Part Two: Chapter Nine

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And just like that, everything begins to go wrong. During his Tuesday Modern Spanish Literature class, he receives a worrisome text from Mary: “Get home as soon as you can. We have an emergency, and I’m stuck in traffic.” As soon as he walks through the front door and sees the empty chocolate ice cream tub, episode of “Say Yes to the Dress,” and crumpled tissues, he knows.

“What happened?” he asks Max as he sits down next to his friend.

“It was all so dramatic.” Max swipes another tissue from the box and blows. “One minute we’re fighting about how we never go out anymore because Jordan’s too wrapped up in his scientific projects, and the next minute, he’s storming out the door. He’s always been a loose cannon, but he usually just walks down to Starbucks, buys himself a triple latte, and comes back calm. This time it’s been nearly eight hours, and not a word.”

“Want me to call him?”

“You can try, but his phone is off.”

True to Max’s word, the call goes straight to voicemail. “Hi, you’ve reached Jordan, I’m not able to—” Atlas hangs up.

“What else can I do?” he asks Max as he awkwardly pats his friend’s shoulder. “Do you know where I can find him and talk some sense into him?”

“If he’s not at Starbucks, he’ll be at his mom’s house in Virginia. The only place Jordan ever goes is his laboratory, and that’s the only other laboratory he has.”

Max gives Atlas the address. Luckily Bernie is only a few blocks away when Atlas calls, so he U-turns and drives back to give Atlas a ride. Jordan’s mom’s house is on the other side of the Key Bridge, so Bernie takes the route through Georgetown and then Rosslyn. Atlas loves Georgetown; it feels quaint, even in its busiest times, when tourists walk the waterway and throngs of rich students hop between designer storefronts. He and Mary often get cupcakes at Baked & Wired, then eat them as they window shop or stand on one of the bridges overlooking the canal.

Then they’re over the bridge and into Rosslyn, Virginia, where the buildings no longer have to meet the Height of Buildings Act of 1910. Past the tall glass windowed buildings of Rosslyn is Court House, where suburbia starts to mingle with city life like two colors bleeding into each other, and one left turn leads them to the row of town houses where Jordan’s mother lives.

When they pull up in front of her house, a light blue town home with chipped paint and crooked shutters, an old woman is already standing behind her screen door in a cotton nightgown with purple daisies scattered across it, seemingly waiting for them.

As soon as Atlas jumps out of the car, she calls to him in a shaky voice, “Are you with the police?” As he looks closer, her disheveled hair and nightgown give her the appearance of having  just woken up. 

“Police?” Atlas asks. “No, why?”

“I thought not.” Before Atlas can react, the woman pulls out a shotgun and aims it directly at him.

He hears the car door close behind him, and then Bernie yells, “Ma’am, put the shotgun down. I don’t want to have to use this.” Apparently there is more to Bernie than meets the eye, and it wouldn’t surprise Atlas if Mary hired his “driver” as a cover for his bodyguard. 

Atlas’s heart pumps double time in his chest. The woman does not lower her weapon, but he can see her hands shaking.

“You took my boy,” the woman says. “Tell me where you took my boy.”

“What boy?” Atlas asks, and the woman looks uncertain. “Do you mean Jordan? Who took him?”

“If you’re not here for him, then what’re you doing here?” she asks. The barrel of the gun dips, but does not lower.

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