The LipGloss Mastermind

"Shades of Gray"

Running, laughing, hiding, screaming. Life is not unlike a game of tag -- enemies change with the rolling tide. We all try to reach home base, to secure our moment of wellbeing, but no one wins every time. We all have our share of being It -- there is no line between good and bad in the shades of gray. Only moments of freedom between the running and the screaming.

"You hit her too hard." A voice says from far away.
"Don't worry about it." Another voice replies. "I'll be back."
"What if..." The first one started, but a door slammed.

The darkness that twisted in her mind suddenly vanished and Allison awoke with a start. She stared at the pale ceiling with its thin cracks and watermarks until she felt the presence of another. She looked over to see a young man across the small room, looking out the window.


The young man, looking around 19 with short corn-yellow hair, turned his head and smiled.

"Hey sleepy-head."

"Leo!" A 10-year old Allison shouted happily and hopped out of bed. He kneeled down and stretched out his arms as she ran to hug him. "I've missed you so much!" She muffled into his shirt.

"Yeah, it's been a while. Here, let me get a look at ya." Leo said, standing up and taking a step back. He put one hand on his hip and the other to his chin and made a 'hmmm' sound that made Allison laugh. "You've gotten taller, haven't you?"

"Yup! I grew two whole inches!" She said, beaming with pride.
"Good job!" Leo nodded as he reached for a small bag that leaned against the wall. "I got ya something." He smiled as he pulled out a small box. He held it out and Allison quickly snatched it.

"What is it, what is it?" She chanted as she ripped through the blue wrapping paper. When the present became clear, she looked up at Leo in shock. "It's a..." She slowly took out the pokéball and pointed it at the ground. A red energy beam shot out and after it faded, a young eevee looked up at the two and smiled. "Aww~!" She cried as she hugged the little fox. "But mom said I couldn't have a pokémon."

"Then it's our little secret. Think of her as a belated birthday gift." Leo said, glancing out the window again. "Sorry I missed it."
"That's okay," Allison said as she recalled her new pokémon. "But where have you been? You've been gone for almost a year. Was it work again?"
Leo nodded sadly. "Yeah, but it's getting better. They're not pushing me as hard as before, and the missions are getting a little easier. I guess the training paid off after all."

"Mom said that you abandoned us and that you didn't care about us anymore."
"Mom's a drunkard who doesn't know day from night." Leo grumbled, then suddenly kneeled down in front of Allison and looked at her straight in the eyes. "I didn't abandon you. I'm trying to make a better life for us, and if that means being gone for a while and sometimes doing things we're less than proud of, then so be it if we can be happy in the long run. Right?"
"Good." Leo said, standing up. Something outside the window caught his eye and he frowned.

"Well, it's time for me to go again." He said as he picked up his black backpack.
"Already? Can't you stay for breakfast?" Allison asked. Leo slowly shook his head.
"'fraid not. But I'll try visit again when I can." He said as he walked toward the door.

"Let me come with you!" Allison said, pulling out a gym bag from under her bed. "I've already packed, and I'll be good I promise!" She looked hopefully at Leo.
"No." He said firmly. "It's far too dangerous. You just stay here, be a good girl and... stay out of mom's way. I'll visit again when I can."

"It's not too dangerous for you..." She mumbled, her eyes tearing up. Leo sighed and walked up to her. "Yeah, it is. But as your big brother, I gotta look out for you. You're safe here Ally, well, more than you would be if you came with me. And that's why you have to stay."

"But... What if you don't come back?"
Leo hesitated for a moment but quickly recovered and put on a grin.
"Nonsense. You forget that I'm wearing my lucky shoes. With these babies on, nothing can hurt me."

Allison looked down at his white and blue striped running shoes and raised an eyebrow. "They don't look so lucky to me."
"Looks can be deceiving, Ally. But they've been lucky for me so far." He said as he patted her on the head. "Take care of yourself and your new eevee, okay?"

With that he turned and walked toward the door, but Allison stayed silent, mesmerized by his shoes. His white and blue shoes. Something tugged deep in her heart and she found it increasingly hard to breathe. The image of a brick back alley and a solitary shoe suddenly flashed in her mind and her legs crumpled beneath her.

"No..." She whispered, her hands holding the sides of her head. The room grew dark and her ears were filled with static. Leo turned and faced her, suddenly wearing a black Team Rocket uniform. The red R on the front of his shirt glowed eerily in the dim light. She leaped toward him with her arms stretched out, but she couldn't reach him. The static sound grew unbearably louder until everything faded to black.

- - -

"She's been out for a while... shouldn't she have woken up by now?" Misty asked as she looked through one of Allison's bags. Ash shrugged and reached for another stale Pringles chip.

"That hit must've been stronger than we thought, not even Pikachu's shocks could wake her up." He said glancing over at Allison. She sat on the ground, tied to a wooden support beam in the center of the room. Her eyes were closed and every once in a while she shuddered under the rope.

{ * * * }

With the fog almost gone, following the tracker screen and avoiding being seen by the police was becoming increasingly difficult. Tony and Brett had taken many shortcuts to avoid the cops, and were increasingly surprised by how far Allison had gotten away from them.

"The tracker hasn't moved in a while.... Do you think she's okay?" Brett asked as Tony glanced around the corner of the building they were hiding behind.
"Dunno, but we can't go this way. Two more cops just showed up."
"But this looks like the fastest route to her!" Brett whispered, clenching his fists. A tiny 'clink' was heard and both of them fell silent as they looked down at Brett's left fist. He slowly opened his hand to find the tracker broken into five tiny pieces.
"You....fucking...idiot." Tony said dully as Brett brushed the tracker pieces out of his palm. "Do you know how much those cost?"

"We need to find Ally. The tracker pointed forward and a little to the left, so that's where we're heading." Brett said, walking past Tony.
"But what about the cops?"
"Screw 'em."

Brett walked out into the open and continued forward, not even glancing at the cops a few yards away to his left. He closed his eyes and visualized the tracker's screen as he'd last seen it, then opened them and looked at the path in front of him. 'I should probably take the second or third side-road on the left.' He thought.

Tony followed Brett tentatively, looking at the cops every few feet. They were facing the direction opposite of the Rockets, but the way they were looking from side to side worried Tony. He quickly caught up to Brett and they vanished from view behind another building. Brett stopped in front of the second side-road and looked around, but his gut was telling him that this wasn't it. Walking down to the next one, he paused to see a brick dead-end path. There were some fog still floating around it in, and Brett began to get worried.

"Allison? You in here?" He called out softly, walking into the alleyway. He took a few more steps into the thin fog before he heard something crack under his shoe. He quickly stepped back and knelt to the reddened ground. Squinting through the thin fog, he found what he stepped on and picked it up.

"Tony..." Brett said, looking again at the ground before standing up. Tony came up behind him and saw the cracked tracker in his hand and the blood on the ground.
"Think this is the cops' doing?" He asked, surprisingly quiet, while turning towards Tony.
"I don't know. Don't see any shells, and I haven't heard any of them talking about a capture, so maybe not."

Brett stayed quiet, staring intently at the tracker. The screen had a thin crack down the middle that branched out into thinner lines, and half of the unit was coated in dried blood. Despite this two small red dots still appeared, one steady and the other appearing sporadically in various places.

"C'mon," Tony said finally, shaking Brett out of his trance. "We can't stay here." Brett looked up with cold eyes but then focused on something over Tony's shoulder. He turned to see a large Crobat floating silently behind him, its teeth bared and eyes filled with spite. "Hwabwaaba!" Tony shouted, jumping away from the pokémon and hiding slightly behind Brett. "Where the hell did that come from?" He asked bewildered. Brett remained still and returned the Crobat's glare.

The Crobat also remained still, glancing from one man to the other. It appeared to recognize them, but also seemed like it was looking for something more. Tony began to reach for his side pocket but Crobat's screech made him hesitate. "What is with you?" Brett said finally, clenching his fists. The Crobat's yellow eyes narrowed.
"Maybe it's with the cops?" Tony asked, looking warily at it.
"If it was, we'd be surrounded already. Maybe it's just looking for trouble."

"Hmm..." Tony said slowly, his mind clicking, "We could use this."
"There's no way we'll find Allison down here, but maybe we'll find her with a birds-eye view. Crobat could help us find her!" Crobat's voice clicked at the mention of her name and watched the two curiously.
"I dunno Tony. Who's to say it'll help? We'd basically be trading one wild goose chase for another." Brett said, glaring at it.
"...True. Plus, where to start looking for her? There are no trails for it to follow." Tony said, losing confidence in his plan. Crobat watched them carefully.
"If it was willing to help, it could follow this..." Brett sighed, holding out the cracked tracker.
"It's no good if it's not on her." Tony said, growing tired.
"It's not her tracker."

{ * * * }

"Nyaa...." Allison moaned as she slowly opened her eyes. The light that greeted her was bright and hazy as she gazed numbly at the floor. "Pina knew.... That's why she ran off." She said softly as she reeled from her dream and the dull pain in the back of her head. She tried to stand up, but slowly realized that she couldn't budge. She looked around herself to find that she was tied to the beam she was leaning against, and that her hands, tied at the wrists, sat numbly behind her.

The sound of footsteps brought her back to the present, and she looked up to see Ash and Misty walking toward her. "Oh yeah." She muttered, remembering what happened before she blacked out. The two stopped in front of her and glared down coldly.

"Why did you do it?" Ash said finally, gritting his teeth. Allison looked up at him for a moment before her gaze drifted around the room.
"...Why do we do any of the things that we do? Is it of our own choices and desires, or are we merely puppets following a script written by those who pull the strings?" She asked mysteriously as she took note of the warehouse's windows and doors.
"I didn't ask for a riddle -- Answer the question!" Ash retorted angrily. She sighed and looked up at them squarely.
"So who found my lipgloss container?"
"Surely someone found it. Was it you?" She said, turning towards Misty.
"Why does it matter?"

Allison smiled slightly. "Medical examinations take time. There could've been a hundred different things Brock might have been suffering from, yet with one little plastic tube you knew exactly what was ailing him. Without it, how would you know it was an allergy attack and he was not simply knocked unconscience?"

Ash and Misty stared at her stunned. "What are you saying?" Misty asked, "That you left the lipgloss on purpose so we'd know what was wrong with Brock?" Allison slowly shrugged her shoulders and tried not to look smug. "What if I did?"

"Lemme get this straight." Ash said, shaking his head in confusion. "You stole his pokémon and tried to kill him, but left evidence behind so we could save him?"
"How's about we make a deal." Allison said calmly. "You want answers, I want freedom. We'll play for it. My cards are..." She turned to the left to see her things spread out on the table, along with a sleeping Togepi and a watchful Pikachu. "Hm. Let's play poker. For every hand you win, I'll answer one question. But for every hand I win, you cut one of these ropes. Game ends when I'm free or all of your questions are answered. What say you?"

Ash stared at her blankly. "Why play cards when I could have Pikachu get the answers out of you?"
"Ah, the torture routine." She sighed. "How original. But you're awfully young. Why have blood-curdling screams etched into your memory so soon? With the card game we both get what we want, no one gets hurt, and no haunting memories."
"...Or, you could just answer our questions."
"Ha, yeah right. They'd kill me for sure. Leaving fate to Lady Luck would be better for both of us."

Ash took a few steps back and watched her carefully while thinking it over. Finally he walked over to the table and picked up the pile of cards next to the Pringles and a map of Nomai.

"Ash, this is insane! She's our captive; we should be making the calls not her." Misty whispered, following him. Ash paused and look down at Pikachu, who was looking back up at him. "Yeah, but she's willing to answer questions. That's more than we or Matt hoped for. I want to get payback for what she did to Brock too, but I also want to know why she did it in the first place. Besides, it's just a card game. How hard could it be?"
"Have you even played poker before?"
"Um, I think so, a couple years back. It's where you match all the pairs, right?"
"That's Go Fish."

".....Oh. Then no. But don't worry, I've got plenty of beginner's luck."

With those inspiring words of confidence, Ash sat on the floor in front of Allison and began to shuffle the cards. "How many do I deal out?"
"Five each. And you'll need to untie my hands." She said.
"What? No way!" He shouted, putting the deck down.
"Then how am I going to hold my cards? I'm not psychic."
"Misty can hold your cards for you." Ash suggested. Allison laughed at the thought.

"Yeah right! She'll help you win!"
"It's either me or nothing at all." Said Misty, walking up to them. Allison looked past her at the table where their bags, Togepi, and Pikachu sat. Pikachu narrowed its eyes at her and a few bolts of electricity sparked from its cheeks. Allison sighed and looked back up at Misty.
"Fine, whatever. But you play as I say."

Misty rolled her eyes and sat down next her, and the game began. Ash dealt out the first hand and Misty held out her cards so Allison could see them.

"So... What do we do?" Ash asked, a look of confusion on his face.
"You don't know how to play?" Allison asked shocked. Ash shook his head.
"This is too easy..." She mumbled, trying to stifle a laugh.
"Hey!" Ash shouted, standing up and throwing his cards to the ground. "You nearly killed Brock and we want to know why! Having Pikachu shock the answers out of you would be a lot easier and more gratifying than playing this stupid game, but we went with it because you were willing to answer questions. But if not..." Ash trailed off and as if on cue, Pikachu hopped over to where they were and began charging electricity. Allison quietly watched Pikachu as an aura surrounded it from the charge, and calculated the odds of how many full-power attacks she could withstand. The numbers weren't in her favor. Finally she closed her eyes and sighed.

"One pair, two pairs, three of a kind, straight, flush, full house, four of a kind, straight flush, royal flush." She said quietly.
"Whoever has the best hand wins. Straight is when the cards are in order, but different suits; flush is when the cards are in the same suit, but not in order; full house is composed of one pair and three of a kind; straight flush is when the cards are in order and in the same suit; royal flush is the same as a straight flush, except with the royal cards. Aces can be wild, and you can draw from the pile twice. I'll tell you what you want to know, but I'd prefer not to die by a yellow rat."

After a moment of silence, Ash sat back down and picked his cards up. "You'd better answer every question truthfully then." Was all he said. Allison opened her eyes and twitched her eyebrows. Pikachu stopped charging and laid down next to Ash, yet still glaring at her. Misty also sat back down and held out her cards for Allison to see, and the game continued.

The first two rounds belonged to Allison, although no one made any move toward cutting her ropes. After she won the fourth round with a full house, she opened her mouth to ask but Ash cut her off.
"There are twenty loops in rope, including the ones on your wrists and ankles. If you win all twenty rounds, then we'll cut the ropes, just like we agreed." He said, carefully looking at his new hand of cards. Allison nodded and told Misty to discard the farthest card on the left. She also won this round, but was surprised when Ash whipped out a straight flush on the next game.

"Alright! Finally. Now," Ash said, looking at Allison grimly. "Why did you want to kill Brock."
Allison was silent for a moment before answering. "I didn't want to, I was ordered to. I was delivering a message."
"What kind of a message? And why Brock?" Misty asked, but Allison shook her head.
"One question per win, just like we agreed." She stated simply. The game continued, but after a careless mistake on Allison's part, Ash won again.

"What was the message?" He asked.
"A warning." Allison said, staring directly into Ash's eyes. "The Executives don't like how you've been meddling in Rocket affairs. Brock was to be an example of what's to come if you continue sticking your nose where it doesn't belong."

Pikachu's fur began to stand on end as it charged electricity again, and the look of venom in its eyes matched that of its trainer.
"But y-you know what they say, d-don't kill the messenger..." Allison smiled weakly as she looked from Pikachu to Ash. Misty dropped the cards and walked up next to Ash.

"If it's me they're worried about, why did you go after Brock?" Ash asked, his hand held out towards Pikachu as if motioning it not to attack.

"You'll have to win another round of--"
"I'm done playing." He said coldly. When Allison didn't respond after a few moments, Ash moved his hand away and Pikachu shocked the ground near Allison, hitting one of her cards and setting it on fire. The attack startled her and she tried to jump away, but the ropes prevented any movement.

"The next attack won't miss. So you'd better tell me why you went after Brock and not me." Ash said as Pikachu began to charge again.
Allison held her breath and turned her gaze to the door across the room. "Brock... was easy to manipulate. He's a fool when around a pretty face, a blatant weakness just waiting to be exploited. We figured he'd be an easier target then Misty."

"...What?" Misty asked confused. Pikachu let loose another thunderbolt, this one hitting right in front of Allison and igniting more cards.
"Why are you targeting my friends instead of me?" Ash asked again.

"I..." Allison began when she saw someone walk through the door and stopped, her eyes widening in fear.
"Hey Allison, did ya miss me?" Matt said, walking up to the group.
"W-what are you doing here?" Allison asked, trying to regain her composure. From the snide look on Matt's face, she could tell she wasn't doing a good job.
"So, what's with the burnin' cards?" He asked while kicking the pile out of his way.
"We were playing a game. If we won, she answered a question." Ash answered. "Well, that's how it started out anyway."

"Ah. Sounds like somethin' she'd think up. Always one for games. But hey, I got a game, and it's good too." Matt said, lightly pushing Ash out of his way as he walked towards Allison. She struggled against the ropes but before she knew it Matt was right next to her with both his hands wrapped tightly around her throat. She choked out a yell and continued to flail, but Matt's grip and the ropes kept her in place.
"Here's a game I like ta call 'Smart Move'. Make the smart move, and ya can live a little longer. Make a bad move, and I snap your neck. Understand?" Allison continued to struggle, so Matt tightened his grip and slammed her head back against the pole she was tied to, reopening the wound she got earlier. "Understand?" Matt asked again through clenched teeth. Allison slowly slumped down and nodded her head once as blood began to trickle down her neck.

"See, ya just need to know how to handle 'em." Matt said, looking back to where Ash and Misty stood.
"We had something worked out too, and it was going rather well." Ash said, exchanging a worried glance with Misty.
"Maybe, but this is more fun." Said Matt, turning his attention back to Allison and loosening his grip on her throat. "Now, let's see. Oh, I got a question. How come you didn't accept my offer back at the café?" Allison gulped and tried to stretch her neck up in hopes to breathe easier. "Well?" Matt asked, narrowing his eyes.
"Because you betrayed us, you sick bastard." She said, her voice cracking. "Not to mention, you're ugly as hell. I'd rather chew glass than spend the night with you." She looked at him in disgust and Matt grunted in rage.

"Bad move." He yelled as his grip tightened again. Allison squeaked and began to flail around again, trying to break lose or breathe but couldn't do either. Forty seconds went by and she looked over Matt's shoulder to see the fuzzy outline of Ash. She opened her mouth to call for help, but her voice was silent. Her eyes slowly began to float upwards, and all she could see was her brown suede shoe sitting in an abandoned alley next to a dusty blue and white Nike.

"Matt, that's enough!" Ash shouted, taking a step forward.
"Bitch deserves it." Matt mumbled, intently focused on her air-depraved face.
"I said that's enough!" Ash shouted again as he slammed into Matt's side, knocking him to the ground. Allison leaned forward and gasped for air between coughs. After a few long moments she slowly looked up to where Ash and Matt were standing up, but the room was growing dark. She saw Matt staring right at her, wearing a smile that made her stomach turn. Then everything faded to black.

Matt turned towards Ash and pushed him back. "What's your problem, man? Why'd ya stop me?" He yelled.
"Because you were killing her!" Ash shouted back.
"So? I thought you wanted revenge for your friend!"
"Not by killing her! That'd make us just like them!"
Matt looked over at Allison then turned to spit. "Whatever. I need a drink." And with that he walked over to a tiny fridge in the corner of the large room.

Ash turned and walked back towards Misty, who was crouching down next to Allison.
"Is she..."
"No, I think she just passed out again." Misty said, looking at the grotesque purplish-red marks circling her neck. "Matt said he made her an offer, and I think she said that he betrayed her. Sounds like they really were working together like we thought."
"Maybe. But what do we do now? She hasn't answered all our questions, and if we ask Matt about it, he'll just lie to us. Or worse." Ash said quietly, glancing over at Matt who was downing a Coors.
"I knew we shouldn't have let him come along!" Misty whispered. "But if we take Allison to the authorities now, she'll never answer our questions. We have no choice but to wait until she wakes up again."

Shadows and patches of light fell across the room as the sun sunk lower behind the western windows.

~{ * * * }~

Written by Jade Smith
January 2005