Pipeline Threat

Chapter 2
The Reminder

Albert woke up unusually early the next morning. It figured; today was no ordinary day. The first day of school had arrived, and Albert seemed about halfway happy. Maybe the long, boring summer of budget watching or the convenience of always going somewhere when his friends were home factored into it. But whatever it was, it didn't matter any more. School had arrived for nine months. Albert rolled out of bed at the sound of the alarm. He felt more alarmed than ready to get up. The buzzing continued. He reached a hand up from the floor and fingered for the off button. Slowly he sat up, desperately needing a pick-me-up. Footsteps slowly approached the door. His mom constantly showed her impatience, and usually was in the room before the alarm went off. She was off her mark today.
"Get up," she yawned, "and go to school. My vacation starts today." Albert grabbed the bed for support, and slithered upright. "Don't make me come up here again," his mother cautioned. The morning dragged on; in and out of the closet he found suitable clothes, and then remembered that he set something out last night. New clothes on, he strolled downstairs, leaning on the banister. Breakfast was the usual and nothing on the news sparked his imagination. It seemed today would be an uneventful day in the life of Albert Illington. "Hurry up," his mom prodded him out the door, "you'll miss the bus." It seemed an endless daydream. Where had those last thirty minutes gone?
"And wipe your face off, you've still got cereal on it from sleeping in it." Suddenly he woke up.
"Oh," he started, he knew where those last thirty minutes had gone: in his cereal.
After wiping off his face briefly, he grabbed his backpack and left for a new school year. The cool morning air made him shiver, but also ran blood through his veins. It seemed a shame Minnesota had to cool off so fast. His new array of shorts would have to sit in the back of his closet for a few months. However, there was still time to make use of them. He rounded the corner to a relatively empty bus stop. Robert, his best friend, sat there with some younger kids. Albert judged them to be about first grade. They were bursting with energy, a direct contrast to what both Albert felt, and Robert looked.
"Hi," Robert grunted drowsily, "I shouldn't wake up for two more hours." Albert knew they would compare their newly forced upon schedule, with their Summer routine. Late into math they'd both think, 'now I should be having breakfast.' It didn't help them to neglect the fact that they were in school, it just made them more depressed. But for some reason they always did it.
"Me too," Albert agreed. A band of kids came barreling down the street at this point, on an account of being shooed out of their houses. These were all the familiar faces, his other friends, his enemies, and the older and more powerful kids. The parade emerged just as the bus driver came crashing down the street. Gus didn't drive dangerously, but the sounds emitted from the bus were unusually loud for the normally sleepy, summer mornings.
"Welcome to a new school year at Teleman Elementary," he boomed as the kids shuffled on the bus.
Albert found his way to the back of the bus. Although it may not be hard to walk in a straight line, students' knees and their backpacks partially blocked the aisle. He left space for the rest of the fifth and sixth graders, but made sure the third graders arranged themselves correctly before he sat down. Robert, momentarily, occupied the space next to him. They began chatting, while the sixth graders schemed, and the kindergartners fretted about school. It all fell into place; that is until some smart kid threw a water balloon from the back.
An 'eek!' erupted from a seat. Gus kept driving. Taking notice of this, a few more balloons were thrown, now less stealthily than before. But Albert met Gus' eyes in the mirror several times, and they could both blatantly see that the water bombs were coming from seat eighteen. Some little kids toward the front began to pout about it, as if they thought he couldn't see. It wouldn't do any good though. Albert knew Gus would take care of it once they arrived at school. He went by the philosophy that a troublemaker shouldn't make everyone else late. Some stupid fifth grader was testing their limits.
The air raid had completely stopped once they pulled into school, but Gus had no trouble pinpointing his victim. It turned out to be Jake, who had recently come to power on the bus. Albert didn't know him yet, but their acquaintance would not go unnoticed for long. He got wailed on by Gus and received ISS for the first few days of school. Other than that, the day went fairly routinely for Albert.
As a fourth grader now, he had more privileges. They could eat lunch out on the playground now, and start recess immediately. They also could go to the end of the year pool party with the fifth and sixth graders. It seemed that this year would be the best yet. Not only that, but he heard good things about his new teacher, Ms. Cranley, and he liked her.
His morning started with math, a subject he neither despised nor liked. Following math they left for music. Albert didn't like to express himself through playing instruments, but the cool sounds the older kids made in the morning inspired him to try hard. Next came Art, his way of showing his emotions. He felt the projects for this year sounded like a lot of fun. Later they had reading, his absolute favorite class. Albert could recite anything out of any book he'd ever read. Lunch and Recess followed, most people's favorite subjects, though the teachers objected and said they didn't count.
"C'mon Albert," Robert called, "don't sit at the table when we can go outside." Their legs carried them as fast as they could out to the blacktop, only to find most of the tables filled up. They found a nice spot under a shady tree, and sat there to eat their lunch. The blacktop began to clutter with older kids as they finished their lunches. Slowly a game of foursquare began to form. Albert marveled at the competitiveness of the game. Robert tried to play once, and when he had almost made queen, lost. Despite his declaring that someone had cheated, they forced him to the end of the line. Albert realized that it had been unofficially determined that they were now too cool for the playground.
His afternoon classes passed in a daze. In gym, science, and spelling the class felt more jumpy than able to learn. On his and Robert's short walk home, he remembered about the Tolidos.
"Robert," Albert began a new thought.
"Yeah, what?" he asked coolly.
"Did you know the Tolidos are moving?"
"The who?" Robert's face twisted.
"My other neighbors."
"Oh," Robert sighed, "No I didn't know. Why do you care?"
"I'm not really sure," Albert answered, "It just feels like something's out of place, I can feel it. I don't know what, but Mrs. Tolido just acted strange yesterday."
"Albert, you worry too much. You're just a kid, not a PI; not yet anyway."
Albert sighed, "you're right Robert, I'll just leave it be. It'll be hard, but I'll try."
"Good. Now we'll get to do fun things again, instead of solving crimes." They both walked into their houses smiling, but Albert knowing he couldn't keep his promise for too long.