Part Two: Chapter Eleven

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Santiago holds his hands out, and Atlas ties up both father and daughter with rope from the van. Santiago’s cell phone rings several times, then goes right to voicemail.

“I gave orders to have your little lab rat friend killed if I didn’t answer,” Santiago adds as they force him in and he ducks his head to keep from getting knocked out by the van ceiling. “They’ll destroy the house with him inside of it before you can get there.”

“I doubt that plan will be very successful,” Mary says, though Max pales and looks at Atlas uncertainly. “But we’ll just have to find out when we get there.”

Atlas prays that Mary has a few more tricks up her sleeve. They’ve rescued her father, but in the process, have they sentences Jordan to death?

“What are you going to do with us after all of this?” Esperanza asks, thinking only of herself.

Mary imitates Santiago’s suave tone. “What am I doing to do with you, amor mio?” She peels out of the parking lot and slams the accelerator all the way down to the mat. “I’m going to give you exactly what you deserve.”

 ***

Back at Esperanza’s house, the normally secluded mansion crawls with police officers and drug-sniffing dogs. Bullet holes have turned the statues and nearby trees into Swiss cheese, though thankfully there are no human body parts. Santiago’s assistants are already in handcuffs, their faces bruised and bleeding from the fight that must have occurred before their van arrived. Officers carry crates of drugs out to their cars, while others snap photographs of the evidence. Pieces of expensive furniture, books, paintings, and other stolen goods litter the lawn. Atlas thinks he even sees a Picasso.

As soon as she parks, Mary jumps out of the van and greets a middle-aged police chief with a hug. Atlas, Max, and Christopher climb out of the van and hover behind her, waiting for an introduction.

“Nice work, Marshall,” she says. “Looks like you’ve got this crime scene under control.”

“Thanks to you,” the man says, resting his hands on the potbelly stuffed into his uniform. “Who are your friends?”

“This is my brother, Atlas, our friend Max, and a newbie we picked up along the way, Christopher. I couldn’t have done any of this without them.”

“Thank you,” Officer Marshall says as he shakes their hands. “You’ve done fine work here, boys—brave work. If any of you are ever looking for a job in the force, just give me a call.”

Officer Marshall leaves to supervise the men arresting Santiago and Esperanza, and as soon as he’s out of ear shot, Atlas says: “I thought you hated police officers. I thought the whole point of this operation was to do the job that the police couldn’t get done.”

“It was, until they brought Jordan into it. We couldn’t be two places at once, and I couldn’t choose between saving Jordan’s life and saving my dad’s. Desperate times, my friend.” She leans in, and the boys do the same. “Besides, I know Marshall from way back, and most of his squad, too. I knew I could trust them.” She winks. “Retired criminals make the best officers. I told you I grew up in a gang.”

She starts to say more, but then they catch sight of Jordan walking out of the house with the help of two paramedics. One of his eyes looks like an overripe plumb, and his lip bleeds where one of Santiago’s minions must have hit him. His pant legs, ripped at both knees, are stained red. When he sees Max, however, he smiles.

“I’m so sorry we fought—” Jordan starts to say when the paramedics carry him over, but Max interrupts him.

“No, I’m the one who’s sorry. I thought I was never going to see you again. As long as you never leave me, I promise I won’t get between you and your work.” Max kisses Jordan’s injured hand.

“We need to get him to a hospital,” one of the paramedics says. “We can only take one other person in the ambulance.”

“I’ll meet you two back at the apartment,” Max says, then follows Jordan to the ambulance. It takes off, sirens blaring, for the nearest hospital.

“Great. Now they’re going to be unbearable to live with,” Mary says, but she brushes a tear out of her eye when she thinks no one is looking.

“My mom’s probably wondering where I am,” Christopher says, startling both Atlas and Mary out of their thoughts. Honestly, Atlas had forgotten he was still there. The young man holds out his hand, and Mary slaps a thousand dollars into it.

“Don’t spend it all in one place,” Mary warns him.

“I won’t, I promise. I’m going to buy a new skateboard and an Xbox One.”

After Mary finds him a ride with one of the police officers who monitors his precinct, Atlas and Mary walk slowly toward the house to inspect the destruction. It will take the police team months to find all of the owners of the stolen goods and return them—a job Atlas is glad will now fall on the police instead of him.

“What now, Kid?” Mary asks as she uses the toe of her boot to rummage through the rubble. “You solved the mystery, got the bad guys, and lived to tell the tale.”

“Now?” Atlas thinks about the past year and a half—the places he’s been, the people he’s met, the adventure’s he’s discovered—and decides that though it’s been a lot of fun, he’s tired of being Atlas Read. He picks up a collector’s edition of The Waste Land and Other Poems lying in the dirt and tucks it into his pocket before one of the police officers notices.

“Now I get the girl.”

THE END

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