Why you are glad you're your gender Anson muttered, looking at the survey on his laptop. Because menstruation is a bitchand because women's clothes are so damn expensive.
He laughed cheerily and went on to the next question. Jay sat next to him at the pull out dining table, rolling a pencil between his fingers gracefully. He rolled his eyes.
Let me ruin the moment for you. Jay sighed in annoyance. No one cares about anything you do on facebook.
Anson frowned at him and shut the laptop with a sense of pure distaste. He looked Jay right in the eyes.
I do hope you know, it goes the same for you. Anson replied bitingly. Jay held back a condescending laugh behind baited breath.
I don't think of myself so seriously. Jay said.
Shut up, both of you! Charlie barked from the passenger seat of the bus. Becker was still driving, and he had just passed the entrance ramp to Harmony Hill on Route 80 and was steadily approaching Creekwood Street. There, he hoped, he would find the answers to the Shredder's riddles.
Eric was lying on the floor in between the two areas, clearly upset. His face was growing more and more haggard with each revelation they stumbled upon. His beard had grown to man-like proportions, sticking out at a point where ZZ Top would grow interested. He hadn't changed out of the Trivium shirt he wore when the stage went up in flames, so he smelled of old musty smoke and sweat. The bus was beginning to honestly stink.
For the two or three hour trip back to Harmony Hill, Anson, Charlie, and Jay had been writing songs in the back of the bus, and occasionally trying to reach La Migra, to no effect. Becker hadn't left the steering wheel. He knew the answers were coming up as quick as a snake strikes its prey. He wanted it. He could taste it.
Or in the case, as he drove up to 24 Creekwood Street, he could see it. Plumes of smoke and fire ripping the sky. The house at 24 Creekwood was burning as if the fires of hell itself had taken it. Becker sat dumbfounded in the driver's seat, too shocked to even move. Eric sat up curiously to see why they had stopped, and the rest of Chagrin gathered at the front window to stare in awe.
Then Eric saw it. The fires, coursing through his very existence; reflected in his eyes. People say the eyes are the windows to the soul, and in this case, Eric's soul was ablaze. He suddenly fell back down to the floor and laid there, motionless.
Ah, Christ. Charlie said, walking over to Eric and falling to his knees to check Eric's breathing. He passed out.
The others didn't answer. They were too transfixed by the flames leaping over woodwork, slowly devouring the house with its thousand degree teeth. It was a destroyer, and Chagrin found themselves utterly and completely fascinated with the blackened structure.
Then, Becker snapped out of it when he saw the figure on the side of the road and heard the fire trucks coming their way. The red and blue lights lit up the night sky. Becker pulled out his phone and looked at his last text message.
HELP it still read. He was completely perplexed.
That was three hours ago. How did?
His question to himself was disrupted by the siren blaring next to his head as the firetruck swerved around the bus and in front of the house. Swarms of firemen poured out like ants attacking a piece of bread. The figure disappeared behind the massive truck. Becker quickly leapt out of his seat and opened the door. He jumped right out of the bus.
Move the bus down a block! Becker yelled back at the rest of the band. Jay snapped into action and began to zoom down the street, but forgot to close the door. Anson, wanting to see what was going on, made a life ir death leap from the moving bus and rolled across the neighbor's perfectly groomed lawn before running up behind Becker. Anson was a faster runner, but Becker had too much of a lead.
Coming up on the figure, he saw a fireman walking away from it. But who he saw would only somewhat surprise him.
Jana?! Becker asked, coming up on her short, freckled features. She was barely dressed in a maroon college sweatshirt and a pair of short shorts. Judging by her stained cheeks, she had been crying, but the issue at hand was, she also had black smoke stains among the tear marks.
Becker? she asked. What are you doing here?
That's a good question. Becker said as Anson came stumbling up behind him, a bit winded.
Whoa, wait, Jana? Anson asked. That was the number?
What? Jana questioned.
Jana, it's your house, I'm guessing? Becker asked. In the dark distance, he could see that Jay had parked the van and he, Charlie, and Eric were piling out.
Yeah. She replied simply.
No one else is home, I hope? Anson asked.
No, just me. Jana responded with a curled eyebrow. What's this about a number?
It's a really long f*cking story. Becker said, pulling his phone out. You didn't text me?
No, I don't even know your number. Jana said with a frown.
Then who the hell? Becker started, but he stopped halfway. He didn't even know how to finish, nor did he care. All that mattered was that Jana had escaped the inferno that had mesmerized them so a moment earlier. Within thirty seconds, Eric, Jay, and Charlie had arrived. For the next hour and a half, the six sat on the curb, telling the story of the Shredder, from the first missing cable to the fire that they watched slowly die down before the firefighters' might. As the fire began to fade into simple smoke, a man who Becker guessed must have been the chief walked over to Jana.
Your parents have been alerted? he asked, in a semi-sentence sort of way.
Yeah, but they're in the Bahamas right now. Jana said.
Do you have anywhere else you can go? the chief asked.
I Jana started to say, but paused. Can figure something out.
As the chief walked away, Anson suddenly burst out laughing. Becker threw him a nasty look, but he kept laughing.
What is so damn funny? Jay asked.
It's just so weird. Anson said through a giggle. I'm homeless, Jana's homeless, La Migra's stranded somewhere in New York, Charlie's got some eye issues and a messed up ankle, and of course, the Shredder's still out there.
He stood, brushing the loose rocks from his pants.
We can't win! Ever! he cried, throwing his arms in the air. We may as well do ourselves in!
Anson! Don't talk that way! Charlie yelped.
Besides, Eric added. You can both stay at my house! My parents are out for the weekend as far as I know.
Fine! Anson yelled. But then he did something Becker never thought he'd see. Anson broke down and cried. He planted his head firmly on the curb and sobbed like a child. Eric, obviously worried, scooted over to him and began patting him on the back.
It'll be okay, man. Eric assured him.
G*ddamn. Becker swore, burying his face in his hands. But then he felt a hand pat HIM on the back and looked up to see it was Jana.
Come on, you too? she asked, still sniffling at the thought of all her worldly possessions burning.
No, no. Becker sneered. I'm not like that.
Then, his inner bravery stepped out, and he stood before the group, feeling like a true hero despite having not done anything. As Anson finished his session of self-pity and sat back on the curb, Becker spoke.
It's time to start getting some answers. It's time to fight back. He said, driving his fist into his palm. I am refusing to let him beat us. No way. Listen, tonight, sleep. Tomorrow, I've got jobs for everyone. There's only so long we can go on like this. Jay and Charlie, I want you guys to drive back up to Lake George and get La Migra. Anson and Jay, I need you guys to look into Eric's social worker's papers. Do what you need to do.
With this, Eric nodded, determined. Anson looked up with tired, sad eyes and did the same, minus the stone determination.
Jana, I want you to stay home. Stay safe. We'll figure this out.
And what about you? Charlie asked.
Me? Becker repeated. I'm going to organize a recovery concert. Time to do some good for someone else.
He gave a slight nod at Jana, telling everyone the profits were going to her. She nodded sadly and began to twiddle her fingers. Jay stood and began walking back toward the bus with Becker.
What are you really doing? Jay asked with baited breath.
Well, I actually am doing that. Becker said, waiting until they were far out of earshot, then he turned to Jay abruptly. I'm going to trace Eric's family history. I've got this weird theory going onyou're not going to like it.
And from the look in Becker's face, Jay knew he was right. He wasn't going to like it.
Jay and Charlie slammed the doors of Charlie's father's 1972 Chevy Impala convertible. They had to put hands over their eyes in order to see into the setting sun. They hadn't slept well and now found themselves in the parking lot of a small town New York police station. It was a heavy, humid day, and the dying waves of heat were slowly rolling across the steadily cooling pavement.
From the police station's front entrance, Mike and Andrew waved boringly. By the time Jay and Charlie got over, they were looking positively exhausted in the heat.
Why exactly did you have us pick you up here? Jay asked as they approached.
Yeah, don't worry how we ate or found anywhere to sleep or anything. Andrew laughed. Mike elbowed him in the ribs and he stopped abruptly.
Everything happens for a reason. Mike said, looking to Jay. Yeah, there's most definitely a reason we're here.
He turned and led them into the police station, which reeked of old booze and that strange musty wood smell. A frizzy haired woman at the front desk peered up from behind her magazine and nodded, waving them through into the next room, the hall of holding cells. Jay had to stifle a strange bout of awe, as the holding cell hall reminded him of an old west sheriff's office. All it was missing was a ball and chain form of restraint.
But when Mike stopped at the end of the hall and pointed to the cell on the right, Jay didn't expect to see a familiar face there.
'Ello, ello. Kris said in a faux-English accent. What's all this then?
More like what's all THIS, then? Charlie barked, begging for an explanation.
Yeah, the whole chase? Kris said with a chuckle. Uh, accidentally broke a window, and my finger.
He held up his left hand, which was crudely wrapped in gauze and safety tape. From the poorly made wrap, Jay couldn't tell what particular finger was broken. But Kris winced as he put his hand back down, so Jay knew it was legit.
What are they holding you on? Jay asked curiously.
Let's see Kris muttered, counting off on his good hand. Destruction of property, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest.
Bad things come in threes. Mike said simply.
But also good things. Andrew stated. Here's the first.
From his pocket, he withdrew a perfectly crafted paperclip. With a flick of his wrist, he stuck it in the lock and began fiddling, using it as a crude lock pick.
Dude, this ain't legal! Charlie yelped, trying to keep quiet enough so that the frizzy guard woman wouldn't hear them from the next room.
Legal? Andrew laughed. Who cares? All that matters is these locks may as well be from the stone age. A little adjustment and
He twisted the clip and something clicked in the cell door. Andrew swung it open with a flourish and bowed.
We have a free man. Andrew finished as Kris stood to meet them.
Good thing number two Mike said, looking down the hall at the guard's room. The escape.
Oh, Jesus. Charlie cried, facepalming. Jay took a look around the hall. There were no windows in the whole building. He looked to Mike.
And how do you propose we get him out of here? Jay asked, following Mike's gaze.
Distraction. Mike said curtly. Jay, I need you to pretend to steal a car.
How does one pretend to steal a car? Charlie asked.
Easy. Mike replied. When it belongs to you.
And with that, he revealed the gleaming keys in his palm. Charlie felt around his pockets. Mike had literally pick pocketed him. He tossed the keys to Jay.
Now shout at us and storm off.
Jay looked at Mike like he was a man gone insane. Mike nodded, as if to say, Oh, yes, this is happening.
Jay sighed and turned to the door. He gulped, smirked, and began stomping off toward the front room.
Listen, lady, this is important! Anson shouted, slamming his hands on the social worker's desk. We need those documents.
There's an edict that says I am not authorized to divulge the nature of those documents until Eric turns 18. The blue-blazered woman replied sternly.
Eric was standing nearby, sucking on one of the free lollipops that had been in a bowl on the woman's desk. He had finally changed into an ACDC t-shirt and new jeans. Anson had chosen a more respectful look: a pair of slacks and a plain white dress shirt. Eric was rather amused to see Anson looking anything but ragged.
I don't think you're hearing my words. Anson said harshly, leaning over the desk and enunciating every syllable. We. Need. Those. Papers.
I don't care if your lives depended on it. The woman said. I'm not sacrificing my career for it.
This Anson found very, very funny. He began laughing uncontrollably. Our lives depended on it? They did! He began going into another series of hysterics, banging the table with his fist as he chuckled like an insane asylum inmate.
Sir? the woman asked. Are you okay?
Anson simply kept laughing, grabbed her stapler, and in one fluid movement, ran out the door, laughing still. The woman paused for a moment, then got up out of her chair and began running after him. Eric, in the meanwhile, had backed himself into a corner in an attempt to bring attention away from himself. With Anson's improvised plan in action, he moved swiftly, leaping over the desk and opening the file cabinet that had to contain his files. Flipping through nervously, he slipped and cut his fingertip on an edge of paper. Wincing slightly, he kept flipping. Finally, he saw it: the file with his name.
Eagerly, he pulled it out, but knowing he didn't have time to look at it now, he ran out the door, holding the file like a mother would a child. This was his history. This was his past, present, and future. And they needed it more than a diabetic needs insulin.
Becker casually clicked through the website, growing more and more anxious of whether or not everyone had completed their missions yet. He felt a lot like a dictator, telling people what to do in authoritarian form. It was a sense of power, but as all dictatorships do, their figurehead must eventually die, and the totalitarianism will fall.
He pushed himself away from the desk in Eric's basement, momentarily dazed at the thought of everything coming to a close. He was slowly narrowing in on answers, and it was a system shock to think he might be within grasp of ending all the mystery. His mind was sent for a loop. How could it actually happen?
He was awakened from his addled state by the closing of a door directly behind him. He swiveled in the chair and found himself staring at Jana, still in PJs pilfered from Eric's musty room. She sat directly across from him on the leather couch and sighed.
What's up? Becker asked nonchalantly, turning back to the computer and staring at it in order to seem busy.
I don't know. She said sadly, leaning on an elbow. It's just so weird. My house is gone and everything. I really don't know what I'm going to do. Imy college fund is going to have to go towards building us a new house.
Don't you have home insurance? Becker asked over his shoulder.
I don't know. Jana replied. That's mom and dad territory.
There was a slight pause, then Jana asked:
What did you do down here all day?
A lot of stuff. Internet work. Becker said, then added: I'm trying to organize a little benefit concert for you.
Well, then I think I can help with that. came Mike's familiar voice from the doorway. He was grinning from ear to ear as he entered the room, followed by Charlie and Jay.
How so? Becker asked, turning in the chair to face them.
You remember my uncle? Mike asked. Becker nodded. Well, then you know how he owns that recording studio in Lake Tomahawk. I figure he would help you organize something. He's a bit of an expert in that field.
Really? Becker asked as Charlie and Jay found seats on an accompanying love seat.
For real, man. Mike chuckled. Hey, if I can pull enough strings, maybe I can get you guys some studio time. Record a demo, maybe.
That would be off the charts awesome! Charlie cheered.
Yeah, I'm sure that would be great. Becker said quietly, then continued. But that's not all I was working on.
What else? Charlie asked. But his answer soon came when the sound of a slamming door and clobbering footsteps down the stairs. Becker smiled awkwardly as Eric and Anson burst into the room, clearly out of breath.
Did you run all the way here from Stone Villa? Becker asked.
Well, no. Anson said, panting. Eric just drives his dad's Mustang like a madman!
Not my fault I like to ride the wind. Eric chortled. He was still holding the file like a running back would a football. Becker looked to it with a quizzical expression. Eric nodded and handed it over, but somewhere on the inside, he didn't want Becker to open it. He simply stood in the doorway like some lost kitten, unsure of where to go.
Anson moved and sat on the armrest of one of the couches and undid the buttons on his dress shirt. Becker hadn't noticed it before, but Anson was actually rather toned.
Becker flipped open the file and began flipping through.
If I'm right, what's in this file will answer all our questions.
But something was wrong with what Becker was feeling. There was the feeling of emptiness on the file; something incomplete. He flipped back and forth through a number of papers, then stopped. His eyes had grown into a regretful gaze.
There are things missing. He said simply.
Anson had grabbed Eric's nearby ESP and was jamming away when Becker turned around to address them.
There's files, there, sure. He said. But everything on Eric's original home is gone.
What? Eric blurted. Nothing?!
No, not here then Becker moved aside two packets of authentic looking paper. But there are your two sets of adoption papers.
Wait, two? Eric asked excitedly, leaning over Becker's shoulder to look.
According to these, the parents that died in the childhood fire weren't your actual parents.
A wave of shock spread through the room in an instant. Eric's real parents were
Then what about my real parents?
I have theories. Becker said, standing. But I can tell you one thing. Two of your relatives are sitting in this room right now.
Another wave of shock echoed through the room. Eric looked ill, leaned over the desk, staring at his papers. Everyone else had a mouth agape, wondering who and how. Furthermore, Becker seemed the only one in control. He folded his hands and looked to his companions.
I told you that you wouldn't like it.