Saturday, March 25, 2006
Can't sleep... cold's keeping me awake. Rawr.
Thanks to everyone again for coming! That was really nice of you all. ^_^
Anyways. Onward with the story!
DISCLAIMER: This is the seventh chapter of my novel, In Descending Order, which I've been posting in parts every Saturday morning. All past chapters are here, you can find them by scrolling down... so please, if you join in, start with chapter one? XD The plot and all characters are my intellectual property, so please, don't steal. Or I'll gnaw on your fingers.
"At this rate, Bateman'll be dead by the time we get there," Silas grumbled as he climbed into the van.
"I was brushing my teeth!" Tobias whined as he made a move to get into the driver's seat.
"What d'you think you're doing?" Loki elbowed Tobias out of the way, frowning. "Only person who can drive Blue Heaven 'sides me is Silas."
"You're so suspicious, Loki!" Tobias reached over and ruffled his hair, causing the younger boy to squirm. "Now, where're our little lovebirds?"
Picking up a small rock, Loki lobbed it at a window on the second floor. "Oi! Theo, Anton! In case you hadn't noticed, time is of the essence!"
"We're right here, you idiot," Theo grumbled as she strode onto the porch, looking rather disheveled and dragging her husband behind her. "Don't let Kate see you pelting her windows with rocks."
"I wasn't pelting," Loki pouted. "And it was more of a pebble."
"Now, Aidan, are you ready?" Tobias chirped.
"I've been ready," Aidan sighed, buckling his seatbelt. "Shouldn't you be a little more concerned? The man might be dead already."
"Nothing's gonna happen to Bateman." Theo rolled her eyes. "Unfortunately."
"He can't be that bad," Aidan reasoned as Loki turned the ignition key.
The sound of the door slamming open drowned out Theo's retort. The Langleys had finally pulled themselves away from their squabbling long enough to stick their heads out the door, nearly falling over each other.
"Don't let Bateman stick you with any IOUs!" Kate yelled at the van. "And don't let 'm sweet-talk you, either!"
"Be careful, Anton!" Liv shrieked, her wildly waving hand catching Sofia across the face and pushing her back inside. With a nervous chuckle, Loki stepped harder onto the accelerator, kicking up dust behind the tires as he floored the van towards Bellerophon.
The lack of sleep finally caught up with them about halfway through the trip. Most everyone in the back dozed off, except for Tobias, who stared out the window as if each rundown house or tree he saw was an astounding thing, and Anton, who sat up straight and tensed. After Loki nearly mowed down a row of mailboxes when he accidentally leaned against the wheel, Silas forced him to switch, even though he looked as if the only thing keeping him alive was the cup of lukewarm coffee in his hand.
Finally, the van lurched from dirt onto a paved road, jerking everyone out of their stupor. Rows of lavish houses replaced the empty fields, and polished sedans and SUVs sat in their driveways instead of pickup trucks. Suddenly, Silas slammed on the breaks, throwing everyone forward.
"Missed the turn," Silas mumbled, backing into the nearest driveway and pulling out again.
The next driveway they pulled into sat on top of a steep hill, so steep that Aidan thought the van would come crashing back to the street. The driveway leveled out at a lush cream-colored villa, with high gables and a large sunroom facing the road. A tanned man dressed in a bathrobe sauntered out almost immediately, brushing his dark blond hair out of his eyes.
"Certainly took you long enough, heh," the man remarked, smirking. "I could've died, you know."
"We got here as fast as we could, Mr. Bateman," Tobias assured as he bounced out of the van, shaking his client's hand. "We were all very concerned, of course!"
"And yet, you don't look all that concerned." Theo said stiffly as she stepped up behind Tobias. "You better not be messing with us, Bateman."
"Theo!" Dante Bateman seized her hand, kissing it in what he seemed to think was a chivalrous gesture. "Missed ya," he said, grinning. Despite Anton’s earlier assurance that Theo imagined the flirting, the look he gave Bateman as he sidled behind his wife exuded venom. Oblivious, Bateman held onto her hand for another triumphant second before she pulled it away. “Well, of course I’m concerned, but it’s not an immediate issue.”
“Not an immediate issue?” Silas frowned. “You told Kate that someone was trying to kill you.”
“Yes” Bateman sighed. “Not until tomorrow.”
“…you could’ve told us your assassin specified a time,” Silas said calmly as he crumpled the empty coffee cup in his hand.
“I did,” Bateman chuckled. “Your hired help leaves something to be desired, heh.” Theo and Loki opened their mouths as if to start yelling, but Tobias clapped them both hard on the back.
“I’m sure she just forgot, Mr. Bateman,” Tobias laughed. “We’re all a bit overworked, right Si?”
“Sure.” Silas fished around in his coat pocket for a cigarette. “How do you know it’s tomorrow?”
“Because of the note.” Bateman looked around at the quizzical faces. “You forgot that, too?”
“We didn’t forget anything,” Theo snapped. “We ain’t psychics, Bateman.”
“’Ain’t’ isn’t a word, Theo.” Bateman reached over and pinched her arm. “How many times have I told you that?”
“She gets it,” Anton said coldly.
“Well, like I said, the note’s inside.” Bateman started to turn around, when his eyes rested on Aidan. “Aidan Connors?”
Aidan smiled stiffly. “ Mr. Bateman… it’s been quite a while.”
“Dante, call me Dante! Nothing less for my best friend! And – is that Lily?” Bateman’s face lit up as he looked her up and down. “I almost didn’t recognize you… then again, little girls don’t stay little girls forever, right? Heh.”
“Yes, Aidan’s kindly agreed to be our medic, you’re in great hands if we screw up, what about that note?” Tobias interjected.
“I was getting to that,” Bateman huffed, walking up the stone front steps. Dubiously, the rest of the group followed. As they stepped into the sunroom, Bateman snatched a piece of paper off of the table and thrust it towards Silas. “See what I tell you?”
Silas took the piece of paper and scanned it quickly, reading aloud. “Dear Mr. Bateman, it is with regret that I inform you that your life will be ending tomorrow – that is, unless you can return something of value to me. At 8:00 PM, dismiss the guests from your gallery opening and wait for me in the second floor bedroom wing. Then perhaps we can discuss a favorable outcome for the both of us, hm?” Silas looked up from the paper, frowning. "Something of value… what's that?"
"It's obvious, isn't it?" Bateman replied. "He's after my painting."
"Your painting?" Silas raised an eyebrow.
"Why else would he have chosen tonight, when I'm about to show my work for the first time?"
"He?" Anton asked.
"I was just assuming," Bateman replied.
"Wait, wait, hold up," Theo interrupted. "You have a gallery?"
"Contrary to popular belief," Bateman said loftily, "I am quite productive with my time."
"I'm just glad to hear you're adjusting so well," Tobias said casually. "Barely a day since your home burned down and you're already arranging socials."
"…I'll have you know that I wasn't spending much time in the city, anyway," Bateman mumbled. "And besides, many of those unfortunate people are staying here in Bellerophon… just doing my part."
"I see your charity didn't extend to offering those unfortunates a place to stay," Theo commented.
"Guess that means you don't want to sleep on a bed? Heh."
"All right, all right, that's enough," Silas said. "What exactly is it you want us to do, Bateman?"
"Easy," Bateman replied. "You're going to catch this letter-writer and make sure he never bothers me again."
"Sounds pretty taxing to me," Tobias sighed. "And we have precious little energy as is…"
Bateman gritted his teeth. "And you'll be compensated fully, of course."
"Wonderful! And just a note, our rates've gone up, but hell, I'm sure you can handle that." Tobias patted Bateman on the head. "Now, you said this was tomorrow, right? Then if you'll excuse me…"
"Wait… where're you going?" Bateman frowned.
"To bed." Tobias grinned. "Obviously."
"Not a bad idea." Theo yawned. "I'm dead…"
As everyone trudged into the house, Lily quietly made her way over to where the letter lay, picking it up and reading it. Her expression remained blank, but her grip tightened, ripping the paper a little.
"Lily, we should go inside too. You really should get some sleep." Aidan rested a hand on her shoulder, steering her towards the door. It was a moment before he noticed she still held the letter. "What's wrong?"
"The handwriting…" Lily trailed off, finally lifting her eyes from the paper to look up at Aidan. She carefully laid it out on the small table in the front hall. "…it's nothing. I thought I recognized it for a moment."
Despite Loki's best efforts, he couldn't sleep. Which irritated him, of course, he didn't remember the last time he was so exhausted. His mind just seemed to want to go over the events of the last twenty-four hours over and over.
"…just the troubles again. I hadn't given much thought to it."
'You can't just not give much thought t' something in front of your face,' Loki thought, rolling out of bed. 'What's so horrible about that place that no one wants to talk about it? It's gotta have something to do with that marble place, right? And that guy… hell, I barely know Lily, but she doesn't strike me as a girl who panics easy. But when she saw that Hawthorne guy…'
Loki wandered down the dark hallway, eyes scanning the closed doors in the hope of seeing a light on. Tobias and the others were all frequent insomniacs; Loki usually found company on sleepless nights. But to his disappointment, it looked as if everyone had gone to sleep. Sighing, he decided to take a walk around the villa to get rid of all his nervous energy.
As he descended the stairs, he noticed a faint light coming from the study. Hopeful, he looked around the corner, but deflated when he saw Bateman pacing. He began to tiptoe in the other direction, not eager to talk to their client, but before he knew what he was doing, Loki turned around and walked towards the study.
"I gotta ask you something," Loki blurted out. Bateman jumped half a foot and whipped around, deflating when he saw Loki.
"Oh, it's you." The fearful expression melted into a bored one.
"What're the troubles?"
"Sounds like a euphemism. Heh." Bateman smirked.
"I'm serious." Loki crossed his arms. "What happened in that place? Why is everyone so vague about it?"
Bateman didn't look at Loki. He simply stared at the opposite wall. "Vague, huh… maybe it's habit." Loki didn't like the way he smiled then. "Tell me, kid, do you really want to know?"
"…no," Loki answered quietly. "I really don't."
"Well… not sure how much there is to tell," Bateman began. "Or, at least, how much there is to tell that makes sense. There's always been a bit of an unspoken agreement among the upper class to… try and ignore the whole thing."
"And did you?"
"I'm not an idiot." Bateman frowned. "I used discretion, of course, but some things were just hard to miss. You'd have to be blind not to realize that Mr. Wittenberg was doing whatever the hell he pleased."
"Mr. Wittenberg… that important guy that Tobias was talking about?"
"He's not just an 'important guy.' You could say he sort of… runs the city. Has for the past five years. Most of the time he's lauded to the skies for all he's done, lifting the city out of a twenty-year depression, financing all the new facilities… you'd have to go two hundred miles outside the city to find someone that didn't know all about him."
"But you can't keep the lower classes happy forever," Bateman continued. "The gap between them and people like myself and Aidan started to grow again, everyone was complaining that Mr. Wittenberg only serviced his friends… got pretty toxic pretty fast. And it didn't help that Mr. Wittenberg… liked to indulge himself. The man deserves a little fun, of course, but I do think he should have shown more caution—"
"Indulged himself how?" Loki asked.
"It's really not important, I think the whole thing was blown entirely out of proportion. Like the situation with that reporter, for instance."
"So? You gonna explain that, or just brag about how knowledgeable you are?"
"…you didn't hear about that?" Bateman shook his head. "You really don't know anything, do you?" He paused, leaning against the wall. "Name was Brian Vandoren. Wrote for the newspaper, always had to have the edgiest story, never could keep his mouth shut…" He shook his head. "I still remember the day, about a year ago, when he gloated to everyone in sight that he was writing an expose about Mr. Wittenberg."
"And what was in there?"
"Don't know." Bateman leaned in close. "He vanished. Along with his entire team." He smiled mirthlessly as Loki's eyes widened. "You could say that everything just…" Bateman snapped his fingers. "…exploded… after that."
"…he died?" Loki whispered.
"Now, I didn't say that." Bateman began to walk towards the door. "But those people you turned in back at the city seem to think so. But hell… maybe they know more than we do." He stopped at the door. "Go back to bed, kid. Gotta be rested if you're going to protect me tomorrow, right?"
Bateman walked out the door, and Loki stood frozen, feeling more awake than ever.
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