Chapter 31: You Are My Homeboy
Crisler--or Ryan Smith, I guess--leads me to a room just opposite of the holding cells. It's a very boring place, with one door, a table, a mirror, and four plain white walls. It's an interrogation room; after all the movies I've watched, I'd recognize it as that any day. Just the giant-ass mirror is enough to give it away. I wonder if there's anyone watching on the other side.
Crisler sits down closest to the door. I sit across from him, folding my hands in my lap. I would cross my arms, but I'm still handcuffed. As if they're afraid I'm gonna attack him.
Not that the thought hasn't crossed my mind, but I wouldn't dare. Not after fucking up with Jesse like that. And, plus, I doubt I could take a CIA agent. And I know he is one for sure now.
I can't believe I was right. Too bad I missed my chance to say, "I told you so," to Jesse as they were hauling me away. Now I'll never get the chance. Never leave Bethlehem. Bullet in my head, hello.
Crisler sighs. Puts his hands on the table. Then takes them off and puts them in his lap. He looks sad. That strikes me as weird.
"I don't know if you've heard, Nathan," he says, "but Yuri Yusupov--or, Svyatoslav Lebedev, as you know him--left town early this morning."
"Nate," I say, partly because I can't think of what else to say.
"What?" he asks, looking up at me confusedly.
"Call me Nate," I clarify. "Only my dad calls me Nathan."
"Ah, right," Crisler says, nodding sagely. He scratches at his chin, avoiding my eyes. "I understand you were close with Yusupov."
I look away, staring at myself in the mirror. "Don't I get a lawyer?"
"I'm not here about--the charges," Crisler says, looking at me again. "This is totally different, and won't be used against you in any court of law."
I meet his eye. He's a very plain sort of fellow, that white male caucasian thing going on for him, short brown hair, brown eyes, average height, average weight, average everything. He's probably a very good undercover agent, if only because he's so incredibly difficult to describe. He looks exactly like every other typical dude in this whole country. The only thing different about him is a sort of strength in his eyes--a measured coolness, a sort of subtle power, like he knows everything and thus knows that you know nothing. But the weird thing is, I never noticed that strength about him until just now. I guess he's master at getting rid of it while he's under cover.
"Yeah," I say, after deciding that he means business. "Svyatoslav's my buddy."
"So you know where he's gone?"
"He didn't leave you a note or anything?" Crisler asks. "Nothing telling you where he's gone?"
"Yeah," I say, and he leans forward a bit, eager. "Said he was going to Germany, but fuck me if he wasn't lying."
His face falls, and he sits back in his chair. "What, would you say, was the nature of your relationship with Yusupov?"
It sounds like he's asking me if I was knocking him. The image makes me grimace. The part where Svyatoslav very well may have been my father makes it all the more disgusting.
"I said we were buddies," I practically snap at him. He looks back up at me with those level eyes.
"Did he ever ask you to do him any favors?" he asks. "Like, run errands for him, anything of the sort?"
He looks putout with my snappy answer. It was quick because it was the truth, though. Svyatoslav gave me preferential treatment, sure, but only in that he treated me decent, unlike everyone else whom he felt was beneath him, and he gave me free stuff from his store and the like. If I'm really not his kid, then I have no idea why.
"Did you ever meet any of his old friends from Russia?"
"Svyatoslav has friends?" I ask incredulously, and grin after it. Crisler just looks even more frustrated.
"Is that a no?"
He looks at me warningly, and I bite back another grin.
"No, I never met any of his Soviet buddies."
Crisler cocks his head to the side, scrutinizing me. "It's interesting that you use that word. Soviet."
"Why?" I ask. "That's where Svyatoslav is from. Good ol' U.S.S.R. Back in the good ol' days, before democracy ruined the country. His words, not mine."
"Yes," Crisler murmurs, "Back when the KGB was still alive and well."
I roll my eyes. "Look, you're being obvious, Mr. Crisler--"
"Smith," he corrects.
"I know Svyatoslav was a spy. Okay? But I found out from you, not him. Whatever you're trying to find out, you know more than me, trust me."
Crisler looks absolutely mortified. The coolness has slipped from his eyes. I see remnants of that mousiness under which he used to scramble around town. But this is different--this is real.
"From me?" he asks, gaping.
"Yes," I say sternly, glaring at him. "I followed you home one day. Heard you talking on the phone. I know you searched my room, too."
At this, he shuts his mouth and narrows his eyes. "I never searched your room."
"I know you did," I say. "I heard you say it."
"The only room I ever searched was the back room of Yusupov's store," he says. "And that was with a warrant."
"Oh," I say. "But weren't you looking for the--" And I stop there, horrified. God, I'm so stupid sometimes!
The coolness floods back into Crisler's eyes. He sits up straight and smiles this snarky little smirk, his lip curling up maliciously. "Looking for the what?" he asks.
"Nothing," I say, trying to avoid eye contact, but I can feel him staring at me, nonetheless.
"The satellite chip?" he asks, and my eyes shoot to his, confused.
"Oh, you can talk about it now?" I ask, beating myself up but figuring it's no use. I've already admitted I have it, for all intents and purposes.
"Do you have it?" Crisler asks, even though I know he knows I do.
"No," I say anyway.
"We want it back now. Give it to me."
"Not a chance."
"Must I force you?"
I grin at him. "You can't," I say. "You'll never find it. Because it's not in my room or in my truck, and where else would you look for it? I have all of Bethlehem to hide it in--but more than that, too. See, I go to McKinley a lot, so who's to say it's not there, huh? And there's this one cornfield outside of Bethlehem that's pretty special to me too. Maybe it's there. But...think about this: would I really mention where it actually is in that list? Is it in any of those places? Huh? Are you up for it?"
Crisler's been sitting, waiting patiently during my entire speech, smirking. It unnerves me slightly, but I don't let it show. When I'm finally done, he says simply, "I am CIA. We have our ways of extracting information."
"You'd torture me?" I ask, trying to sound strong, but I feel that cold blood flooding my veins.
"I didn't say that. There are easier ways. But if it comes to it..."
I'm sure my face is white, but I force a smile onto my lips. And suddenly, with that smile, an idea hits me: "Easier ways, is that it? So what would you do for it?"
Crisler seems to notice I'm thinking something as well, because he perks and says, "What do you have in mind?"
"Drop the charges they've got ready for me here," I say, gesturing around the jail, "And for Jesse too."
"Done," Crisler says quickly, but I shoot him a look.
"I'm not finished!" I cry.
He rolls his eyes, looks reluctant, but says, "Okay, go on."
"Drop the charges, get me admission to UCLA, fuckever they say about my grades, four year's tuition," I pause, thinking, "and ten thousand dollars on top of that."
He goes quiet, staring me down, judging me. Seeing how serious I am. He taps the plain boring fold-up table with his index finger, once, twice, then says, "Four thousand."
"Six," I say.
"Done," he says.
I grin big at him. Huge bright big grin. Screw Frankie with a foot! I just got more money out of his stupid thievery! I'm still smiling as I pull my left boot up onto my right thigh, unlace it enough to pull out the tongue, unvelcro the pocket, and extract the chip. I keep my palm over it, sliding it across the table toward Crisler, and then reveal it suddenly, as if I were a magician and this was the big finale of my trick.
Crisler's face drains of color, but otherwise he doesn't react. He just stares at it for a good long time. Then he looks up at me, looking ten times more disappointed than I've ever seen anybody.
"Nate," he says, "I'm gonna tell you something. I'm gonna tell you exactly what's on this chip."
"Isn't that top secret or something?" I ask, my grin fading.
"It was, until just this moment," Crisler says cryptically. He breathes a huge sigh, shaking his head back and forth. "Stored away on this chip...is absolutely nothing. Just overexposed photographs of a blank wall, but hidden with an incredibly high-security encryption code."
I look down at the chip, frowning. This is not computing in my brain.
"That satellite that this chip came from was never in space. It wasn't even space worthy. It was just a model of metal, doused in a certain flammable substance and set on fire, and then dropped just outside Bethlehem from an aircraft."
I continue to frown at the chip. A single question makes itself known in my brain, and I voice it: "Why?"
Crisler heaves a sigh again. "It was a sting operation."
"Sting?" I repeat. I've heard that in movies before. "You mean, you were trying to set someone up?"
Crisler nods. "Yuri Yusupov, a former Soviet spy who disappeared some twenty-five years ago. We have intelligence, however, that he's still active in espionage. We finally managed to track him down through some old aliases to Bethlehem. We were trying to set him up with the satellite. Inside that chip is a tracking device--I wanted to see if it would end up in Russia, or at least in Yusupov's hands. I could have found that chip any moment I wanted to."
"Why didn't you just take it, then?" I ask harshly, a little bit bitter to find out my chip, my souvenir from the sky, wasn't from the sky after all--that it was hardly some important matter of national security. Not really, anyway.
"Well, because it was you who took it," Crisler says. "When the satellite magically turned into a beer-drinking Jesus statue," he gives me a nasty look at this point, "they quickly devised a cover and sent me in to investigate. It might have been a bit too rash, but we thought it was already in Yusupov's hands. However, when I got there, I realized it was you. I figured you had just trashed a very involved sting. But before waltzing in and taking it back from you, I did a bit of research and came across your connection with Yusupov. And I heard that you seem to think he's your father. If there was any validity in that--well, I figured there was a good chance you were taking up your father's legacy. And that you were harboring the chip for him until he could establish contact. I waited to see if you'd deliver it to him. When you returned the satellite to me, I all but gave up. But, when I realized you had kept the chip, the most vital part of it, I thought--maybe you're trying to throw me off."
"Ha," I say, still sour. "You give me too much credit. I'm just a stupid small town kid with weird obsessions and no actual talent for anything."
"Quite the contrary," Crisler says, and I look up. "Though, I am rather disappointed that you totally screwed up my operation, costing the agency what might be approaching millions of dollars by now, and losing Yusupov for me, I'm impressed with you."
"Impressed?" I ask.
"With your acting skills," he says. "If I didn't know you had the chip, I would never have guessed it was you. In fact, sometimes I even doubted the reliability of the chip's signal, since I was so convinced you didn't have it at times."
"In other words, I'm a good liar?" I ask, grinning cheekily.
"It's important in this world," Crisler says. "Which is why I'm going to make you an offer."
I perk up, now, a little bit afraid if only because he's magical CIA and I don't know what he's capable of. I know in mafia movies, those words are bad news. But with the CIA, I don't know.
"I'll give you the full ten thousand dollars," he says, "and I'll make sure we drop any potential charges we have against you for your interference in this case, but only if you undertake an internship with the CIA with an agreement to keep this information classified--anything about the satellite or your involvement with our agency."
Part of me is floored. Part of me is just sitting there, gaping, going over and over again, "Wha-huh? Wha-huh?" But there's another part of me that's just sitting back and grinning with every bit of cheek it has, going, "Yeah, you sexy bastard, even the goddamn CIA wants you on its side."
I smile sweetly at Crisler and say, "Sounds good to me."
"Good," Crisler nods, and then leans forward, grabbing my wrists by the chain that binds them. He extracts a silver key from his pocket, and unclicks each cuff, one at a time. "Then, you may go. I'll send you notice once you make it to Los Angeles."
"I don't know where I'm gonna live," I tell him.
He just smiles at me knowingly. "I'll find you."
It sounds very final, so I stand up and move to leave. I expected the door to be locked, but it opens easily. Just as I'm about to go, though, I pause and turn toward him.
"Oh, and just so you know," I start. Crisler turns to face me, looking interested. "You're a really shitty CIA agent. I had you pegged the moment I saw you."
He blanches, but before he can get in another word, I dart out, laughing as I go.
Of all the crap Jesse Jones had in his room--all the junk that lined every corner--all he decides to bring is a few pairs of clothes, regular toiletries, a couple skateboards, and his little computer. And the lime green frog that I gave him for Valentine's Day, which he subtly places on the floor of the cab underneath the seat--but I see it anyway because, come on, the thing's lime green. He puts so much effort into being subtle, though, that I decide not to mention it. Instead I just give him a giant happy bear hug, the reason for which I give no explanation.
I've never moved before, so I have a harder time deciding what I can part with and what I can't. It takes me only a little bit to realize that all I have is junk as well. Old clothes and movies, and books that I've never read, stacks of old schoolwork and baseball equipment I haven't used in years. In the end, all I bring is a bunch of clothes and that's about it. I stash the leftover weed in the glove compartment, realizing that that's probably the most expensive thing I own. A twenty dollar bag of schwag.
While Jesse gets to hooking up his complicated electronic iPod thingy to speakers so we have music on the way, I decide to wander into my backyard for the purpose of reminiscing. I make it all the way to the creek, sitting on the log my dad had perched on when I came out to him, and dragging my hand through the water like he did, watching the wake slanting outward in a V from my fingers.
All and all, I won't miss this place. Standing on the ground, staring at the sky, wishing for anything I could sprout wings and fly, but knowing that to do so would be blasphemous--that's a feeling I never want again. The cold clutches of a petty inhuman god--it's something I want to escape, and running away has never felt so right. But the little parts of this place--that hopeless battle of adolescence against those who keep us adolescent...That was always fun to me because I was a master on that playing field. Every bat I swung in that game was a home run, till Jesse Jones came to town. When he came to town, I threw down all my armor and tried to catch the ball barehanded, breaking every bone in my body but smiling through the blood. And I don't regret it, if only because I can go now.
The thing about Jesse Jones is he could take a baseball bat to your teeth and you'd still love him for it.
I still have my hand in the water when my mom comes up behind me. Her voice startles me even though I heard her coming.
"Look at you. You're afraid."
I look up at her confusedly, expecting her to be angry, but she just looks sad. She looks resigned. Maybe it's because I left the key to Svyatoslav's shop on the kitchen table with a note to her: "For you, Mom. May your memories of the Russian grocer be more pleasant because of this. Love, your gay son." Maybe that's why she's finally accepted I'm serious.
"You're afraid of the city, Nate. Don't go. Please don't go."
"Ah." It's half a groan, half a sigh. A little noise of realization. I hop off the log, onto the bank, and step up to her. "Ma," I chastise, shaking my head.
"Look at you, staring at this water! Remember when you were little, you used to love to play here, to splash around. You had such a happy little giggle--high-pitched like a girl, and your dad used to say..." She trails off, her frown deepening.
"Come on, Mom," I say softly, stepping closer. I tower over her--something I still find strange, because the strongest memories I have of my mother are from when I was a short little kid and could recognize her by her thighs because to look up to see her face was like trying to see the peak of a mountain while standing at the base of it. Wondering if you can make the climb--ever make it that high.
"Nate, just... It's... I knew it would come to this. I always knew it. And I thought if I prayed hard enough, that you wouldn't--but I knew it, and every year I only got more and more certain. And now it's here, and you'll be gone, and you'll never come back."
"I'll come back every Christmas. How's that?" I suggest, waggling my eyebrows, but the sight of it just breaks her defenses and the tears start to fall. She grabs my shoulders, dragging me into the strongest hug you could imagine for a stressed old housewife like her, and starts bawling into my shirt.
"I'm sorry for everything I ever did wrong in raising you. I'm sorry for everything that ever goes bad in your life, no matter how small. I'm sorry that it has to be like this, but I know it does. I have to let you go. I know that. And I will. Because more than anything I want you to be happy. So I will. Just...give me a minute."
I give her her minute, letting her wet my shirt with her tears. She manages to calm herself down after awhile, and, pulling away, sends me one last sorrowful look before collecting herself. She wipes the tears from her face, never minding her badly smeared makeup, and stands straight to be as menacing as possible.
"Good luck to you, son," she says, stifling one last sniffle. "Try not to get into trouble. I'm sure one day you'll find your way back to God."
She walks off with that, her shoulders slumped, climbing her way through the brush and back into the yard. I watch her go, feeling a bit bittersweet. It'd be absolutely picturesque if I could have left without her once again subtly condemning my relationship with Jesse. But I figure that's as much of a blessing as I'll ever get from her, so I take it with a grain of salt. It's better than nothing.
It's near dusk when we finally hit the road, me and Jesse. I roll down the window, because the summer heat has brought with it its own blend of Kansas humidity, so there's a bit of sweltering tinged with the coolness of night, making a perfect breeze that flows in through my window and out through Jesse's. Jesse starts his iPod with what he says is his only Tatu song, but after that he quickly changes it to his own mix of grunge rock. I'm not unhappy though. I don't mind it.
I didn't say goodbye to anybody, except for one last tearful parting with my parents, promising them I'd call them with my new number as soon as I got a cell phone. Everyone else in the town I left high and dry--I figure my episode with the bat has made its rounds by now, and that more than any words I could ever say probably relates how I feel about them. My only regret is that I didn't get to thank Lynnie for the warning she gave me, but I figure she knows anyhow. She's one of those psychic girls who knows everything like the CIA. So she gets it, I'm sure.
I don't know if Jesse said goodbye to his parents, or anybody for that matter. He was in and out a lot while we were packing the truck, quiet the whole time, so he never gave a hint either way. Maybe I'll ask him one day. For now I don't want to spoil the mood, because both of us are superpsyched about the move.
We're just barely out of Bethlehem, however, when I see a little signpost on the left-hand side, its back to me, and an idea hits me, so I swerve over, pulling onto the shoulder, and hopping out. Jesse looks around confusedly, probably wondering at my antics, but I offer his silent inquiry no reply and merely beckon him to follow me. He does without a word.
We cross the road and approach the sign. Stepping to the front of it reveals the brown and green words, "Welcome to Bethlehem: Population 1,584." The numbers in the population are on a dial, easy to access via a crank on the right side of the sign--that's because this population number is exact, and it is the pride and joy of the 1,584 residents themselves.
I grab the crank and turn it, twice, to the left, and the numbers spin.
Welcome to Bethlehem: Population 1,582.
Jesse stares quietly at it, at the green and brown colors darkening in the fading light of dusk. The corner of his mouth twitches upward, and when he turns to look at me, his eye-smile is brighter than the sun itself, so glowing that dusk retreats and I swear if I looked straight at him I'd go blind.
He steps up to me, wraps his arms around my shoulders, and pulls me close, but not for a kiss. He holds us just barely apart, our foreheads nearly touching, and whispers, "Are you scared? To leave?"
Part of me wants to put on a front of courage, to bite back the nerves buzzing around my bones and shake my head with the most confident smile I've ever done. But that would be a lie. Instead I put my hands on his waist, curling my fingers tightly around his belt, and give a quick nod.
He goes quiet, probably not really knowing what to say, so I add, "But it's not bad. I'm fucking terrified, if you want the truth. But I want to go more than I'm scared to go, so I know I'm doing the right thing."
The tiny little smile comes back, and he raises up on his tiptoes to give me a little peck.
"Well then," he says, staring me in the eye, and I'm floating in the sky, staring down at the planet below, "good luck."
"I won't need it," I tell him, pulling him closer. My beau. My homeboy. I declared him my homeboy and so he is my homeboy, and he shall remain my homeboy, forever and ever, as long as the Earth still spins and the stars still shine. Because that's just the way it is.
Special thanks to: .Prayer, kaigrey, EternalBreeze, narcissistic, Sidderiffic, Troove, magalina, Chasmodai Blue, bronsautracks, TopKat, Coco Bean Cake, ., PA, CaseyBear, MisterScotty, Dramatizer, Atlantis Forester, debzzz, StarAndStickerTape, HazeleyedHoney, AlwaysForTheGay, Kilian, Drips of Blue-Green Turpentine, Hell's first Icicle, knits alot, Vera Dicere, Lisa, Narcoleptic86, Amindaya, astarei, Qui, rawr, XxAmericanxBeautyxX, Ri Kylee, Mademoiselle Rouge, whatisit, naviarex, Pundit, Janie-wants-a-home, Yaleni, QueenCasey, tihagro, JerryOnigiri, Catseye*Rose, MewMewMaggieCat, plumblossom, SarryMatts, BurnBaby, Turp, Summer Seduction, JLRivera, Liviania, unheardmelodies, shy7cat, Y, Sheepie, Le1chi, Crimson Doll, Sexy Jesus, ThePurpleBottle, inkling, CocoaLove, spex, Tara, Coriande, suninun, Nameless Rose, Milanos are so gooood, magGe, :), Headline Whore, bambi4real, Airily, kawaiiminnachan, hpfreakout, Thread of LIfe, Cookie Monster, Kitsu Kurasei, eromenos, eat me some berry lucky charms, Rosuto Aki, Jazz, just give me november, should be doing homework kid, CrayonMentality, MiaCulpa, RavenclawMoose, rAiNwAtEr1, :S, rainbowchickers, feliscatus, samIII, Naomi Schemer, , X-core, Daydream Nation, Pizzazz, Quietly Losing Control, amphi, Essie, AngelBoy089, hichou, Leah, Magdalena Bruhaha, Blithe Lee, Amadeus Gore, InSilverShadows, gummybaby, and all of you who have read and reviewed and enjoyed this story!
With all my cyber-love,
The American Daydream