Hello! So…OK. This is Ben's POV. And there will be some adventure later, by the way. Um…I know I'm forgetting something else…pairings are a secret! I'm not giving anything away that's not in the summary. It'll be more fun to read later the less you know, I swear.
Disclaimer: If the world were mine, Riley and the gang would be too. So I better get on that world domination thing pretty soon…oh! And any other thing you may recognize that's copyrighted: not mine. The quotes at the beginning and end of this chapter are from The Scarlet Letter. Don't sue me. I have no money.Chapter One
("The heart, making itself guilty of such secrets, must perforce hold them, until the day when all hidden things shall be revealed.")
There's a little known fact about me that even Dad doubted for a while: I love to cook. Sure, when I'm in a puzzle-solving mode the microwave's my best friend, but there's nothing better than making something from scratch, at least in my mind. So seeing as Riley's over for dinner (and would probably burn himself boiling water) and Abigail's upstairs, recuperating from a long day in some obscure town examining the authenticity of an important document, dinner duty was gladly relegated to me. Curry's on the menu, one of Abigail's favorites, but Riley's tastes might be a little…uh…limited.
He's in the living room just off the kitchen; I can tell from the poor-quality background music radiating from the TV speakers. Problem is, that music seems to be seriously impeding his hearing.
"Huh?" OK, good. A response. He's not lost yet.
"What are you doing?" I ask as I move toward the door so I can see him.
"Playing Star Fox on my Super Nintendo!" he declares triumphantly as some happy victory music sounds. "I just beat level one with a new high score!"
Leave it to Riley to obsess over an outdated fifteen-year-old game. I know he bought that new…"Wii" or "You" or "Everyone" system last month, but there he is: playing Star Fox.
"Here," he says, shoving the controller in my hands. "You play level two. It's not hard."
Within three seconds my ship crashes into a space rock and explodes. I simply stare at Riley with an amused look. "Yeah. Really easy. You can have it back," I chuckle before tossing it back at him. "Dinner'll be ready in about ten minutes, OK?"
Might as well be talking to a wall, a wall that occasionally mutters things like "Oh no, Falco! I'm coming! Don't die!" under its breath. But honestly, I much prefer him playing this thing than when he plays that new system; when he does the tennis game I start to hear him badmouth the computer players ("I'm surprised your stumpy little arms can even hold a racket!"; "Who designed you? The same guy who did Michael Jackson's plastic surgery?").
"Hey Riley? Could you come taste this?" It's worth a shot…maybe he'll hear me. And what do you know? Here he comes now, and rather upset by the looks of it.
"Ugh," he sighs, taking a seat on a nearby stool. "There's something wrong with the game. I was doing fine, and then Falco and all his buddies ganged up together and shot me out of the sky!" With a frustrated sigh, he whips out a pen and scribbles furiously in circles on a Post-It note. "That felt good."
"Y'know…" I pause to test the curry again. "I think I remember you telling Ian and myself on the way to the Charlotte about how you reprogrammed that game so it would be more of a challenge." It's true—and Ian had given me this strange look afterwards, like he couldn't believe I'd recruited someone like Riley.
"So…" he sniffs the air. "What're you making again?"
"Curry. Have you had it before?" I offer him a spoonful.
He smiles briefly like I just asked him the stupidest question in the world. "Ben, Ben, Ben…I work with computers…therefore I live off Asian food."
After a taste (and telling me that I really should have added some sort of Hungarian paprika), he went back to his Post-It note and is still doodling angrily. I'm kind of scared to see the finished product. Knowing Riley, it'll probably be…well, there's no one word that could possibly do it any justice.
"Mm, smells delicious, Ben!"
I turn to find Abigail coming in from the other door, close to where Riley is seated. "And what are you up to, Riley?"
He unceremoniously rips the note off the pad and shows her with enthusiasm halfway reflecting that of a first grader. "I drew a pretty picture!"
Upon seeing Abigail's reaction, it must be a pretty weird picture. "Wow, Riley…this…thing you're hitting the bird with…"
"It's a giant bagel," he states calmly, like it's not peculiar in the least bit. "See, I have this theory that Falco is allergic to wheat products, so this giant bagel should do some harm." For some reason he doesn't catch Abigail's very obvious attempts at trying not to laugh.
"It's great," she finally chokes, hiding a giggle. "But do you mind getting some water out for dinner? The table's already set."
Riley hadn't even been off his stool for a second before the doorbell rings. "I'll get it," Abigail sighs, muttering something about "it's always at dinnertime…"
"Who could that be?" I wonder aloud.
"Can't be your parents," Riley says amongst the clatter of water glasses. "Aren't they in New Delhi or something, searching for more rugs with secret stitching?"
I had just opened my mouth to answer when Abigail calls in, "It's Sadusky and some of his friends!"
"Let them in!" An unexpected visit from Sadusky is always fun, especially if he brought Hendrix. He and Riley always end up getting in some really amusing argument about how the FBI had rejected our claim that the Declaration of Independence would be stolen. Out of context, half of what's said between them makes no sense. The best example was over the summer when Riley, completely fed up, said, "Oh yeah? Well you can take that magic purple pony of yours and shove it up your hard drive for all I care!"
My pleasant memory is quickly forgotten when Abigail returns; she looks worried—more worried than she should be around Sadusky.
"Hello, Ben," I hear Sadusky say a moment later. He's followed by Hendrix (who's carrying a jug of something or other), that other woman they work with whose name I can never remember, and about three armed policemen with the yellow "FBI" emblazoned on their uniforms.
"Hello…" I try to keep my tone as unskeptical as possible; Riley's sensing the mood change too…he sets the glasses down with a quiet clink. "Um…where's the party?"
By the way he looks down before answering, I already know this isn't heading in a good direction. "I wish it were so," he sighs. "I've got a warrant for an arrest—and no Ben," he cuts me off even before I can get a syllable in. "This is not about any of your activities involved in your treasure hunting."
A tense silence follows as Abigail, Riley, and I wonder about what exactly is going on. Sadusky doesn't breach it, either: maybe he's building suspense (which I hope he isn't…that would be a cruel thing to do to a friend) or he's having a difficult time with the whole business of arresting one of us.
"This is a warrant for the arrest of a Mr. Riley Poole, also known as Riley McLaughlin."
What? This…can't…Riley McLaughlin has been on every "most wanted" list for the past six years. Our Riley can't be that Riley. This is insane. My eyes dart to where Riley's standing; he has his hands clenched so hard around one of the glasses I'm surprised he hasn't broken it. Yet his expression isn't angry—it's more troubled than anything.
"Riley McLaughlin?" Abigail says finally. "That guy who hacked into the CIA and NSA databases and sold security secrets to the Middle East?" Skeptically, her eyes too glance at Riley.
"The very same." Normally I'm quite good at reading people, but I cannot tell what Sadusky may be thinking; I have a hunch that he's just as unbelieving as Abigail and I are. But then again, I thought I knew Riley.
"But…" Abigail continues, still doubtful. "Riley McLaughlin was known for his unusually bright red hair." She points at Riley's head of black hair ; usually when she's at a loss for words, a string of muttered swears or bad comebacks issue from her mouth. She must be truly stunned to resort to pointing out the obvious.
"Agent Hendrix," Sadusky says with a nod towards Riley, who had begun to shake.
My hope for everyone to suddenly shout "Surprise! Just kidding!" vanishes as I look at Hendrix carrying that jug. There will be no talks of ponies and hard drives tonight.
"W-w-w-what's in that thing you've got there?" Riley manages to stutter.
"Fast-acting hair dye remover." The young agent pulls out a cloth and pours a bit of the pale blue liquid onto it. For a moment it looks as if Hendrix is suddenly wishing that they have it wrong.
One brief swipe down the center of his head leaves the cloth black, revealing a stripe of extremely violent orange in its place.
And then time stops.
Sadusky's solemn order of "Take him away" sounds murky and unnaturally slow…Abigail's gasp is a thousand miles away. The only thing I can focus on is Riley: we stare at each other, and little by little his blank stare crumbles into distress and apology and a hundred other things I can't even put into words.
"Ben!" I hear him cry. "It's not what you think!" Futilely, he tries to break the hold of the uniformed agents that have pinned his arms behind him. "Just let me explain!" he shouts over his shoulder to Sadusky. "To everyone! No one—"
"Riley, you'll have time to do that before a judge," says the woman agent calmly; it seems Sadusky is unable to say anything more.
"What judge?" Riley continues in a more desperate and angry manner. "You all decided my guilt six years ago!" After a few more fruitless struggles, he turns back to me, the fluorescent lights reflecting off the newly sprung tears in his eyes. "Ben! This isn't what it looks like! You know me! Please Ben!" His cries diminish as the agents pull him out the door. Only Sadusky remains.
"I'm sorry we ruined your evening," he says with a significant look at both of us…right when an indecipherable yell from Riley echoes in from the front yard. "I really am."
The scene clouds over, fading…the older agent's footsteps become muffled…
"Ben. Ben." It's Abigail, and it seems she's shaking me awake. "Were you dreaming about it again?"
The bright green digits from the clock blaring into my unadjusted pupils tell me it's two forty-seven in the morning…again. These nightmares have plagued me since Riley was taken away. "How'd you know?" I mumble, still half asleep. "Was I muttering again?"
"A bit." I feel her weight readjust; she's probably sitting up or something. "Your best friend…I can only imagine how that has affected you…" I can tell she's frustrated that I'm not saying anything. Maybe I don't want to talk about it. It's not as if the complete lack of any sort of humor around here is enough of a reminder. "Ben," she says again. "It's been a month. When are you going to talk about it? Your parents are returning from India tomorrow evening and are going to show up here expecting to see him. What are you supposed to tell them?"
"Later…can we discuss this later?"
With a resigned sigh, she settles back down and restlessly turns over. There's no way she can be anywhere close to asleep.
So I guess we'll both be awake—no matter how hard I try, I can't get my mind away from my last memory of Riley that day, with his broken expression and tear streaked face.
("So, to their unutterable torment, they go about among their fellow-creatures, looking pure as new fallen snow while their hearts are all speckled with iniquity of which they cannot rid themselves.")
So…what do you think?
Just as a side note, that whole thing with Star Fox sort of comes from my own life. My grandma has a Super Nintendo at her house for when my cousins and I come over, and it's got Mortal Kombat II (yeah, two) and Star Fox. I royally suck at that game. I did what Ben did: blow up in 3 seconds on level two.
Please review. I have severe writers block in dealing with chapter five in my notebook and could really use a boost. Updates will be as fast as my schoolwork will allow.