Maximum Batchelder's life has been turned upside down. A native of the New York City streets, Max has spent the last five years of her life keeping herself and her friend alive. The world is cruel, especially to a couple of street kids, but Max has found a place she fits in: street fighting. Of course, it only takes one night to change everything. Now Max must reinvent herself in a new city, with a new name, and no history. Of course, what else is expected from someone in Witness Protection?
Disclaimer: James Patterson owns Maximum Ride. I only own the plot.
Date: October 17, 2012
Location: Central Park, New York City
I watched from my prison in the back of a police car as a dozen of New York's Finest decked out in navy uniforms and shiny badges adorning their breast pockets flooded one of the numerous tunnels within Central Park. Headlights from squad cars and flashlights lit up the litter ridden interior of the stone structure. It was one of the less used tunnels normally avoided because if its reputation for housing homeless people and hosting drug deals. Not that that had any influence on me. No, I'd used it as a shortcut for years, and I'd seen everything. Trust me. Everything.
But it wasn't the drug deals I'd seen or the homeless people who inhabited the tunnel that I would remember. It wasn't the seedy hook ups or the graphic graffiti either.
It was the dead body.
Or well, dead now. He hadn't been when I'd gotten there.
I didn't kill him.
The result, however, still had me locked up.
But to really understand my situation you had to understand what had gone down over the past two hours.
I didn't see the fist until it connected with my face. I normally don't slip up like that. In fact, I'm known for my vigilance and cool thinking in a fight.
Tonight, however, was different. My mind had taken a philosophical turn during the fight. I'm not one to question the things that life throws at me. Its thrown too much crap my way for me to even begin to question everything. I'd learned to try and take it all in stride.
So why was today different?
Well, it was my seventeenth birthday.
And how was I spending it?
With my family? With a bunch of friends? With plans to go out and celebrate?
I had no family to be with, and the only friend I had was on the sidelines waiting with a towel in one hand and ice in the other. And as for celebrating? Celebrate what? My ninth year without my parents? My fifth year on the streets of New York City? I think not.
So here I was, trapped in a red painted circle with a man twice my size surrounded by rich people who had nothing better to do than watch starving street people beat each other up for a little cash.
The cheap blow to my face disoriented me long enough for the man to kick behind my knee and send me to the ground with a teeth jarring thud.
The man gave a primal roar of victory. It was premature. And ridiculous.
Why is it, I wondered to myself, that all of these big men feel the need to basically pound their chests and give a war cry? Because in my experience the bigger they are…I used his ego as a distraction and hooked his right leg with my foot and pulled…the harder they fall.
The man crashed to the ground and a second later I was on him. I dealt him a perfectly placed blow to the temple. It wouldn't kill him, just knock him out. And leave him with a killer headache when he woke up.
The bell tolled and shouts rang through the air. "And the winner is…Maximum Ride!"
There was a mixture of cheers and boo's as I made my way to the edge of the circle and my awaiting best friend.
"You were distracted, Max." Nudge said as she handed me a towel. I used it to staunch the blood streaming from my nose. It didn't surprise me that she had noticed my lack of focus. I had known Nudge for four years now. The sixteen year old was like family to me and she knew me as well as I knew myself.
"Aww thanks. I thought I did well, too. I mean, he had me going for a second but I got him in the end." I said sarcastically as I used a clean section of the towel to wipe sweat from my brow.
"Sorry. You did do well. Very well. But then again you always do. I think you should cut your losses for tonight. Go home early. I mean, we still have, what? Three hours of your birthday left? Let's go have fun. I'll steal you a cookie." She offered.
I snorted at that and ruffled the younger girls hair affectionately.
"You go home." I told her sternly. "Warm up the ledge for me. I'm going to go for two more rounds and then I'll meet up with you."
"Are you sure?" She asked, apprehension written all over her face. But so was exhaustion. Nudge hadn't gotten much sleep lately, nightmares or something, and she looked ready to drop. She didn't need to be in this rowdy crowd tonight. "I mean, I can stay. Two rounds shouldn't take that long. I mean, not many people can stand up to you Max. Unless you get someone like that guy from last month! He lasted, like, three rounds with you. Not that you didn't kick his a—"
"Nudge," I interrupted her babbling. Sometimes I found her chatter endearing. Sometimes I did not.
This was one of those times.
I was just as tired as she was, I just wasn't showing it.
"Go home." I continued. "I'll be fine. I'll see you later." I pulled her towards me in a half embrace and kissed her forehead affectionately.
"Yes mom," she smirked and darted out of my reach before I could retaliate. She waved at me and then scampered out of the warehouse, leaving me to finish up two more rounds.
It was one of the longer nights of my life and by the time I finished two more rounds—victorious—I took my meager winnings and beat up body and hit the streets.
It was cold for October. I shivered beneath my assortment of ragged jackets, most of them too big for me but they were all that the shelter donation had to offer. The only thing I had to look forward to was that the cold winds wouldn't be able to reach me in the subway tunnels I called home.
I moved through night life of New York City like a ghost, avoiding the tourists and upper class residents who looked at any street kid like they were the scum of the earth. The looks and crude comments used to bother me, but that was years ago. I'd grown a tough skin since then.
My body ached from my matches so I decided to take a short cut through Central Park. Most people avoid the park after dark, afraid that they'd be robbed or attacked. Me? Well no person who intended to rob someone would attack the obvious street kid, and if anyone attacked me, well, I had about ten years of experience with beating up bullies and defending myself. I could take anyone on, even if I was just seventeen today.
The walk to Central Park from the warehouse took only ten minutes but to my aching body it felt like hours. Though I had won all of my matches tonight—and scored a whopping fifty bucks for my trouble—I had taken more hits than usual. My nose was most likely broken and my hip was bruised from too many falls on it.
I was so distracted by my inventory of injuries that I didn't notice the difference to the tunnel until I approached it.
I heard voices emanating from inside it. It wasn't a particularly odd occurrence. Homeless people took refuge in there all the time. I had during my first few days on the street, too. What struck me as odd and had me hesitate was what they were talking about.
"….just need some more time." A man was saying. "We've almost unlocked the genetic code. This experiment could change the way that the world looks at science. Think of the possibilities!"
"What makes it any different from what we already have going on? You're wasting my time Duncan. I warned you that if you didn't have what I asked for by tonight then there would be serious consequences." A second man growled, his voice carrying an icy undertone.
I carefully slid to the edge of the tunnel and pressed myself tightly to the weathered rock. A nearby streetlamp provided a pool of light that limited the amount of shadows available for me to hide in.
You should leave, a part of me whispered. You don't know what they're talking about. It's none of your business, anyway. You hate nosey people, don't become one.
But the draw of the conversation was too much for me to ignore. What were they talking about? Genetic what? I may not be the smartest person in the world, I hadn't been to school in years, but I knew that genetics had to do with a person's DNA and that it was an odd topic to be discussing in a dark tunnel. I peeked around the entrance of the tunnel. Boxes and old shopping carts were packed up against the sides of the short passage, illuminated by the scant amount of moonlight leaking into it.
Standing in the center of the space were two silhouettes. Both of them had the build of men and had short trimmed hair. One supported the outline of glasses while the other was taller and wore a long coat.
"I'm not saying that we won't get you the money back, Garret," the first voice—Duncan–said. He was the smaller of the men. I slowly slipped into the tunnel, taking refuge behind an old refrigerator box as I inched my way closer. The closer I got the more details I could distinguish. Duncan had darker hair while Garret's blond hair shone in the moonlight. They both looked like they were in their late thirties. "I'm just trying to make you a deal. If you front us a little more money than we can get an even bigger pay back. I'd be willing to split the profit of course."
"I'm sure you would." Garret said. "You'd short me the money then just like you are now. I'm not about to lose more money off of a no good, scam artist like you."
I was close now, a few dozen feet away from them. I could even see the five o'clock shadow on Garret's face.
"I'm not scamming you!" Duncan objected. "You put out the money to the others, why not fund my research as well?"
"Because they show promise." Garret hissed. "And you…every time I set you a project you slack and substitute quality materials for cheaper ones and pocket the money. Don't deny it!" He cut Duncan off. "And don't think for a minute that I haven't noticed it." He stepped closer to the now cowering man, towering over him by a good six inches. "I don't have room in my company for people like you, Duncan."
I never saw it coming. Neither did Duncan. Garret had subtly slipped his hand into his pocket. He now pulled it out, holding a thick L shaped object that I'd become all too familiar with while living on the streets.
The gun fired and Duncan went down with a scream. Only the scream continued long after he'd dropped motionless to the ground.
I'd screamed too.
I clamped my hands over my mouth but it was too late. The man had heard me and turned in my direction, gun pointed.
In that split second, with the gun pointed at me and a man lying dead on the ground only twenty feet away, my brain disconnected from my body. All I registered were his eyes directly on my face before I shoved the cardboard box I was only partially hidden behind towards him and took off running towards the end of the tunnel, ignoring the searing pain caused by my injuries.
He saw my face, he saw my face, he saw my face, kept running through my head as I fled. I promised Nudge I'd be fine. What will happen to her if I don't come back? She'll have no money. She hasn't had to make her way on her own. Ever. I've always been there for her. I promised that I always would be. I can't just leave her. The resounding firing of a gun rang loudly followed by a sharp pain in my left arm.
I gasped and grabbed at my arm, my fingers slipping on blood as I tried to hold it steady against my body.
I didn't stop. I kept running because I knew the alternative would be much worse than a hurt arm.
I heard footfalls heading in the opposite direction.
He wasn't following me.
I didn't stop running though. I headed straight to the nearest payphone.
I rubbed my left arm right above my elbow as I watched the police continue their investigation.
After my call to the police everything had gone by so quickly. If it were possible for Maximum Batchelder to feel that way, then I might say I was half hysterical at the time. However, because it is in fact impossible for me to be hysterical or anything of the sort, I'd settle for the fact that I was in a daze.
The police had met me at the payphone, made me lead them to the crime scene, and were now processing it. I hadn't intended to wait for them at the payphone. They'd had a squad car around the corner at the time of my call and had trapped me as I tried to run. They'd locked me in the car because they didn't want to run the risk of me disappearing. I was, after all, a witness.
I spent another hour in the car before two officers separated from the crowd and returned to the car. "Alright ma'am," the younger of the two said. He looked to be in his mid twenties with a shock of red hair and a square jaw. I didn't like being called ma'am but he had no alternative, seeing as I refused to give him my name.
The police didn't bode well for street kids. And with my current state being less than prim and proper they could probably easily deduce that I'd been fighting. I could get in major trouble for it. That's the only time the police really paid attention to us street rats: if we broke the law. Then again, they didn't seem to spare much thought—or care—that the reason we were breaking the law was to survive.
I liked doing it just about as much as they liked me doing it.
"We're going to take you down to the station to get a full account of what happened here tonight. And we'll get you cleaned up."
I sneered at him.
"Why?" I asked. "Am I not pretty enough for you tonight? I really did mean to brush my hair," I said, running a hand through my tangled hair as if I cared. "I just got a little side tracked, you know, with the murder and all."
He sighed. "I meant no disrespect."
"Yeah well, why don't I just tell you all I know now and be on my merry way? That way you don't have to deal with me and I can go find a place to sleep." I wasn't about to tell them I had a place. The police turned a blind eye to homeless communities when they didn't know where they were. If they knew about the subway tunnel community that I lived in, well, then we'd be even more homeless than usual.
And I'd be blackballed in the last place that accepted me.
"Sorry, ma'am," there was that word again, "but no can do. You're a witness. You'll be needed for a trial, if we ever find this Garrett man you've been talking about."
I winced. "No thank you." I attempted to reach for the handle to let me out of the car before I realized, once again, that there were no handles on the inside of a police car. It would make an escape all too easy.
"That wasn't really an option." The older of the two said as they buckled themselves in. "But if you tell us where you've been staying we'd be willing to stop by and grab your things. Or tell anyone you need us to that you're safe."
I snorted and once again lied to the law enforcement officers, but it wasn't far off from the truth. "I've got nobody and nothing. And that's about all you'll get out of me."
"If you're compliant then this will all go faster." The older officer said as he started to drive away. "It's very simple. As soon as we get you're testimony you'll be free to return to wherever and whoever it is you won't tell us about. Until then, you have no choice but to stay with us."
"Isn't this kidnapping?"
Simple my ass.
The next day I found out just how deep into trouble I had gotten myself.
Apparently what I had stumbled upon in my moment of curiosity was in fact a matter of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
And the man responsible for the murder I had witnessed, was the head honcho in a lab suspected of illegal genetic experimentation.
It would be my testimony that would put him in jail as well as give the FBI the incriminating evidence they had needed for years to take on his organization. However the blade swung both ways, and while my testimony would benefit the FBI it would make it impossible for the company and its many branches of well-connected facilities to continue their life work.
So they put out a hit on me. If I was dead then I couldn't testify, and they could continue the work.
So by simply sticking my nose into other people's business when I knew better, and calling the police (something every street kid knows never to do) I'd earn myself place in Witness Protection.
Happy New Year everyone! I know I promised this story to you guys months ago but I hit a road block and didn't want to post it when I was struggling to continue. However, now I can assure you that I know where this story is going and I will see it through! If you only give me a shot and are patient with me... I'll be updating at least once a week! Read and Review! I'd love to know what you guys expect from this story!