The Last Dance (Soul Survivor Series #3)

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Overview

Spring is about to give way to summer and love is in the air. It's the weekend after Memorial Day and the students of Huntingdon Valley High School are anxiously awaiting their prom. Heather Barnes has found the guy of her dreams, John Knox, a senior at a nearby high school whom she met in a Christian chat room. Although Heather has never actually "met" John in person, she plans to go to the prom with him against the advice of her best friend, Jodi Adams. Soon, Heather will discover John's true identity. Can ...

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Overview

Spring is about to give way to summer and love is in the air. It's the weekend after Memorial Day and the students of Huntingdon Valley High School are anxiously awaiting their prom. Heather Barnes has found the guy of her dreams, John Knox, a senior at a nearby high school whom she met in a Christian chat room. Although Heather has never actually "met" John in person, she plans to go to the prom with him against the advice of her best friend, Jodi Adams. Soon, Heather will discover John's true identity. Can Jodi, Bruce, and Kat rescue Heather before it's too late or will the prom be her last dance?

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780849943218
  • Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
  • Publication date: 6/1/1902
  • Series: Soul Survivor Series , #3
  • Pages: 176
  • Product dimensions: 5.64 (w) x 8.54 (h) x 0.51 (d)

Meet the Author

Dr. Tim LaHaye is president of Tim LaHaye Ministries and founder of the Pre Trib Research Center. He has writtenmore thansixty non-fiction books. Dr. LaHaye holds a D.Min. degree from Western Theological Seminary and the Doctor of Literature degree from Liberty University. He and his wife, Beverly, have been married more thansixty-fiveyears.

Bob DeMoss served as a youth culture specialist for Focus on the Family for seven years and is one of America's leading authorities on pop culture. He has authored ten books, is an internationally acclaimed speaker, and has made appearances on Good Morning America, Geraldo, and MSNBC.

Biography

Sometimes, while sitting on airplanes, evangelical preacher Tim LaHaye would ask himself, “What if the Rapture occurred on an airplane?" That germ of an idea grew into the phenomenally successful Left Behind series, which LaHaye coauthors with fiction writer Jerry B. Jenkins. The books combine Biblical prophecy with speculative fiction to produce an action-packed thriller about events between the Rapture, when (according to one Christian tradition) the faithful will ascend to heaven, and the Second Coming.

Before the series began, Jenkins had carved out a career writing other people's autobiographies -- he ghostwrote or co-wrote those of Billy Graham, Orel Herschiser, Hank Aaron, and Nolan Ryan, among others -- as well as writing novels and a few inspirational books on marriage and parenting. Tim LaHaye also wrote books on marriage and faith, served as the pastor for a ministry in California, and co-founded The Pre-Trib Research Center, a Bible scholarship group dedicated to the study of end-times prophecy. LaHaye spent several years searching for a coauthor who could take his vision of the earth's last days -- including that intriguing image of passengers vanishing from an airplane -- and spin it into fiction. Finally, LaHaye and Jenkins were introduced by their mutual literary agent at Alive Communications, and Jenkins began writing the story of airline captain Rayford Steele, whose wife and son vanish along with millions of other true believers. Those "left behind" on Earth have a last chance to choose sides in the ensuing battle between good and evil.

The books became a blockbuster hit. Sales of the Left Behind series soared with each successive volume, and by 2001, ABC News reported, 50 million had been sold. "The formula combines Tom Clancy-like suspense with touches of romance, high-tech flash and Biblical references," The New York Times wrote, explaining how its authors pulled off "an unparalleled achievement for an evangelical novel." LaHaye and Jenkins were stunned by their own success: "I've been writing for 40 years, with 12 million books in print, but I've never seen anything like this," said LaHaye.

The series has spawned a slew of spinoffs: comic books, calendars, a young adults' series, dramatized audio recordings and a movie based on the first book. It has also generated controversy, both within and without the Christian community, for issues ranging from politics (the U.N. figures into the story as a tool of the Antichrist) to Scriptural interpretation (many New Testament scholars reject LaHaye's belief, first popularized by John Nelson Darby in the 1830s, in a seven-year tribulation period following the Rapture).

But LaHaye and Jenkins are convinced that their message is getting through to their readers. They estimate that more than 2,000 people have converted as a result of reading the Left Behind books. "And needless to say, for us that's more important than bestsellers, or money, or anything else," says Jenkins.

Good To Know

Jerry Jenkins is also the writer of a syndicated comic strip, "Gil Thorp," which runs in 60 newspapers nationwide.
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    1. Hometown:
      Jerry B. Jenkins lives in Black Forest, Colorado
    1. Education:
      Tim LaHaye has a B.A., Bob Jones University; and a Doctorate of Ministries, Western Baptist Seminary
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

It was Tuesday night and the Philadelphia Memorial public library would close in fifteen minutes. The array of five iMac computers arranged on a large wooden table sat idle. At precisely 9:45, a man with a knapsack in his right hand entered the old, brick library. He passed by the checkout desk, careful to avoid eye contact with the librarian, and then made his way to the computer station at the rear of the facility.

He took his usual spot behind the blueberry colored iMac which faced away from public scrutiny. He placed his bag on the floor at his feet. He cracked his knuckles and then logged onto the Internet, pleased that the head librarian refused to install filtering software. The glow of the computer screen cast a pale, bluish white light on his unshaven face as he worked.

Seconds later, he opened his knapsack, retrieved a zip disk and jammed it into the mouth of the computer, which--just his luck--had been specially modified by the library to accommodate zip disks. Within a minute the compressed contents of its 100 megabyte capacity were uploaded to his web-based web site.

As he worked, a voice from the overhead intercom softly informed all patrons to make their final selections and proceed to the checkout. The library would close in seven minutes. He checked his watch. No problem. He needed just five minutes more.

He continued his routine in silence, his fingers dancing across the keyboard with purpose. The transfer of data from the disk to the web now complete, he initiated a reverse transfer of financial information to the zip. A smile eased across his face as he reviewed the last number in a long string of numbers.

One million dollars.

His eyes narrowed as he stared at the number. With his damp left hand he stroked his chin for a long minute before logging off. He removed the zip disk and placed it into his bag. He took a towel and a small spray bottle out of the bag. He sprayed a gentle mist of the special solution onto the towel and then wiped off the keyboard and the body of the computer where he had inserted the zip drive. Satisfied, he replaced the items in the knapsack.

As he stood to leave, he caught a glimpse of the clock on the wall: 9:58. He flung the knapsack over one shoulder and then took his time as he walked passed the stacks of reference material, careful not to touch anything as he departed. When the librarian offered a good night, he managed a grunt--and no eye contact.

Outside of the library, the cool evening air filled his lungs. He inhaled deeply as he lingered at the top of the concrete steps that led down to the parking lot. He began to descend the dozen steps, but stopped when his cell phone played a distinct melody. He had specifically assigned this tune to help him identify the caller before he answered it.

Although he half expected the call, his heart still jumped. His nerves always seemed to be on heightened sensitivity during his trips to the library. He glanced around to ensure his conversation wouldn't't be heard before answering it. "Yo."

"What's the good word?"

He gripped the phone and spoke just above a whisper. "We just hit the magic number: 50,000 subscribers. Hold on . . ." He looked over his shoulder as two teens left the building. He waited for them to pass. "At twenty bucks a pop that's, what, a million bucks. Gotta love it, right?" He could hear a whistle on the other end of the line.

"You the man," the voice said. "Come see me as soon as you can. Maybe tomorrow, okay?"

"I'll try. Hang in there, bro." That said, he folded up his phone with a snap, stuffed it into his front jean pocket and then headed to his vehicle.

Wednesday, 5:33 p.m.

"What about you, Heather," Kat asked as she baptized her hamburger with catsup. "What's with this mystery date I've been hearing about? Who is he?" Kat's earrings clinked as she tilled her head.

Heather took another bite. When she finished chewing, she said, "Well, he's a senior at Villanova High--"

"Ooh, a rich kid," Kat said with a friendly smile.

"Maybe. Okay--probably," Heather said. "But that isn't important. What matters is that he's about the most sensitive, understanding guy I know."

Jodi threw a skeptical look at her.

"He is," Heather said. "Like, whenever my parents are on my case--or I have a really bad day--he just seems to know how to lift my spirits. Remember that day I was home sick? You know, last week?"

Jodi and Kat nodded.

"Well, he said if it were up to him, he'd make me a bowl of chicken noodle soup." A faraway look, like a vapor, floated across Heather's eyes. "Wasn't that so sweet? He always says stuff like that, especially when I've been down. Guess you could say he makes me feel special, you know?"

Jodi dabbed at the corners of her mouth with her napkin. She felt like gagging, but restrained herself. "So what's his name, or do we need to beat it out of you?"

"John Knox." Heather smiled softly as she spoke his name.

Jodi and Kat were quick to pounce with their questions.

"Where'd you meet him?"

"What's he look like?"

"Is he a jock?"

"When do we meet him?"

"Hey, what is this?" Heather said. "The Grand Inquisition?"

Jodi leaned toward Kat's ear and said, "She's got it bad, you know what I mean?" They shared a laugh.

"Ooh! And she's all top secret about him, too," Kat said, while giving Heather a friendly elbow.

"Cut it out." Heather put her sandwich down and folded her slender arms. "Actually, we met in a Christian chat room, if you must know. He's eighteen and he's--"

"In a chat room?" Jodi said. Her right eyebrow shot up. "Like, when was this?"

"I don't know. Maybe two or three months. Why? What's the big deal?" Heather said, shifting in her seat. "We've been talking online almost every night. Oh, and I've got his picture right here in my purse--"

"Wait a second," Jodi said, putting her fork down as a new thought crossed her mind. "Have you ever actually met this guy? I mean, like, in person?"

Heather looked down at her plate and poked at a fry. Jodi could almost hear the silence pass between them.

"Oh my gosh," Kat said, bringing a hand to her mouth. "You must be kidding. You've never met John--and you're going to go to the prom with him? That's nuts!"

"I knew you guys wouldn't understand," Heather said, indignant.

Kat cut her off. "What's to understand? I mean, I've done some crazy stuff--no, tons of crazy stuff--but this is seriously whacked."

Jodi squeezed Kat's arm, and then said, "Hold on a second." She softened her voice a bit. "Listen, Heather. We're not trying to gang up on you here."

"Sure feels like it," Heather said, avoiding eye contact. "Your problem is you're stuck in, like, the Ice Age. Ever hear of a blind date?" She turned to Kat. "Well, it's a new century if you hadn't noticed and people meet on the Internet all the time. Plus, there's gonna be hundreds of people around that night, right? So I don't see what could possibly go wrong?"

Wednesday, 7:33 p.m.

The air smelled like a cross between a dirty hamper and Lysol. His glasses, tinted red, and worn primarily to obscure his features, fogged up from the change in humidity. Rather than remove the frames to wipe the lenses on his shirt, he swiped at them with the back of his gloved hand. Awkward, yes. But to remove the phony lenses would give the guards a clear shot of his face in the security camera.

That done, he presented his knapsack and his New Jersey driver's license at the security desk knowing full well the license was a forgery. It gave his name as "Elvis Smith", which was a complete fabrication. He was unsure what the penalty would be if he were caught with the bogus credentials. Then again, he wasn't worried. He'd been visiting this penitentiary for several years. So far, no problem.

After all, he was a regular, affording him some frequent visitor status of sorts. At least that's what he imagined. Half the time the guard didn't bother to compare his face to the doctored photo on the license. He watched as his knapsack was scanned. They wouldn't find any contraband. He wasn't going to take any chances, not now at least.

An armed guard handed him his bag and then said, "Right this way, Elvis."

He avoided direct eye-to-eye contact as he accepted the knapsack from the guard.

Elvis was escorted to the visiting area, a room about 20x20 feet. No pictures. No carpet. No windows. Just a bare concrete floor and plaster walls painted industrial gray probably a hundred years ago, he guessed. He observed three guards talking in low tones off to one side. He was shown to a seat, a rickety metal folding chair which matched the dull gray walls. He sat facing a two-inch thick Plexiglas window. He was the only visitor, probably because visiting hours were due to end in about twenty minutes.

Moments later, a man with an unshaven face in an orange jumpsuit appeared at his window.

Elvis picked up the black phone to the left of the partition and pressed the receiver to his ear.

The prisoner did the same, and then spoke first.

"You made me wait--all day. What gives?"

"I'm here, ain't I?" Elvis said, adding, "Cut me some slack."

"Whatcha bring me?"

Elvis placed the handset down on the stainless steel ledge beneath the window, reached into his knapsack, and then withdrew a 9" x 12" unsealed manila envelope. He signaled to the guard who retrieved it. Elvis watched as the guard reviewed the contents and then delivered it on the other side of the wall.

Elvis picked up the phone and said, "A little cash, something to read, and your cigs, Jake."

Elvis watched as Jake placed a cigarette in his mouth. The guard provided a light. He inhaled deeply. "One of life's simple pleasures," he said. A cloud of smoke gushed out of his nose like a dragon blowing flames.

Jake crossed his legs. "So, tell me. You still using the library?"

"Sure thing," Elvis said. "Mom would be proud. Got us all library cards as kids, you know? Kinda stupid if you ask me. Would've liked a video game--but no, I got a library card instead. Know what I'm saying?"

Jake took another drag, and then balanced the butt of the cigarette on the edge of windowsill. He ignored the question.

"The same library?"

"What's it to you?" Elvis said.

"I don't like it. You sure they're not on to you?"

Elvis shook his head. "The place is a ghost town--trust me. Everybody's over at Blockbuster. So me, I see the help desk people napping half the time. We're cool."

Jake picked up the cigarette and held it in front of his lips as he spoke. "Maybe. There's too much at risk--especially now. I say you mix it up a little. See?"

"Whatever," Elvis said with a shrug. "Seems like this place has got you hyper-sensitive--"

"I'd be real careful if I were you, pal," Jake said slowly. His eyes narrowed. "Serious business. Unless you wanna join me."

"That'll never happen," Elvis said, switching the phone to his left ear.

Jake put the cigarette between his lips and laughed. His was a raspy smoker's cough. "Famous last words. I know a couple of guys in here who'd love to meet you . . . take Dutch. He's 350 pounds of pure steel. You'd be his girlfriend in no time."

"Come on, Jake. I think--"

"That's a problem," Jake said, waving his free hand. "You let me do the thinking for us. See?"

Neither man spoke for a minute.

Elvis was seriously bugged. The way he saw things, he was the one taking all the risks, doing the dirty work. He had more to lose than Jake. If caught, he, not Jake, would spend the rest of his days doing time. The police would never find a trail linking the two men and Jake would be off in the Caribbean.

Jake continued. "Listen, when my time's up, I'm countin' on a fat bank account so I can straight up disappear, you see what I'm saying? You screw up this gig--" he said, jabbing a finger at the glass window, "I swear--you'll be fish meat."

Elvis knew Jake was dead serious. Five years ago, Jake was double-crossed by a partner, a twenty-something drifter who got too smart for his own good. Although Jake didn't actually provide the cement boots, he paid to have his problem disappear at the bottom of a quarry. If Elvis had any doubts about Jake's threat, one look at the social security number on his bogus driver's license was all the proof needed. The number was taken from the deceased man.

"Okay--okay," Elvis said. "I'll move things around, big daddy. Keep it cool. Just remember, without me you got nothing."

Jake lit another cigarette with the last ember of his first smoke. "So give me the scoop on things."

"Like I said yesterday, we got 50,000 subscribers--"

"Tell me something I don't know, we're almost out of time."

"--we're getting hits from Japan, from Denmark . . . oh, yeah," Elvis said. "There must be a fan club or something in Canada. Big run on the site from Toronto. Go figure."

Jake leaned his head to one side. He held the cigarette between his thumb and forefinger, took a drag, leaned forward and said, "Can the server handle the traffic?"

Elvis nodded. "Not an issue, you know. We got something like 127,000 unique hits last month--lookie loos mostly. Still, no problem with the volume."

Jake scratched his chin. "We've gotta convert more of those first-timers. I say we try the three tier approach, see what I'm saying?"

"How's that?"

"Give something away free in level one . . . give the regular access on level two for twenty bucks, then," Jake said, "offer a premium package. Maybe pirate video footage or some such jazz. Charge $30 a month."

"Piece of cake." Elvis liked the sound of it. He'd been thinking along the same lines and was about to say so when Jake cut him off.

"Listen, man. You gotta market the heck out of our site." Jake's eyes darted back and forth as he spoke. "Web banners, links, news groups, chat rooms . . . who knows how much time we'll get away with this, right?"

Jake looked around the room before he spoke.

"Listen, my man. The beauty is in the simplicity, right? There's no staff. No paper trail. No overhead. Just you and me." He held the cigarette in his mouth.

Elvis smiled. "I know, I know. There's no office for the Feds to bust--"

"We're phantoms," Jake said uncrossing his legs, the cigarette butt still hanging in his mouth. "And a million bucks a month is just the beginning." He rubbed his hands together.

"You got that right."

"Tell me, Elvis, where's the green?"

"It's, um, off shore. The Cayman Islands. A numbered account. Just like you wanted."

"Untraceable?"

"We're invisible, like air, man. So what's the downside?" Elvis' forehead was crumbled like a wad of paper.

"How long do you plan to be dumb?" Jake said. "Don't make me spell it out--"

"The, um, remains--"

"Exactly." Jake shot Elvis a look. "You've got to be so dang careful, you hear? Still using the scrap metal yard?"

Elvis nodded.

"Maybe try the quarry."

"Okay, I'm good with that." Elvis hated the thought of using the quarry, but didn't have time to argue the point. "Listen, bro, I've got some stuff I need to do. I'll be seeing you." Elvis hung up the receiver and turned to leave.

Jake whacked on the glass with his handset.

Elvis spun back around, picked up the phone and listened.

"You keep your nose clean, see? No slip-ups, either," Jake said. "I hear otherwise, I'll give the word and you'll be swimming for a very long time."

Elvis turned and then left the building.

Thursday, 12:22 p.m.

"Hey man, you want lunch?"

Agent Nick Steele looked up from his bank of computers. Dwayne Whitmore, his new partner, stood in the doorway. A 37-year-old FBI agent, Dwayne had recently been assigned to Nick in the Philadelphia Field Office and, Nick figured, he was attempting to make a good first impression.

At 62, Nick, a 30-year veteran of the FBI, was in charge of the Bureau's anti-cyberporn program, dubbed Innocent Images. He pushed himself back from his desk and laughed. "You kidding? I'm still recovering from that soul food you brought me yesterday." Nick reached for his half-filled, Styrofoam cup coffee. "This is about all I can handle."

"That's cool," Dwayne said. "Thought I'd ask. You need anything, just give a shout." He lingered in the doorway.

Nick pointed over his shoulder at his computer screen. "What I need is to catch this creep."

"I heard that," Dwayne said with a nod. "What's up?"

"This guy is one heck of a snake," Nick said, scratching the side of his face. "He's smart. He knows all the right words. And he's had plenty of practice. You got a second to take a look?"

"Sure thing." Dwayne walked over to Nick's desk, pushed several files aside and then sat on the edge, keeping one foot on the floor. "You got a name for him?"

"Still working on that." Nick leaned back in his swivel chair. "Okay. We do know he's not your typical traveler," he said. "Most cyberpreditors are bored, middle-aged men looking to cheat on their wives--or maybe they're loners with no social skills, right?"

"Yeah," Dwayne said, crossing his arms. "Those dudes get their kicks preying on kids--"

"Usually impressionable young girls at that," Nick added. "Most work 'em several weeks, maybe months. They're patient. Whatever it takes to create an emotional bond with all of these misunderstood girls. For what?" Nick took a sip from his cup before answering his own question. "For the sex. But not this guy. He's not into the sex. He's working a different racket."

"So lay it on me," Dwayne said. "What's his gig?"

"His approach is about the same as most travelers. He meets his victims--usually girls, sometimes boys--by lurking in a chat room," Nick said. "He flatters 'em, tells 'em how wonderful they are. He plays 'em like a violin. They pour out their little hearts . . . give him personal info, pictures, even their home address. Why? 'Cause suddenly, he's their best friend--even though he avoids giving them any real info in exchange."

"Let me guess," Dwayne said, massaging his temples. "The perp grooms several peeps at the same time. Am I right?"

Nick nodded. "But this guy somehow vaporizes his trail."

"You know how he's doing it?"

"I'd say he's using an anonymous remailer to scrub out his back tracking info." Nick tossed his empty cup into the trash. "It clears out his personal data making a cybertrace next to impossible. And he likes to IM the kids. IM's don't leave any footprints in cyberspace--not unless someone uses special computer software to capture the dialogue."

Dwayne let out a whistle. "And a kid being scammed ain't about to do that."

"Exactly. I know these perverts like the back of my bald head--heck, I could write a book on 'em," Nick said. "But this time, it's different. Here," he said, beckoning with his hand, "I want you to see something, if you've got the stomach for it."

"You're the boss," Dwayne said. "Lunch'll wait." He pulled up a folding chair.

Nick hammered away at his keyboard. "Take a look."

Dwayne watched as the web site, MegaFear.com, loaded. "What's with this?"

"He's selling fear."

"Say what?" Dwayne leaned toward the screen.

"Fear," Nick said. "Ever watch one of those 'reality' TV shows . . . the ones where they scare the heck out of some unsuspecting soul?"

"No, boss, can't say I have."

Nick reached his hand around the base of Dwayne's thick neck. "Welcome to cheap thrills for bored and numbed couch potatoes of America."

"I heard that, but ain't it illegal?"

Nick shrugged. "Not the stuff on TV. See, they get a signed release--after the fact. People will do anything for their fifteen minutes of fame." Nick cleared his throat. "But this situation appears to be different. As best I can tell, our perp has hijacked a web-based server, setup a lucrative subscription-based service, and provides sickos with gruesome clips of raw, actual fear captured in video clips--my guess without obtaining their permission."

Dwayne looked at Nick. "What's the traveler connection?"

"That's what I'm trying to figure out," Nick said. He folded his arms. "I think we've got a guy who arranges a meeting with the kids he's befriended in these chat rooms, abducts them, and then subjects them to various fright stimuli--"

"Such as--"

"You name it, this degenerate does it. Watch this." Nick typed in several commands that by-passed the MegaFear.com sign-in screen. With his mouse he pointed and then clicked on an icon marked "Faces of Fear."

The men both focused on the screen as the video clip loaded. Nick continued. "He brutalizes his victims with rats, dogs, firebrands--and, get this, he video tapes their screams, their panic, their attempts to escape. Some break arms, legs, or bleed--"

The video clip began to play. Bloodcurdling screams filled the speakers as a girl tried to distance herself from a ravenous Doberman pincher who was released into a 20'x20' cage.

Dwayne's eyes widened. After several seconds, he said, "I've seen enough. So . . . then what? Hasn't anybody fingered the dude? You know, after the fact."

Nick closed the screen. "That's the strangest part."

Dwayne slide his chair back a few feet. "Yeah?"

"We got zip," Nick said with a snap his fingers. "Normally a victim would come forward with a bizarre tale of torture or abduction and we'd have something to work with."

"Meaning . . ."

"Meaning either the kids aren't talking 'cause they're afraid of what might happen--by the perp, or by their parents," Nick said. "Or . . . maybe they aren't around to talk."

"Which means they're pushing up daisies."

Nick leaned his head to one side. "Could be. I've got a contact on the Philly police force with a witness who reports seeing late night activity at the scrap metal plant down by the airport."

Neither man spoke. Nick fiddled with his FBI ID credentials, a picture ID card encased in plastic, hanging on a beaded metal chain around his neck.

"Man, that's twisted," Dwayne said after a long moment. "So why doesn't the Bureau shut him down?"

Nick laughed. "How many agents do we have?"

"Nationwide? Something like 10,000 . . . plus or minus."

"And how many are working with the homeland security or anti-terrorist effort?"

"Just about everybody--"

"Exactly." Nick cracked his knuckles. "And how many people use the internet?"

"Only millions," Dwayne said with a laugh.

"That's why we can't afford to make a mistake here. So we wait."

"Wait for what?"

"We build an air-tight case," Nick said, tossing a file toward Dwayne. "That's everything I've got so far. Read it. I need your help to identify this jerk."

"What about my other--"

Nick raised a finger to his lips. "You're the best computer hack on my team. I need you on this, like, yesterday." Nick stood and then walked Dwayne to the door. "I'll reassign your stack to one of the other agents."

"Thanks, man. We'll nail him." Dwayne said. "Our guy will make a mistake--they always do." He tapped the file against the side of his leg. "So tell me, how'd you get this much on him?"

Nick smiled. "Every agent has his trade secrets, I guess."

"That so, sir?" Dwayne said. "Me? I'd probably just ask my fifteen-year-old boy--he's even a better hacker than me." He laughed as he turned to leave.

"Oh, and Dwayne?"

He spun around.

"Better skip lunch."

"How's that?"

"I picked up a transmission to the MegaFear web site and was able to trace it back to a computer somewhere in Cherry Hill, New Jersey," Nick said.

"When?"

"A couple of hours ago--around 8." Nick said. "I think our man is about to strike again. Get busy."

Thursday, 9:30 p.m.

"Dad!" Jodi shrieked. "I'm so sure--"

Heather cut her off. "Hold on, Jodi. Mr. Adams? You really did that? For me?"

He nodded. "We really do care about you, Heather."

She twirled several strands of hair together. After a moment, she said, "That's so cool, I mean, you took time off work and all--I can't get over that. I don't think even my own dad would have done that. Thank you so much!"

"Well, we're not your parents," he said. He shifted his weight on the edge of the stool, leaning more directly toward Heather. "And you're not our daughter. But because we consider you like one of the family, it wouldn't be fair if I didn't say what my wife and I honestly think about all of this."

Heather crossed her legs. "I can totally see that. Let me guess--you probably agree with Jodi that I shouldn't go with John tomorrow, am I right?"

"That would be putting it nicely," he said. "Heather, this is serious stuff." He rubbed the palms of his hands together before folding them. "I'm not trying to be the heavy, but I--we--feel strongly that you'd be making a dangerous mistake to go through with this."

Heather looked away.

"I don't mean to put you on the spot," Jack said, softly. "That's the honest truth."

Jodi thought she saw Heather's eyes begin to tear up. "Um, Dad, it's getting kind of late--"

Heather dabbed at the corners of her eyes. "No, it's okay, Jodi. Really it is. I . . . I just don't think anybody understands how wonderful John really is."

Jack cleared his throat. "Listen, Heather. I can't stop you from doing this, even though I'd like to. So here, at least look at this." He withdrew several folded pages from his back pocket and then handed them to her.

"That's a partial transcript," he said. "I downloaded it from the Oprah show. She did a special on cyberstalkers. Read it and maybe you'll understand where we're coming from."

"Thanks," Heather said. "But let's say I still go. What if I took my AOL Instant Messenger with me?"

Jack chuckled. "Hold on a minute. Remember, I'm a media-challenged adult who hasn't figured out how to use the speed dial on his cell phone."

Everybody laughed.

"As it is," Jack said, "I can barely find my way around the Internet. What are you talking about?"

Heather reached in her bag. The device was the size of a pager. "See," she said, handing it to him. "My dad gave it to me before he left on this trip. It's got a little keyboard and a screen and it's connected to the web so I'd be able to stay in touch."

Kat looked skeptical. "Forgive me, but I need to ask the dumb question. Why not just take your cell phone?"

"I--" Heather bit her lip. "Yeah, I guess so."

Jack shook his head. "Read the transcript. Please? These guys come armed with knives, ropes, guns . . . I'd say a cell phone is no match against these guys."

Nobody spoke for a minute.

"Well, let's say I read this and, um, change my mind," Heather said, rolling the pages into a tube in her hand. "So what now? How do I get out of this, you know, at the last minute?"

"Call him--" Jack Adams said, then stopped. "You do have his phone number, right?"

"Um, I don't. Wait a minute," Heather hooked her hair over her right ear. "I know that sounds crazy, but, see, we talk all the time--on the Internet."

"Tell you what," Jack said. "If you can't reach him tonight or after school by email, then I'll go with you to meet him. I'll just inform him the date's been called off--that is, if you'd like."

Heather nodded, slowly. "I see."

"Hey, and here's an idea," Jack offered. "Tomorrow, why don't you girls dress up anyway, go to a fancy restaurant and a movie. It'll be my treat. How's that sound?"

The girls exchanged another look and a series of shrugs.

"Dad . . . as long as it's something fancier than Chuckie Cheese!"

"It's a deal," Jack said with a laugh. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm heading to bed. See you in the morning." He stood and left the room.

"What are you gonna do, Heather?" Kat asked.

"I'll read this," she said, holding up the rolled paper. "And, um, I'll pray about it, too." Heather pulled her hair back into a loose ponytail, and then said just above a whisper. "What a mess."

"Oh my gosh," Jodi said. "Speaking of prayer, I almost forgot. We were gonna pray for your dad, Kat. What's his name anyway?"

"It's Jake," Kat said. "Jake Koffman."

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2005

    FANTASTIC

    This book was great. I love this book. It leaves u in suspense. The plot in this book was wonderful. I reccomend it to ages 12 and up

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2003

    GOOD!!!!!!!!!!!!

    This book was really, really, really good. It's like a teen suspense/mystery series, and the characters are really fascinating. This book is an awesome one, and I loved the whole series. Definetly a must-buy for all teens who want a good series that goes beyond girl-meets-boy!!!!!! : )

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