Back from the dead? Well, visiting! I wanted to get some kind of writing done before I leave for another summer at camp, so I chose to update this since my PotC story got all the attention last May before I left. I know it's been forever, but I'm still updating, aren't I? :) I hope everyone has a fabulous summer ahead of them! Enjoy the update!
- Dis/Claimer –
x x x
. Chapter Eleven .
There were two kinds of darkness that marred two kinds of vision.
Riley had physically experienced one sensation more than a few times - blackness spotting the corners of his eyes until he fell unconscious, no longer able to see. This happened notably from flying off a swing, a party during his sophomore year of college, falling to his near death in an underground cavern, and, more recently, being shot by Benjamin Gates.
Then, there was this. This mental fixation that slowly leaked like a thick tar over reason and rationale, their vices smoldering in his sharp, distant eyes. Time moved in that it was measured by purpose; everything was and was not. Riley walked down the narrow aisle of the sleek train car with an unfamiliar heated calm lifting his posture as the veins under his jawbone pulsed.
Abigail's body disappeared into the wall of the train, Ben and Carolyn following. Riley stepped into the empty compartment last, the smell of fresh upholstery annoying him further. He sat between Carolyn and the door as they pulled out the new compass immediately, all unaware of him emitting a troubling silence.
"It's gorgeous," Abigail breathed as Carolyn handed it to her. She turned it over with the utmost care her hands had shown hundreds of historical artifacts, and a shapely "S" glowed in the amber light from the window. She traced its smooth curves with her finger. "That gravestone must have sealed perfectly for this kind of preservation."
Ben pointed to the words along the bottom's edge. "The next riddle." He quickly pulled a bit of paper out of his pocket and unfolded it. "I've already figured out most of it from what you left, but I just want to make sure the words are all correct."
Treated war to set the pace
Over an ocean to find but a trace
Carolyn looked over at Riley's stony face and rolled her eyes. "I wasn't going to not leave the riddle for them."
He was opting not to participate in conversation. Carolyn finally shook her head and leaned forward with her elbows on her knees to better see the South compass. Ben's eyes jumped from the piece of pamphlet to the compass once more before he was satisfied that they were identical.
"You figured everything out already?" Carolyn asked.
"In the riddle, yes," Ben said, now tapping another part of the piece of paper. "We still have these six encoded letters to figure out: J J C K P N. Riley?"
Ben's attempt at a friendly smile faded when he looked up at Riley. His arms were folded tight over his chest, eyebrows deep, hard, and furious. Swallowing, Ben sat back and passed the crumb of paper to Abigail, continuing to feel Riley's unnerving gaze scrape into his skin.
"What do you know about the riddle?" Carolyn asked, trying to permeate the strained silence.
Ben took the compass in both of his hands. "The references to the direction West are apparent – 'set' and 'ocean'. 'Treated war' is a war that ended with a treaty, likely one that involved the Sons of Liberty. A war that 'set the pace' for the life of a new nation 'over an ocean' – the Revolutionary War."
"The Revolutionary War ended with the Treaty of Paris in 1783," Abigail said, turning to her cell phone. "To find the next compass, it will have to do with this document. Its location, its text-"
"Where is the original Treaty of Paris from 1783?" Carolyn asked. "It's not in Paris, is it?"
Ben fell back into the comfortable blue seating with a sigh, running one of his palms over his thigh. "No. No, the treaty was signed in Paris, which, it might be possible that we'd have to go to Hotel d'York. But there were three originals: one to England and two to the United States."
"Both of ours reside in the National Archives," Abigail provided. She showed them the image she had accessed on her phone. "One is signed with the wax seals vertically, and the other, shown here, has them arranged horizontally."
Carolyn examined the picture of the seals with a small smile. The four bright red circles were linked together with what looked to be a green ribbon. More proof that they were connected and, more importantly, that they were still on track.
"So, now what? Do we look at the text? The seals?" she asked, handing the phone back to Abigail before tying her hair back in a ponytail.
"I'm not sure," Ben said, removing his coat, "but if we can decode that word, I have a feeling we'll be pointed in the right direction. It didn't look like a transposition cipher. I'd try substitution if anything."
"And we'd need a specific word or letter to decipher it," Abigail said. "Is there any paper lying around?"
x x x
Four hours later, the train passed through New York City. Riley remained tightly coiled in his shadowed seat as the others diligently scribbled through a legal pad trying to decipher the six letters. By now, they knew better than to ask him for anything, let alone his help.
But it was too late for forgiveness.
Without word, Riley rose from his seat, opened the compartment door, and stepped outside. When the door slid shut, Carolyn and Abigail looked up, both of them surprised to see that Ben did not.
"Where is he going?" Abigail asked quietly. Carolyn shrugged. She set her pencil and paper in the spot where Riley had been, ready to go after him when Ben said "I've got it."
x x x
Riley walked nearly the entire length of the train until he found a compartment with opaque windows. He slipped inside, drawing the shades over the windows on either side of him.
He looked down at the phone in his hand and gripped it tightly, bringing it to his forehead as he took several long, silent breaths.
What are you doing? Just do it. No more of this. God, what are you doing?
He hit TALK and brought the phone to his ear, biting his lip and pinching his eyes shut.
x x x
"What is it?" Abigail asked as their three heads crowded over the papers spilling off Ben's lap in the small, lit compartment. He unfolded the entire sheet of paper he had been working on.
"It was encoded with what is called the Vinegére cipher. It's a simple polyalphabetic substitution method of coding, meaning it goes through several Caesar cipher-type shifts. This is the Vinegére Square."
. .A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
A A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
B B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z A
C C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z A B
D D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z A B C
E E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z A B C D
F F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z A B C D E
G G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z A B C D E F
H H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z A B C D E F G
I I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z A B C D E F G H
J J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z A B C D E F G H I
K K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z A B C D E F G H I J
L L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z A B C D E F G H I J K
M M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z A B C D E F G H I J K L
N N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z A B C D E F G H I J K L M
O O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z A B C D E F G H I J K L M N
P P Q R S T U V W X Y Z A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O
Q Q R S T U V W X Y Z A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P
R R S T U V W X Y Z A B C E D F G H I J K L M N O P Q
S S T U V W X Y Z A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R
T T U V W X Y Z A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S
U U V W X Y Z A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T
V V W X Y Z A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U
W W X Y Z A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V
X X Y Z A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W
Y Y Z A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X
Z Z A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y
"After trying a number of words and letters that might be relevant, the letter 'S'" – he turned the new compass over – "made our six letters," - he circled J J C K P N at the top of the page - "spell out the word 'ratify'.
"If you find the letter 'S' on the top of the Square and the 'R' for 'ratify' along the side, you'll see that they intersect at J. Then, you intersect J and the 'A' of 'ratify' and get the second J. So on and so forth."
S – R: J
J – A: J
J – T: C
C – I: K
K – F: P
P – Y: N
Carolyn nodded. "Incredible. What does 'ratify' mean then?"
"Well, the Treaty of Paris 1783 was ratified in 1784," Abigail began.
"January 14, 1784," Ben said. "Ratification Day. It was brought into law by the Congress of the Confederation at our then nation's capital, Annapolis, Maryland. They held the meeting in the Old Senate Chamber of the Maryland Statehouse-"
The compartment door opened, and Riley sat down wordlessly despite the three sets of eyes staring at him. He picked up one of the pieces of paper Carolyn had been trying to decipher the code on, glanced over it indifferently, and set it back down between them.
"How are the restrooms?" Ben asked, chancing conversation as he folded his yellow paper and tucked it in the pocket of his coat lying on the seat.
Riley said nothing.
x x x
Maddox held the phone closer to his ear, eyebrows rising. "Really?"
"Yes," Myers said.
Whittacre's lips curled into a smile.
"Well. I don't know what to say," he laughed. "But here's the plan."
x x x
Near midnight, the train was nearing its final stop of the evening in Baltimore. Carolyn had dozed off against the window, her feet curled up on the seat under her coat next to Riley's leg. Riley sat up out of his slouch as he expanded and compressed his chest with his shoulders, hissing when the injured one reached its maximum range of motion. Ben and Abigail looked up from their phones where they had been accessing information about the next stop on their treasure conquest. Carolyn stirred, her feet dropping to the ground as she stretched.
"Did anyone see the restroom on our way in earlier?" she asked.
"Riley, do you remember where it is?" Abigail asked, standing.
Riley looked at the white, navy, blue, and teal pinstriped carpeting. "To the right," he murmured, nodding as they thanked him on the way out.
For several minutes after the train came to a stop, he and Ben collected the loose papers scattered around the seats without word, stuffing them into the waste bin in the wall. Riley picked a small yellow ball packed into the grooves on the underside of his shoe and dug it out with his finger.
Out of the corner of his eye, Ben watched the same dark anger on his face thrive since boarding, since having Whittacre's words ring horrible untruths in his head. Ben took a deep breath, carefully monitoring the frustration in his tone.
"I'm sorry, Riley. For everything. But I wasn't going to let him have you."
"And the kids?" Riley suddenly laughed. "Your dad? They're expendable, right? I guess you just start with the sidekick and move on up the list now."
"Everything I am doing is to get my family back!"
Riley glared at him. "No! Everything you are doing is for you. You have to figure this out for your mother, for your own closure-"
"For my family!" Ben snarled. "Are you even going to let me explain before you jump to the conclusion that I was trying to have you murdered?"
Suddenly, the door slammed open. A group of FBI agents swarmed over Ben, jerking him from his seat and putting him in handcuffs. His mind firing in a thousand directions from the bombardment, Ben ceased to move when he saw Riley sitting calmly in his seat having not even flinched.
Horror tremored over him as he met Riley's cold, hollow eyes and watched him whisper, "No."
Ben tried to buck out of the grasp of the men, his teeth clenched and neck thrashing. "Riley!"
Riley stared as the four men in coal black suits yanked Ben upright, the famed historian grimacing as the handcuffs dug into his wrist bones. A fifth FBI agent wearing a smug grin entered the compartment then, and Riley stood.
"Thank you very much for the tip, Mr. Poole." Ben's eyes doubled in size. "My name is Agent Joseph Myers, and I am a… a liaison to Maddox Whittacre if you will."
Riley's eyes shifted, the sickening sense of wrongdoing prickling from his scalp to over a billion nerve endings all over his body.
Myers smiled. "You've heard of him."
The kindly aged man stood between the momentary, fearful eye contact Riley had made with Ben. "Mr. Whittacre would like to thank you for supplying him with the whereabouts of Mr. Gates here. He will exceedingly easier to monitor now as his treasure hunt progresses.
Riley tried to interject as Myers went on, but he was too struck to make words. Ben's face panned into an unreadable expression as Riley's heart leapt to his throat.
"Maddox has guys on the inside of the FBI…"
"As a thank you, Mr. Whittacre has had the FBI drop all charges against you, Mrs. Gates, and Miss Howe. He requests that you end your pursuit of the treasure, however. You do not want to get in his way, especially if you want to see the children again.
"Now there are a lot of cameras out there ready to see you."
"C-cameras?" Riley stammered.
"Maddox likes a lot of show," Myers said. "Benjamin Gates is in the custody of the FBI after kidnapping his once trusted accomplice? On top of grand theft, conspiracy, attempted murder? Of course there will be cameras, Mr. Poole. Ben Gates is on his way to federal prison. And Ian Howe isn't here to set him free this time."
Riley paled as they led Ben out of the room, the hushed roar of the paparazzi and reporters out in the station making him dizzy and the air unbreathable.
x x x
Abigail's mouth fell open as she and Carolyn came face to face with the FBI agents holding Ben in custody. Myers flashed his badge and began to push past them.
"Agent Myers of the FBI, Mrs. Gates. Your husband is under arrest for crimes from attempted murder to robbery."
"Ben!" Her hands reached out desperately for him through the muscled bodies of the agents where she was able to find a small window of his face. "Ben!"
"Get to the Statehouse," he said low and quick, fighting to see her for only a second longer. "Get to Statehouse, and don't worry about me." He was jerked away.
"Get there before he does!"
In an instant, the agents had cleared the tight aisle, leaving Abigail and Carolyn against the wall, breathless. Immediately, the two women dashed to their compartment to find Riley standing in a stupor, his eyes affixed in a portion of invisible space as his chest rose and fell quickly.
"Riley! Riley, what happened!" Abigail asked, seizing his shoulders.
He shook himself back to the compartment. "I don't know," he gasped, grabbing at the stomach of his shirt uneasily. "They just came in and took him."
"It's Whittacre," Carolyn sighed.
Riley's eyes darted to her. "What?"
"The meteorologist, Harper, back in Allenhurst. He told us that Maddox had people on the inside."
Riley blinked, his face heavy with guilt, shock, and consequence. Existence was blank and vile, devouring him in his own foul treachery and deceit.
What have I done?
Abigail ran her hands over her face as Carolyn took her and Ben's coats in her arms, watching Riley's devil shoulder tauntingly smirk something triumphant. She frowned.
"We need to get to the next clue," Carolyn said, eyes still on her unresponsive fiancé.
"I can't go without him," Abigail said. "If this is Whittacre-"
"This is Whittacre," Carolyn interrupted, touching Abigail's arm, "and Ben is right. Getting to the next compass is what we have to do. If we make it there first, we can trade it to get Ben and the kids back."
Slowly, Abigail nodded, exhaling polluted thoughts as she walked into the doorway of the compartment, looking in either direction with a stale sense of inner strength clad over her pounding heart. "Let's go this way. Hurry."
x x x
"Oh, please don't look so sullen, Mr. Gates. You're supposed to smile for these people."
Ben's snarl was illuminated by the bright flashes of the large cameras before the doors of the police truck were slammed shut and locked. Joseph Myers maneuvered impatiently through the crowd of reporters shouting at him, their greedy curiosity making the dank, spring night hot and toxic. He got into the passenger seat of the truck, motioned for the driver to go, and called Maddox.
"Congratulations, Myers," Maddox greeted happily. "You've got Gates. Feel better now?"
"He hasn't said anything, and I doubt that will change once we get to the station," Myers said. "We'll be transferring him to a federal facility in D.C. in the morning. If you want to meet us there to speak with him, I can arrange it."
"I won't be able to be there in person," Maddox said as Myers picked at the skin around his thumb. "Abigail is headed for that next clue. I need to be there first, but I have no leads on where the location might be."
"Gates told his wife to get to the Statehouse," Myers said. "Get there before you do. I would assume with the hearts stitched on their sleeves they would come after Gates first."
Myers heard Maddox shake his head. "I'm not assuming anything."
"Is Miss Jackson with you?"
Myers listened to Whittacre sigh heavily. "No. No, she's bringing Patrick Gates and his grandchildren down from Boston. "
"What about those two imbeciles from the boat?"
"Mr. Kacy is AWOL, and Dominic is back in Roanoke. If my whole crew goes missing, the press will be suspicious. I will have to return there myself soon to check in on the excavation. I'd have Priscilla do it, but I need some face time with the Project documentary team. I wish she could at least arrange a way for me to get there. I can't just put everything on hold for this, but I can't do it all at the same time."
"That's what your assistant is for after all, Maddox."
"God. I'm lost without this woman sometimes, Myers, I tell you." A brief silence echoed through the murmuring static. When Maddox said no more, the agent smiled into the phone.
"Get to the Statehouse. You're going to lose them if you don't."
x x x
Abigail successfully led Riley and Carolyn out of the bustling station without being recognized by anyone. The chaos surrounding Ben's arrest had everyone's full attention, giving them an opportunity to escape into the salty, sulfuric taste of Baltimore. Its glistening nighttime backdrop was merely a curtain to be parted to the Maryland Statehouse in Annapolis some thirty miles on.
After acquiring some fresh clothes and a rental from a man who was pretty sure Carolyn looked like the woman who was married to Benjamin Gates ("you know, the man who was just arrested?"), they were bound for the Maryland Statehouse and her Old Senate Chamber.
Riley drove. It required little active mental process, something he could do functioning almost entirely on auto pilot as his self-conscience hammered at him relentlessly, unwilling to let him see any bout of hope or forgiveness that might materialize from this situation. Carolyn was sitting next to him tired and straight-faced; Abigail was catching some precious sleep in the backseat.
"Ben sent the meteorologist because he knew he wouldn't kill us."
Carolyn's head lolled over to her left shoulder. Riley knew that she had figured out why Ben had been arrested aside from Whittacre's promise to 'see them at the end of the line.' His body ached with shame.
Riley stared on as the orange highway lights swept over his rough face.
"I messed up, Carolyn. I really, really messed up."
"Yes," she whispered, a pebble of pity dissolving her acidic anger. "Yes you did."
Riley's chest heaved, his head falling to his collarbone momentarily. "How can I fix it?"
"I don't know that it's possible," she answered honestly, gazing out the windshield as the white dashes disappeared under their beige Corolla. "But if you want to, if you really want to," she said softly, "maybe there's a chance that you can."
Riley swallowed. "He'll never forgive me for this."
Carolyn reached over to his hand dangling on the edge of the center console and rubbed it.
"You'd be surprised."
x x x
"Can we go home now?"
Priscilla gripped the edge of the countertop, shutting her eyes. Why did you have me bring them here, Maddox? I don't care how nice this damn suite is, I better get something good out of playing babysitter to these four insolate-
"We need to go to Grandpa's house," Sally said from her seat at the bar next to her brother, "because no one has been there to feed Champ for him!"
Priscilla snatched the trash from their Happy Meals off the counter when Charlie popped the last bite of his hamburger into his mouth. "Champ?" she asked. "Is that your dog?"
Charlie leveled his eyebrows. "It's Grandpa's dog. And his name isn't Quincy."
The raven haired woman stared at him. "I'd assume not as you said his name was Champ."
"No," Patrick said, coming out of the bathroom with Alex's small body wrapped in an oversized towel. "The dog's name is Quincy. They call him Champ. And my dog is probably starving right now."
"Tell Whittacre about it," Priscilla said dismissively as a knock came at the door. "If he feels guilty enough, maybe he'll get you another labradoodle."She incurred a scowl from Patrick as she passed him.
"My dog is a golden retriever."
"Whatever, one of those."
Priscilla threw the door open impatiently, her callous expression lightening at the sight of Whittacre in the hall. He smiled politely, stepping into the doorway as Patrick looked on suspiciously.
"I was wondering when you were going to show up," Priscilla muttered.
"I know, and I apologize, but I have to be quick. I need you to hold on to them for just a little while longer."
Priscilla sighed. "What?"
"Myers has Gates, and I'm about to go meet the others," he said in a hushed tone to appease her frustration. "I don't care if you stay here or go on a road trip, just keep them out of our way and unharmed until I call you."
"We're close, Priscilla. So – close!"
"Mr. Whittacre! Mr. Whittacre!" Charlie came running to the door, grinning ear to ear up at Maddox. "Can we go on your boat now?"
"Yeah, you promised!" Sally called from the bar stool.
Maddox huffed. "You want to go on a boat? A big boat? Much larger than mine?"
"Yeah!" the twins chorused loudly.
Maddox's hands flew out to the side, a broad smile filling his face as he turned to Priscilla. "Then it's settled! Grab the first cruise ship out of here in the morning."
Charlie and Sally immediately screeched with joy, jumping up and down and hugging Patrick around the waist.
"Wait just a second!" Patrick said. "I want to see my son!"
"You'll see him soon enough," Whittacre called from the door. "You're getting to take a nice vacation with the grandchildren. It'll be good for all of you."
A hard tug came at his shirt.
"Maddox, I am not going to be stuck on a cruise ship babysitting these people," Priscilla said hotly through gritted teeth. Whittacre held up a hand as she let go of his shirt.
"Darling, you do everything I ask of you without so much as a groan." He took his left hand out from behind his back, handing her a young, white rose bud. Her brown eyes grew in his, and his hand slid over her petite hipbone. "Next cruise, just us."
The corners of her mouth rose. "Maddox Whittacre, you are all charm."
He gently lowered his lips to hers for the briefest moment. "And a little unscrupulous at times, wouldn't you say?" Priscilla smiled to the floor as he straightened in the doorway, hand on the doorknob. "Be on your best behavior, kids! When you get back, your parents will want to see you!"
Both twins had resorted to expending their excitement jumping on the first bed.
"Thanks, Mr. Whittacre!"
"We'll get you a souvenir!"
"Lovely," Maddox chuckled, stepping out. He looked over at Priscilla, her eyes smoothing glancing from the creamy linoleum to his face. "I will see you soon."
With that, the door shut. Priscilla stared at the sink's cabinets, touching the silky white bud to her upturned lips.
"He's a good man."
Priscilla looked up at the unexpected sincerity in Patrick's voice as he walked away.
"If he's not in jail by the end of this, I wish you the best." Off her scornful look, he shrugged. "What do you think I had to tell my daughter-in-law?"
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