The Mystery Woman in Room Three is a new serialized young adult novel by Aya de León about two undocumented teenage girls in Florida who uncover a kidnapping plot to stop important climate legislation. This is the third part of six to be released over the next several weeks.
Before you continue, read:
DAVION’S HOUSE is on the line between our neighborhood and a slightly more middle-class area. It’s a modest, single-story bungalow, but there’s definitely no vacant lot anywhere on that block.
He shows us around the house, which is nice, but not that big, with hardwood floors and matching furniture. The garage is neat but dim. There’s a card table in the middle of it and four folding chairs. Apparently, his parents like to play cards with some of their friends.
But the best part of the house is the snacks! We don’t even have to go into the kitchen, because they have jumbo-sized containers of stuff that his mother buys at a superstore that they keep in the garage: chips, pretzels, cookies, everything. Heidi complains about how much waste each of the individually wrapped packages is making. But when we officially start the meeting, I notice she has a few snack packages in front of her.
“I’ve been studying the Green New Deal,” Davion says. “It’s like everything we could want in a just society. Not only addressing the climate crisis, but—and I quote—‘providing all people of the United States with— (i) high-quality health care; (ii) affordable, safe, and adequate housing; (iii) economic security; and (iv) clean water, clean air, healthy and affordable food, and access to nature.”
“That’s why we need to get the senator out,” I say. “Right Amandys?”
She nods. “She’s the vote they need to pass the senate.”
We start with all of us looking at the floor plans Amandys drew for me. My chest feels tight with the pressure. It’s Saturday and the vote is Monday.
“Amandys and I have thought a lot about it,” I say. “We think our only shot is to go in tomorrow.”
“They have music on Sunday mornings,” Amandys says.
“We could pretend to be singers,” I say.
“Singers?” Heidi says. “Excuse me? I can’t sing.”
“Can you play an instrument?” Davion asks.
Heidi shakes her head. “Maybe I could just lip-synch along?” she asks.
“Sure,” I say. “It’s not fancy. Just a lot of old people. Some of them probably can’t even hear that well.”
“Some of them are deaf?” Heidi asks. “I could sign the song for them.”
“You know sign language?” Davion asks.
“Yeah,” Heidi says. “My little brother is deaf.”
“Perfect,” I say. “We sing, you sign.”
We have it all mapped out. Our first move is to substitute plain hydration fluid for the sedative.
“Why not just clip it like you did before?” Heidi asks.
“If the nurse comes, she’ll be suspicious,” I say. “But if she sees clear fluid going in, she won’t know the difference.”
“I’ll do that part,” Amandys says. “People there have seen me before.”
“So that will be before ten in the morning when the music starts,” I say. “After the show ends, around noon, Senator Samuelson should be more or less awake. At that time, we think that Heidi and I should go in carrying a disguise. We’ll get the senator dressed to leave, and Heidi should put on a gown and take the senator’s place. We’ll turn off the light in the room, so if the nurse does a quick check, she’ll see someone in the bed.”
“Why me?” Heidi asks.
We can’t say because we’re undocumented. I shrug. “Of the four of us, you look the most like the senator. Pale skin. Short, light-colored hair. If anyone would be mistaken at a quick glance in dim light, it’s you.”
“I think that’s racist,” Davion says. “Why aren’t you giving the Black man a chance? Huh?”
The four of us laugh.
“Okay,” Heidi says. “I’ll bleach my roots tonight.”
“Good,” Amandys says.
“So while you’re pretending to be the senator,” I say. “I’ll be accompanying the real senator out of the building.”
“I’ll be in the hallway, pretending to look at my phone,” Amandys says. “I’ll tell everyone when it’s safe to move.”
“And what about me?” Davion asks.
“You’ll be outside with your contacts from the press,” I say. “You can also check in the with the Sunrise Movement people.”
“Then the senator just walks out the front door with Mariluna,” Amandys says.
“And we take her away to the press conference,” Davion says.
We don’t know who we can trust. The senator doesn’t even know who on her own team she can trust.
Getting Heidi and Davion to agree to the plan is easy. We plot it all out. The hardest part that day is figuring out what to sing and trying to sound like we’re a real singing group.
After what ended up being more singing rehearsal than planning, the meeting is just about to break up. I pick up my backpack when Davion checks his phone.
“Hold on, everyone,” he says. “I’m just seeing a text from the journalism teacher, Mr. Howell. I told him we were meeting today. He says he’s willing to help us, but he’s asking if he can come by to meet everyone in person.”
“Okay by me,” Heidi says.
I look at Amandys, and she makes that slow, tense shrug that says, “I don’t know,” but really means, “I don’t feel comfortable saying no, but I mean no.”
I look straight at Davion. “How come?” I ask. “He’ll see us tomorrow. He’ll get to meet us at the press conference.” Which isn’t really true. Amandys and I plan to keep a low profile at the press conference. But by then, the senator will be out and everyone will be paying attention to her, not us.
“Okay,” Davion says. “I’ll let him know.”
He sends a text, and we all pick up our stuff to go.
“So, are we all set?” I ask.
Davion looks at his phone. “Hold on,” he says. “Mr. Howell is typing.”
Amandys and I look at each other. I don’t like this.
“Uh-oh,” Davion says. “Let me just read it: ‘I’m putting my professional reputation on the line to call up all my contacts from my reporter days. You only gave me the broad strokes about what your friends found out, and I can’t get them to take me on the word of a student who spoke to the source. They say I need to talk to the actual witnesses.”
I had been feeling excited before we got this text. Now I’m feeling the excited butterflies in my belly turn to angry bees.
“We can’t do it without him,” Heidi says.
“We don’t need him in particular,” I say. “We just need an adult to set up a press conference.”
“It’s not that simple,” Davion says. “I also called some of my contacts in the press, a couple of reporters from the Miami Herald who I met during a journalism summer program. They haven’t even called me back.”
“What about your people at Sunrise?” I ask Heidi. “Can they get the press to cover this?”
Heidi shakes her head. “They were just complaining that the climate reporters are swamped—no pun intended—because there’s breaking climate news all the time. We’d have to tell them it was Senator Samuelson. And that would mean telling someone from Sunrise to tell their press contact who would tell their editor. I trust Sunrise, but some of these media people might be on the wrong side. They might tip off the people who are holding the senator.”
Amandys nods. “What happens if we don’t have an adult,” she asked. “If we don’t have any reporters?”
“That’s risky in a different way,” Davion says. “Like you all said before, we don’t know who we can trust. The senator doesn’t even know who on her own team she can trust.”
I nod. “Maybe we could break her out and then call the press?”
“But where do we take her?” Heidi asks. “What if someone’s chasing us? The media are our best source of protection. If we take her straight to a press conference, they can’t try again to kidnap her.”
“Heidi’s right,” Davion says. “If we call the press after the senator is out, we would be exposed until a few reporters could get to us. It’s a big risk.”
“What do you think?” I ask Amandys in quick Spanish. This time when she shrugs, it really means, “I don’t know.”
“I don’t like this,” I say in English.
“I understand,” Davion says. “I’m not saying we should go with Mr. Howell. I’m just telling you what he’s saying so we can all decide.”
“Can we be sure he won’t sell us out to Martin Miller?” I ask.
Heidi shakes her head. “No way,” she says. “Mr. Howell is a liberal Democrat. When I talked to him last year, he said he supported the idea of the Green New Deal, but thought it was too bold to pass Congress. But all that has changed. We’re so close to getting it passed. If that means we need to trust Mr. Howell, I say we should.”
“I think so, too,” Davion says. “But I’ll go with whatever you two say you want to do.”
I’m not sure what the right thing to do is. How do you even make a decision like this?
I turn to my friend. “I think it’s really up to you, Amandys,” I say. “What do you think?”
Her face is tense, too. She looks out the window at a blue sky with rain clouds. Does this mean we’ll have another flood? I guess it depends on the amount of rain, plus the timing with the tides.
“I think we need to do it,” Amandys says. “This is about the Green New Deal. First, I didn’t know who to trust. But first I trusted you, Mariluna. Then you, Heidi. Then you, Davion. We’re so close to getting her out of there. And it looks like we need an adult to help make it happen.”
“So, do we all agree that Davion can have Mr. Howell come by to meet us?” I ask her.
Amandys agrees, and Davion sends the text.
MR. HOWELL TALKS A LITTLE TOO FAST FOR ME. He’s a tall white man in his forties who smiles a lot. He shakes our hands with a firm grip. He asks questions and Mariluna asks him to slow down. It would have been easier to play the recording for him, but we decided not to. He’ll need to take our word for it. If we need to trust him, he also needs to trust us.
By the end of the conversation, he nods and says, “Wow. This is amazing. It’s an honor to help you kids. Seriously. An honor.”
That night I can barely sleep. After the visit from Mr. Howell, we all went out to buy different supplies. Heidi got the disguise for the senator: a wig, a raincoat, and dark glasses. Davion got three more pairs of Bluetooth earbuds, so we can communicate on our phones.
Mariluna and I went to the hospital supply store to get the IV fluids. She asked the woman working there about changing an IV. “It’s for my grandma,” she said. “She’s home from the hospital.”
The woman explains to us in Spanish that you have to be careful or a bubble of air can kill a patient.
Like I wasn’t nervous enough already. I stay up late searching for articles on my phone in Spanish with instructions on how to avoid air bubbles.
I finally get to sleep around four in the morning, so I wake up late.
“Where are you running off to?” Mami asks.
“I’m meeting Mariluna,” I say. “We’re singing for some elders.”
“That’s so nice,” she says. “Where?”
“I don’t know,” I lie. “Somewhere in town.”
“You should come sing at Shady Orchards sometime,” she says.
“Sounds good, Mami,” I say. “I’m sure we will.”
The wig is dark and straight. The coat is brown and forgettable. The glasses are large and ugly. Perfect.
The four of us meet at the bus stop around the corner from Shady Acres. Davion passes out the earbuds, and Heidi shows us the disguise. The wig is dark and straight. The coat is brown and forgettable. The glasses are large and ugly. Perfect.
We test the earbuds and practice getting all of us into the same call. Everything seems to be working fine.
Mariluna hands me the IV bag and I walk alone over to Shady Orchards. It’s busy at 9:30. Musicians with instruments coming in. Elderly patients being accompanied downstairs to the multipurpose room.
Instead of waiting until the hallway is empty and quiet, I wait until it’s busy and bustling, and no one will notice me. I slip into La Rica’s room and lock the door behind me. I still can’t quite think of her as Senator Samuelson.
She lays there looking so frail and small on the bed. I quickly pull the sedative IV bag off the rack and unplug it. Then I dump it into the sink. The splashing sound of the liquid sounds so loud. My heart beats hard as I’m sure someone in the hallway will hear and burst through the door. But no one does.
My hands are shaking as I replace the sedative with the hydration fluids. The long tube leads to the IV in the back of La Rica’s hand. I’m careful to make sure there are no bubbles of air in the line. Am I doing it right? Do I have time to look at the video again?
My heart is banging against my ribs. This is way more than I can handle. But then I hear some music coming from downstairs. Someone playing jazz piano. My body relaxes just a bit. I check my watch. The concert hasn’t started yet. Just someone messing around. But the music soothes me. I can do this.
Before I leave, I pick up La Rica’s hand.
“Don’t worry, Senator,” I say. “We’ll be back for you. We have a plan.”
I say it in Spanish. I figure she’s unconscious. Sedated. She can understand me equally well in any language.
Part Four of Aya de León’s The Mystery Woman in Room Three
will be available next week.