Mrs. Flanders walked in through the open doors of the high school gym, surprised by the number of parents she saw there. At least fifteen people were in the center of the floor, either seated in a ring of chairs, or standing around and talking.
When she reached the chairs she sat down next to a smiling woman with sunglasses stuck on top of her black, frizzy hair. “Hi,” the woman said. “My name is Traecia. Are you new?”
“Yes, hi, I’m Laurie,” Mrs. Flanders said. She sat down and said in an undertone, “So all these parents have kids who…”
“Who fight crime?” Traecia laughed. “You betcha. More than you thought, right? You should have seen it when I belonged to the New York chapter. We had to break into districts. Who told you about the PGMUACF?”
“The policeman who came to arrest the fellow that my Julie Ann caught, he handed me the flyer about the meeting.” Mrs. Flanders glanced down at the slightly wrinkled paper in her hand. Parents, Guardians, and Mentors of Underage Crime Fighters Meeting. She shook her head. “It’s all a little overwhelming.”
Traecia smiled and was about to say something, but a woman at the center of the circle of chairs called for order and asked everyone to get in their seats.
“Good evening, it’s nice to see several new faces here. We’ll start out with a presentation by Mr. Case on the most important thing you need to remember as a Parent, Guardian, or Mentor of an Underage Crime Fighter. Mr. Case.”
Mrs. Flanders shifted in her seat as Mr. Case got up. He was very tall and thin, with wire-rimmed glasses. He wore a plaid shirt with thin lines, and had a couple of pens clipped to a pocket-protector. “Good evening, everyone. I’m here to tell you how to avoid an untimely death.”
Mrs. Flanders burst out in a nervous giggle, but all the other parents nodded their heads solemnly.
“Yes, we’ve got a dangerous job, but death can be easily avoided if you do one simple thing,” Mr. Case said. “Can anyone tell me what that is?”
A woman across the circle raised her hand. “Feign incompetence,” she said with a nasal drawl.
“Absolutely,” Mr. Case pointed at her emphatically. “Feign incompetence and practice preoccupation. If your kids are sneaking out at night to fight crime, what do you do?”
“Pretend you don’t notice!”
“If you find out they’re investigating a crime, do you call the police?”
“If they have a crime-fighting-related problem they can’t seem to solve, do you take over?”
“It’s too dangerous!” said a bald man who was taking up two chairs over to the left.
“And why is this?” Mr. Case said.
“Well,” Tracia said, “for some reason, we don’t know what, the kids have to do it themselves. If any of us interfere too much, then…” She stuck her tongue out and made a strangling noise.
Mrs. Flanders stared around at all of them in absolute disbelief.
“You mean if we help our kids solve crimes, we’re going to… to… die?”
Tracia shrugged. “Welcome to the club, Laurie.”