IT WAS A HOT DAY, nice and sunny. The sky was a calm blue spotted with clouds that floated by lazily. Sabina Pleasure felt ill at ease and she didn't know why.
She was walking home with Dylan, fighting a killer headache, when he asked about Alex. "Sabina," his voice sounded strangely gruff, as if he'd been asleep all day. "I just realized Alex wasn't at school. Where was he?"
"Alex?" Sabina felt a like a blank canvas; for a second she didn't know what Dylan meant. Alex is right here, she thought automatically, but, of course, he wasn't. It was the third time that day Sabina had forgotten about Alex's mysterious disappearance. And for the third time that day she felt a rush of disappointment, followed by nagging doubts and worry that blossomed in her stomach… anxious—that was the word. She was anxious. But… why? Alex. Yes, that's right, she was worried because Alex was gone. "Oh, right. I don't know where Alex is, Dylan. Did you forget again?" she chastised, only feeling slightly hypocritical, "He wasn't there when we woke up yesterday." On any other day Sabina might have been surprised that it had taken Dylan so long to notice Alex's absence; but they had both been out of it all day.
"Right. When we woke up. On the ground. He was gone, and then we went home." Dylan stated the obvious. He'd been doing that all day, trying to recall yesterday afternoon's events, as if just by stating the facts everything would suddenly make sense. It was beginning to get on Sabina's nerves. Something was gnawing at her, something to do with Alex, and Dylan's jitteriness was doing nothing but making her more agitated.
But why? Sabina thought for the hundredth time. Why am I worried about Alex? Mum says he'll turn up at home eventually and it's not as if he's been kidnapped. After Sabina had trudged home the night before, Alex hadn't been there, nor had he turned up in the morning.
Of course, a part of her worried that he'd gone back to the spy life, that he'd left for good. What if he got killed this time? Or if—
"Sabina," Dylan tried again, sounding uncertain, "I'm not sure if this really happened, or if it was a dream or something, but did Alex get chased by a dog recently?"
"What?" It took Sabina a second to respond. "Did you just ask what I think you asked?"
"Well," Dylan said defensively, "I know it sounds stupid, but I have the vaguest memory of you and Alex trying to convince me a dog chased him up Main. 'Course, I didn't believe you guys, in my memory or dream, that is, but I'm not sure if… "
Sabina grinned despite herself. "That most definitely did not happen. Alex, chased by a dog? You have some, err, interesting dreams, I'll say that much."
"Whatever. I was just wondering, that's all." But now that he mentioned it, Sabina felt as if that she'd had that dream too. She could even picture Dylan's disbelieving expression as he surveyed her and Alex, looking unimpressed with their lie… Wait, that made no sense. Why would she and Alex make up a lie like that?
Sabina shook her head, trying, in vain, to clear it. She felt sluggish and forgetful and she knew something was wrong with herself, but couldn't put her finger on it. "Oh, well, there's my place." Dylan paused, staring at his house. He hesitated.
"Yeah?" Sabina prompted. She resisted the urge to impatiently tap her foot. She wanted to go home and check that Alex was there.
"Nothing," Dylan shrugged. "Bye."
"Bye," Sabina nodded. "See you tomorrow."
Dylan headed towards his house and Sabina practically ran to her own. She grabbed her keys from her bag and opened the door, the sun burning on her back. The door clicked as it unlocked, and Sabina burst inside her house. The hallway was empty, but she heard voices coming from the living room. She heard the deep voice of her dad, her mother's worried questions and could pick up a third voice. Alex?
Sabina walked into the living room, and when she saw him, sitting on the couch, she relaxed. Her relief didn't last long; Sabina took in his appearance and frowned. His foot was wrapped in a bandage, already stained with red spots, and his face sported purple and blue bruises around his left eye and cheek. Sabina was torn between anger—who had done that to him? Why had he just left without saying anything?—and jubilance; she had been worried about him and he was okay. Well, sort of okay.
"Sabina—" her father began, but Sabina cut him off.
"Alex!" Sabina was still unsure how to feel. Alex smiled feebly. "I'm glad you're okay! I mean, I was worried, but…" She eyed him, "What happened?"
"Sabina," her mother chided mildly, but her tone carried a serious edge, "Alex needs to rest. He's been through a lot."
Sabina ignored her mum. She glanced at Alex. Despite his smile, his eyes looked very solemn. Her own eyes narrowed. "Where'd you go? You could've told me you planned to stay out all night—and if you were gone because of something to do with MI6, you still could've told me; I would have joined you!"
"Sabina!" Her father sounded startled. "You're joking, right? You're too young to be a spy—you both are!"
"Relax, Edward," her mother assured, "She's only kidding. Tell him, Sabina," she added.
"Yes, sure, I'm kidding," Sabina lied, just to brush their concern aside. For another moment, she forgot why she was in her living room, all worked up. Then she met his brown eyes and remembered. "Oh, right. Alex. Where were you? Spill everything."
"Oh, right." Sabina sounded unsure. She was staring at Alex intently, and he got the feeling that she was trying to recall something. "Alex. Where were you? Spill everything." She looked groggy, her eyes wider than usual. Alex remembered what Caleb had told him—your friends were merely drugged and left to wake up on their own. They won't remember a thing about the fight it took to take you down. They'll just have a bad headache today.
Judging from Sabina's expression, Alex assumed that she had more than just a bad headache. Liz and Edward Pleasure exchanged worried looks. Alex opened his mouth to tell her what had happened, just as he had told her parents, but instead he yawned.
"See, Sabina," her mother moved towards the coat-rack. "Alex is tired. You need to let him rest. I think we should go to the hospital—"
"Why?" Sabina shook her head. "Right now I want to hear what happened to—"
Alex stood up, putting most of his pressure on his uninjured foot. "Sab, go to the hospital. I'll come too."
Liz shook her head, her tone firm. "You're not exactly in the best health either. No, Edward, you stay and look after Alex," Liz turned to her husband, who nodded, then to Sabina. "You, miss, are coming with me. You've been drugged." Sabina's eyes grew wider. "Yes, I'm serious. Clearly it's having a horrible affect on you; look how haggard you look!"
"Thanks, mum," Sabina muttered sarcastically, but she sounded a little doubtful.
"Alex explained it to us. Yesterday you woke up on the ground, feeling woozy. Sabina, honey, I'm afraid that someone drugged both you and Dylan."
"But—" Sabine looked even more puzzled.
"You'll be fine," Liz assured, "But I want you to be checked out in a hospital just in case."
"No buts. This is final." Liz put her hand on Sabina's shoulders, steering her towards the door. "Grab a coat if you want, but otherwise we should get going. I'll explain everything in the car."
"No. Wait. That doesn't… oh, all right." Sabina sighed, giving in. "I'll just change out of my p.e clothes first. Quickly," she added, catching sight of her mother's expression. Sabina gave Alex one last look, then headed to her room.
Alex waited for her footsteps to disappear, before turning to Liz and Edward. "How do you feel?" they asked simultaneously.
"I'm fine, really," Alex replied.
"Maybe we should take him for another check up?" Liz bit her lip, glancing at Edward.
"No, honey, we've already taken him to see Dr. Rayne." Edward squeezed her shoulder.
"I know, but what if they overlooked something?"
"I'm okay, just a little shaken," Alex insisted, "you don't need to worry."
"Alex," Liz laughed, looked a little shaken herself, "You're a teenager. I always have to worry." Alex was glad that they thought of him as family, but he also felt guilty. If he wasn't so much of a spy, Liz and Edward would be less worried people. "Alex, don't you feel sorry for your behavior," Liz added, seeming to read his mind. "It's not your fault these criminal people, and the CIA for that matter, can't seem to leave you alone. After all, you've saved Edward's life so many times now…" She trailed off. She had handled the news about Alex's career as a spy with great bravado, although she was looking at him a little differently.
Then again, Alex hadn't told them everything. He'd said that the CIA had wanted to use him on a mission, and that he'd turned them down. He'd also explained about Caleb Goterel, but he'd left out some details here and there, like the gun in Tray's hand…
"Alex, why don't you go lie down?" Edward suggested. "After all, the doctor said you need some bed rest, at least for today."
Alex nodded. "Sure." Truthfully, he was exhausted. He moved up the stairs, towards his room. He collapsed onto his bed, yawning and stretching.
Edward had picked him up and brought him home from the city. Both he and Liz had been worried once Alex had told them what had happened—Alex's version of it, anyway. They had insisted he go to the hospital, and then once Alex was all checked up, insisted he rest at home.
And then there was Sabina. That drug seemed to confuse her. Alex thought back to yesterday. Before the men had started following them, before he'd even seen Eagle at school. Dylan and Sabina had to have either drank or eaten something drugged to end up the way they had. Alex remembered Caleb saying that he'd been meant to be drugged too. So what had they all eaten that day, that Alex had missed out on? It was then he remembered the cake.
Jade had offered them some mars bar cake… Alex had been so busy wondering about Eagle that he hadn't eaten his slice. He was pretty sure he'd given it to Matt when the bell had rung, too distracted to be hungry. Plus Jade was Caleb's daughter. Alex felt sick—he'd assumed Jade had nothing to do with the criminal life. But she'd tried to drug him, and she had drugged Dylan, Sabina, and, hell, probably Matt.
Alex stood up. He wasn't tired any more. He headed down the corridor, spotting Sabina just about to climb down the stairs. "Sabina," he called. She turned around. "Was Matt at school today?"
"Matt?" Sabina's brow furrowed in concentration. "Yes. He was just as … forgetful as me and Dylan…" Her eyes widened in understanding. "You don't think—?"
Alex nodded briskly. "Yes, I do think he was drugged too. What about Jade, where was she?"
Sabina shrugged. "She wasn't at school today, at least, not for very long. Someone picked her up around first break."
Alex assumed that was around about the time he'd ran away from Goterel. "All right. I'm sorry you got drugged."
"It's not your fault, so you shouldn't waste your breath apologizing. Besides, that's only a small part of what happened yesterday. Yeah, I can tell something worse happened to you. I'm not stupid."
"I never said you were."
"Alex, what's going on?" Sabina turned to face him fully, hands on hips.
"Sabina!" Liz's voice floated up from downstairs. "Hurry up!"
Alex flicked his eyes towards the stairs. "Your mum will explain it to you."
Sabina rolled her eyes. "Yeah, I know. When I get back I want to hear your version—something tells me it's going to be more shocking." With that Sabina headed downstairs.
Alex watched her go, his mind racing. He had to let the CIA know what had happened, hadn't he? But first, Alex made his way back to his room. Digging through his wardrobe, he emerged holding a shoebox. It was the one Joe Byrne had sent him, stuffed with Smither's gadgets. Just in case, Alex thought grimly.
Caleb stared at the three men gathered before him. Tray was the only one who was injured; the other two sported injuries that ranged from a sore groin to a wounded arm. Caleb squinted at the three men, appraising them for all they were worth. He didn't even try to hide his anger. The men were cowering; George and Jude were sweating. Caleb spat at them, not impressed in the least.
"You imbeciles!" Caleb yelled, after a few tense minutes of watching them squirm. Jude whimpered. "I told you not to underestimate him, didn't I? I said to test Alex Rider, and what did you do?" None of the men made eye contact and their heads hung in shame. It wasn't good enough for Caleb. "I said, WHAT DID YOU DO?"
"Nothing," George said, his voice unusually low.
"What was that? I didn't quite catch it," Caleb said coldly, his voice quietly dangerous.
"We did nothing, sir," George repeated, louder.
"That's right. You. Did. NOTHING." Caleb paused, letting his words sink in. "You see, not only was your "assault" the most uncoordinated thing I've ever seen, but you let Alex Rider escape! That's downright astonishing."
"He was just a boy," Jude moaned, looking afraid, "Just a schoolboy. We didn't think—"
"That's exactly right. You didn't think," Caleb interrupted sharply. He glanced at his watch. "I have a meeting to attend, but I think you all know how disappointed I am. An average schoolboy could have escaped your attempted attack, much less Alex Rider. I told you he's an extremely successful spy, and did you listen?" He glared at the men. "DID YOU LISTEN?"
"No," Jude whimpered once more.
"I told you he's trained with the SAS, that he's skilled in karate. I even hired you, George, an internationally skilled Judo champion and warned you not to go easy on him. Did you listen?" Caleb demanded.
"No," George gulped.
"I told you guys to attack him the same way you'd attack anyone from the CIA. I even gave you the option of torturing him—I told you to do whatever would allow me to see his true potential. Did you listen?"
"No," Tray muttered.
"No, no, no," Caleb agreed. "You did not, and for that, I assure you, you'll pay." Caleb moved towards the door leading out of the disused bar. The very same bar these bastard's had allowed Alex Rider to escape from. "I've decided that he is as skilled as he was in the past, although he may need to brush up on his moves a little. But there are… schools… that train people like him. That group SCORPIA used to have one. As for you three," Caleb paused, glaring at the three men he'd hired. They stood in the middle of the gloomy bar. They were miserable excuses for men. Caleb smiled an icy, cold smile, while opening his briefcase and bringing out a remote. Caleb set his briefcase on the ground. Tray blinked in confusion. "I don't think I need to tell you all you're fired. It should be pretty self-explanatory."
"We're fired?" Jude looked aghast. "I need the money, and besides, it was just one mistake! I don't understand…"
Caleb ignored Jude and exited the building. He locked the door behind him. A few hours earlier, after Alex's escape, he'd made sure all the windows and other exits were sealed shut too.
He began walking towards his car, parked a few metres away. Once he reached it, he turned back to the bar. He pressed a button on the remote control and watched happily as the building burst apart with a loud bang. Wood and dust flew in all directions; Caleb quickly ducked behind his car, avoiding the worst of it. He turned back in time to watch flames lick the abandoned bar, the glow from the fire eerily lighting up his face. Caleb smiled, knowing that three bodies were burning inside… "That should help clarify things."
[Note] Get it? They were fired, literally-building went up in flames.
So, yeah, there it is. Chapter 5. It's a little short, but the next chapter will be pretty long. Ish. Anyway, if I get at least seven reviews, I'll update real quick.