeah. And it also might be fun to dump it into the water supply of some unsuspecting country you want to manipulate.”
Brawn took a step forward. “I’ve had enough of your smart-ass college-boy crap! You can either tell us where this water came from and where your friend is, or you can be placed under arrest right now.”
Kyle just sat there. He was scared to death, but he thought they were bluffing. “Is there a law against knowing where a spring is and not telling?”
Brawn’s eyes became so focused and intense that he looked like the Terminator. “You don’t know what you’re dealing with, kid. When it comes to matters of national security, the law doesn’t mean a damn th—”
“Stop!” Brains said, raising his voice for the first time.
“Sit down and let me handle this before you say something you wish you hadn’t.”
Brawn grudgingly lowered himself back into his chair, but his piercing blue eyes stayed riveted on Kyle’s.
“Now there’s no need for us to get in a big scrap over this. You’re absolutely right, Kyle—we can’t force you to cooperate with us. You have to do so willingly. So you just go on back to your English class and think about what we’ve talked about here. You seem like a man of high principles. Think about the right thing to do in this situation. Your friend may become seriously ill. The isotope you know the whereabouts of could fall into the wrong hands and be used for purposes I can’t imagine you, or any other thinking human being, supporting.” He shrugged. “It’s really very simple. You can choose to stop that from happening, or you can choose not to stop it from happening. It’s up to you.”
He rose and offered his hand to Kyle. “Thanks for taking the time to talk to us.” He glanced over at Brawn, who simply scowled.
Kyle reluctantly shook hands, then picked up his backpack and went out the door. His father was still standing outside.
“Kyle, listen. I—"
Kyle brushed past him and kept moving.
Kyle brushed past him and kept moving.