Flight 386

Summary:

A short story about a woman dealing with her friend after he saves a plane and becomes a hero.

Originally written in 2010.

 

Rachel hadn’t intended on house-sitting for two weeks when she agreed to Scott’s request.  He’d made it clear that he’d only be gone one week at the most.  Being the courteous friend she was, she couldn’t find it in her heart to say no; Scott had watched her cat from time to time when she went out of town.  In any case, her only real instructions were to make sure his plants didn’t whither.  On the pre-arranged night of his return, Rachel had sat at a local bar chugging back a scotch and waiting to be relieved of her duties.  A football game had been playing on the small, ill-aged TV.  Rachel had had no clue who the teams were though.

“We interrupt this game to bring you breaking news,” Channel 6’s William M. Schafer said as the football game disappeared to be replaced by a somber news-room.

Rachel paid more attention; although she didn’t like the news, Channel 6’s anchor was a gorgeous blonde fellow whom she held in high esteem.

“We have just received reports from Washington that a plane was hijacked by terrorists.  At exactly 7:48 P.M. Pacific Time-”

Rachel sighed and went back to her scotch.  Terrorists were nothing new despite the media’s insistence on publicizing their activities.  She’d hear more about the depressing report from all of her co-workers tomorrow anyway.  With the patrons silently passing glances at each other, though, the report couldn’t help but reach Rachel’s ears.  She at least picked a few details up: “aimed at the White House,” “saved by hero and landed safely,” “Cheaper Airways Flight 386.”  She thought these details could possibly come in handy for something tomorrow.  There was also the fact the flight number gave her an inkling of nostalgia, but she couldn’t place it.

Hours later at her apartment Rachel still had no call from Scott.  It wasn’t like him to be late and she’d certainly have a hangover tomorrow.  She’d feel safer knowing Scott was safe as well; the terrorist thing must have gotten to her.  A quick call to the airport to check for delayed flights was all she’d need to do to dissipate her fears.  Locating the notebook sheet with Scott’s vacation information on it, Rachel punched in the numbers for the airport.

“Hello, Cheaper Airways.  How may I direct your call?”  the customer service representative asked.

“Yes, could you tell me about Flight 3-”

Rachel stopped as her brain surged with recollection.  It was the number.  That number.  Flight 386!  The one of the hi-jacked plane!

Various calls later, and an apology to the customer service representative she scared half to death with her sudden silence, Rachel discovered the truth.  Scott had indeed been on the hijacked plane.  However, more astonishingly for Rachel, Scott had been the very hero who had saved the plane!

The mighty coincidence took a while to sink.  Scott had been Rachel’s friend since high school.  Even though their meeting was simple, a group project in an English class, Rachel and Scott had been very close.  For Rachel, Scott was a much needed medicine for stress since he had a certain love for life she found enchanting.  Scott had also found Rachel’s sense of realism a much needed to chain to keep him from floating into the clouds.  People were surprised the two never dated, but Rachel had never been sexually attracted to Scott and Scott often confessed Rachel wasn’t feminine enough for him to date.  Rather, the two had always been closer to siblings, bickering often about stupid things like Scott’s day-dreamer habits or Rachel’s stubbornness but, in the end, they still loved each other.  Consequently, Rachel had always known Scott had a reckless, brave streak in him.  She simply couldn’t imagine, though, that he’d take it this far.

Regardless of her feelings, there was one truth Rachel accepted more quickly than the rest: Scott couldn’t come home for another week because of a procedural bog-down.  Rachel took it upon herself to prepare the house for Scott’s return within that week.  It would be nothing major: just cleaning, stocking up on food, and getting the mail.  She figured Scott needed to relax after this incident.  Any normal person would need it.

~+~

Rachel walked around the airport towards Terminal 3, amidst the chaos and tightened security as a result of the events.  Fortunately, Terminal 3 wasn’t hard to find; Rachel just had to head for the area with a mob of press surrounding the gate and with the neon sign for the gift shop flashing across the way.  After attempting a game of push and shove with the paparazzi, she miraculously managed to meander her way to the front of the crowd.  She hoped Scott would at least be able to distinguish her tiny frame and shiny red hair from others in the crowd; she’d made sure to wear her frilly, white pony tail holder just for this purpose.

The press talked amongst themselves, loudly enough that passengers for the next flight made sure to sit as many rows away from the gate as they could.  Rachel noted only one passenger was silly enough to wait nearby. Upon closer inspection, she realized he had a notepad in hand and professional camera bag at his feet.  Even he was just another one of the media vultures, possibly thinking he had a better chance if he blended in.  Something about his atmosphere particularly chilled her, though.  She thought his eyes were particularly beady and noticed they were two different colors as well.

Thunderous applause and cheering brought Rachel away from the suspicious paparazzi fellow soon enough.  Rachel glanced to her right and finally saw a familiar brown-head with blond highlights.  His chest puffed out, his modest smile with slightly yellowed teeth, and his dignified strut down the passageway all worked together to bring a smile to Rachel’s face.  Scott exited the terminal and waved to the press but ignored their questions.  A staunch fellow behind him, a temporary bodyguard Rachel assumed, instructed him to continue moving and yelled for the press to clear a path for “the hero.”  Rachel waved in wide arcs until Scott finally noticed her.  He smiled a very warm smile at her and sauntered over.

“Hey, Rach.  You did come,” Scott said.

“Of course I came.  You’ve practically come back from the dead!” Rachel replied.

“It wasn’t THAT bad.  Really, it wasn’t.  There were only 2 guys.”

“Only 2, he says.  Terrorists aren’t that innocent, Scott.”

“Touche.   But listen, Rach, can we talk later?  Those suits questioned me for hours.  I need to sleep.”

Rachel nodded, and a few jokes later the two of them, with several security personnel, made their way to the front of the airport at a snail’s pace.  Scott, of course, just had to stop to speak to the press every ten or so steps.  There were also some twenty, maybe even forty, autographs that Rachel watched Scott signed with a practiced hand.  Around three hours after Rachel arrived at the airport, she and Scott were finally able to squeeze into her car.  The instant Rachel put the car into drive Scott had fallen asleep with his face pressed up against the window.

The ride was quiet and Rachel was left to herself.  She glanced at Scott intermittently, afraid every little bump she hit would disturb him; so far he showed no signs of waking.  Scott’s visage was very-un-Scott like to Rachel.  His normal casual clothes were ironed, something of which she knew was a foreign concept to him.  She thought his hair had thinned a bit, as well, and the bags under Scott’s eyes confirmed the sentiment he was tired.  He really had been through a lot.

It pained Rachel to see Scott so utterly haggard.  When the two had left high school, both had sizeable groups of friends whom they could call on at any point when the other was busy.  With the passing of years, and several marriages and out-of-state colleges later, Rachel and Scott really only had each other left.  Neither truly had an opportunity to meet others.  Rachel worked as a secretary for a corporation, a demanding job that required 40 hours or more from her a week.  She also had little care for her co-workers, finding them to be paranoid and dull at best.  Scott had his own business selling movie props he made himself.  Being his only employee, making the props, as well as managing the selling and deliveries, all about killed his social life.  The two had truly come to depend on each other if they wanted to socialize, and Rachel had come to view Scott even more as her brother than in her youth.

During the car ride, with thoughts of the past at the forefront of her mind,  Rachel decided then and there that as Scott’s friend she had to help him re-adjust back to the healthy person he was.  Or, at the very least she thought, comfort him until the whole thing blew over.  After all, she needed him as much as he needed her.  At breakfast the next morning Rachel had prepared some eggs, bacon, and pancakes.  Her plan first consisted of fattening Scott up.  The smell of a cooking breakfast had strategically lured Scott downstairs just in time to eat it.  Rachel watched Scott stuff his face wordlessly, as he literally showed no signs of chewing or swallowing.  After half the breakfast was consumed, and a large glass of water later, Scott finally decided to speak.

“Rach, you didn’t have to-” Scott began.

“Shut up, you know you liked it.  I had to cook breakfast for myself anyway,” Rachel paused.  “So what happened, Scott?”

“Oh come on, Rach, I’m sure you’ve read about it by now.”

“I have read about it.”

“Not enough?  Ok, I’ll tell you.  2 guys, guns, and hijacking.  People were scared to the point of pissing their pants.  One of them just happened to pass me in the aisle and I-well I hit him over the head.  Then I pointed that guy’s gun at the other guy.” Scott paused to laugh. “Other guy was a newbie.  A newbie.  And that’s it.  That’s how I saved all our asses from death.”

“Fascinating.”

“Something wrong?”

“No, I just-I was worried about you Scott.  That was stupid.”

Scott sighed and laughed after pausing a moment in thought.  He shook his head too, displacing more of the hair which was all ready muddled from sleep.

“All right, I get you, Rach.  No more saving hijacked planes for me.”

Haha.  You made the front page, Mr. Hero.”

Rachel tossed the paper in front of Scott for him to glance over.  An infectious, wide grin spread to his face as he read the article several times over.  Rachel chomped on her own breakfast and watched him.  She thought he deserved to enjoy his own heroism for a little while at least.  Eventually, Scott reached for some scissors and cut the article out.

“Saving it?”

“Yeah. I’m-the article is great,” Scott said.

Following Scott into his living room, past the tattered couch and over to Scott’s favorite desk on the opposite wall, Rachel watched him take a pin and put it on the bulletin board.  The bulletin board hung right above Scott’s desk, and he usually only put things he wanted to remember up there.  Scott smiled some more and brushed his fingers across the article.  The action brought a smile to Rachel’s face too.

A few days rest was all Scott needed to be up and about again.  Rachel knew Scott wanted her to think he was normal and unfazed; she knew better.  One day Scott would speak to her about old times and then the next he’d lock himself in his house and speak to no one, of course always with a good excuse to make it seem ordinary.  His psyche had to be effected by this somehow, Rachel surmised.  Unfortunately, Rachel’s job rendered her unable to be with Scott as much as she would like.

One afternoon at her apartment, Rachel dusted her TV off and sat down on her plastic-covered, white couch, the only other piece of furniture in the room.  Scott was to have a press conference and he was adamant that she watch it.  At exactly 1 P.M. the press conference began.  Scott stood confidentially at a podium next to whom Rachel assumed was the mayor or governor.  A gold insignia was engraved onto the podium and the red curtains behind the stuffily dressed supporters on stage bore the same symbol.  By the official look of the surroundings, it was obvious it was a national broadcast.  After a lengthy introduction by the mayor/governor, an introduction that must of had the word “great hero” in it ten times, Scott began his own speech.  Rachel knew his speech by heart; she’d helped write it for him.  He was going to talk about the hijacking, then leave off with some positive message about bravery.  It seemed standard hero-stuff to Rachel.

What interested Rachel was not the word’s though.  She watched Scott parade around using his whole body to reiterate the story of the hijacking.  She watched his prideful smile and his confident authority.  It brought her back to their childhood when Scott would stand up to bullies.  He had often gone to the nurse with a black-eye, but the bullies usually didn’t bother him again.  It was that confidence, that bravery, that Rachel admired in Scott.  She knew that without those traits Scott probably wouldn’t be able to own his own business.  Only he had the ingenuity for it.  It was something Rachel, and apparently many others, were jealous of him for.  She had always wondered if Scott knew they were jealous too.

Before she knew it, the speech had ended.  Scott was handed the key to the city, which Rachel was surprised they still did.  There was confetti, applause, the works.  A spectacular ceremony reviews would later call it.  Even Rachel’s co-workers blabbed on about it for the next week.  Rachel could see there was a long road ahead of her if the status quo was to return.

~+~

Some days after the ceremony Rachel deemed it time to visit Scott again.  She hadn’t heard from him since he called her from the after-ceremony party and that worried her.  Perhaps she was merely becoming paranoid or maybe the fact Scott sounded completely drunken on the phone was what bothered her.  Either way, it wouldn’t hurt to pay a visit.

Pulling up to the driveway the first thing Rachel noticed was that Scott’s car was parked nearby.  It was a good sign that he was at least home.  Scott hadn’t taken public transportation since he had gotten home.  After all, only a nut would ride the bus in place of a Mercedes Benz, a gift from one of the plane’s passengers.  Rachel knocked on the door of Scott’s house and was cheerfully greeted by him.  He lead her inside, politely offered her some tea, and then scurried off into the living room before she answered.  As she entered the bulletin board demanded her attention.  What had been a relatively clean board covered by one article had become a collage of articles that occupied at least half the available space.  Rachel leered over the articles and took note that everyone of them was about the near plane crash and the “heroic” Scott.

“Like it,” Scott began, “Collected them from every newspaper I could find.”

“Don’t you think this is a little obsessive, Scott,” Rachel replied.

“Rach, do you know any heroes?”

“Just you.”

“Look, Rach, I really could have died on that plane.”

“I know, dummy.”

“Aren’t I allowed to have a little bit of fun and gloating from this?”

Rachel stopped for a moment.  His point was valid and she could only sigh to it.

“All right, Scott.  Have your fun.  Just remember this isn’t the airplane anymore.”

“Thanks, Rach.  Hey, if you find anymore articles send them over.  Ok?”

~+~

Without Rachel’s notice a month had passed by since the hijacking.  She had, of course, done as Scott asked and sent him along any article she could find.  There was little she could provide for Scott, since he himself had found most every article all ready.  Every time she went over it had filled a bit more than the last time she was there.  Clearly, Scott was still big news in the world. What sort of normalcy was this?  That day, though, Rachel thought it was hypocritical for her to pay it any mind at.  As it was, Rachel was cooking a special celebratory dinner for her and Scott.  It was the anniversary of his survival against death.  She, however, was there just to make sure Scott ate properly; she still didn’t trust him enough to even do that much.

Scott sat in the kitchen watching Rachel in intervals.  His eyes made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up, but she continued with her cooking.  As Scott flipped through his paper Rachel wondered if Scott had been searching for more news articles again.

“No, Rach, just catching up on some local stuff.  I promise,” Scott said.

Rachel hadn’t meant to voice her question aloud.

“What’s going on,” Rachel said.

“Same old, same old.  But you need to relax.  I can’t help it if I still find news articles bout myself from time to time still.”

“Scott, do you need an operation?  Your ego is getting a little too big for that small skull of yours.”

“Ouch, Rach, is it, well, that time of the month?”

“Ha, what a wise guy you are.  You’d think after as many girlfriends as you’ve had you’d be smart enough not to ask a woman that.”

Scott opened his mouth to reply but paused and looked at the newspaper with a tremendous intensity.  Rachel stopped her cooking, the sudden silence creating a tension even she could feel.  It almost scared Rachel how intent he was on examining the newspaper.  Rachel approached him and tapped his shoulder only to be rewarded by Scott’s sudden outburst.

“Those snakes!  Those stupid snakes!  Can you believe this Rach!?”

“What are you talking about Scott?  You aren’t making any sense.”

“Look at this!  Look at what this,” Scott squinted for a moment, “at what this Ted B guy wrote.  Look at what this slimy scum wrote!”

Scott shoved the paper into Rachel’s hands.  She fumbled with it for a moment but managed to steady it.  Her eyes washed down the article and skimmed it as quickly as she could, feeling Scott’s blazing eyes put pressure on her.  The title of the article was a clear tip off to the problem though:

Scott Riverson, Hero or Misguided?
by Ted B.
I am sure we are all aware of Mr. Scott Riverson’s encounter with terrorism and how his efforts helped protect Cheaper Airways Flight 386.  However, were his actions truly so heroic?  Everyday airport employees stop terrorists from boarding our planes.  Should they all receive keys to the city too?  I submit to you, my loyal readers, that Scott Riverson is nothing special.  Rather, it is this humble writer’s opinion that Scott Riverson is a misguided youth, an attention hog if you will, who only wishes media attention.  His actions were only driven by a hero-worshipping society and are not commendable in the least bit if we want to keep the younger generations from becoming copy cats.  Had circumstances been different, Scott Riverson could have been putting passengers into more danger than they were in because of his ill-guided actions.  Scott Riverson is the most exemplary example of the disgusting degradation of society into an idiotic drivel of cowardice following.  It is my request that my loyal readers not follow this man’s actions and follow a more intelligent, noble path that doesn’t involve questionable encounters with terrorists.

“Scott-” Rachel began.

“Who does this guy think he is?  Those people wouldn’t even be alive without me!  Of all the things!  Journalists are scum!  SCUM!”

“Scott, stop!”

Scott, surprisingly enough to Rachel, stopped his rant.

“Listen Scott,” Rachel said, “one bad article isn’t the end of the world.  No, Scott.  Don’t interrupt, it’s not.  You know journalists are cruel people.  And you know that they only write stuff that will sell the most.  A negative article in the collection good ones will stand out, Scott.  That’s all it is. He wrote it to sell more papers.  Don’t take it to heart.”

Scott opened his mouth, closed it, and then repeated this process for about a minute.  Deep lines etched into his forehead as he thought.

“You’re right, Rach.  Forgive me for overreacting?”

“Always.”

Deep down, however, Rachel knew this was a sign.  Though they managed to pass that dinner in relative delight, her foreshadowing proved to be correct over the next two months.  That bad article was only the first.  Every other day it seemed liked a nasty article about Scott was written in the paper now.  All of them were written by the mysterious journalist Ted B.  Rachel had recalled one article had gone so far as to put forward the notion that Scott could have “possibly” been involved with the terrorists and set the whole thing in order to gain fame.  Regardless of content, Ted B. became particular fond of referring to Scott as the lowest form of human evolution.  Of course, this was amidst reiterating him being the degradation of society.  It seemed to her that Ted B. would attack Scott from any possible angle he could manage and he did an excellent job at it.

Rachel had been with Scott one night when he placed a well-deserved phone-call to the newspaper company.  He spent nearly an hour on the phone trying to track Ted B. down, but the owner was not forthcoming with information.  Rachel’s speech about “Freedom of the Press” to Scott also fell on deaf ears.  Rachel left the issue alone for the most part however.  She knew Scott and knew that he liked to overreact.  She also thought that the publicity was still appreciated by Scott, since even these bad articles wound up on his all important bulletin board.

Fortunately, the two months weren’t all in vain.  While Scott was still news, a new figure had stolen just a little of his spotlight.  A blue baseball-capped vigilante, as far-fetched as Rachel found that, had appeared on the streets.  While Rachel didn’t remember most of the details, she did see Channel 6’s news ticker continuously repeat that the unknown vigilante had been spotted by a homeless man killing a confirmed prime suspect in a recent subway murder and rape before running off and vanishing.  For two days the media obsessed over this vigilante.  Channel 6’s William M. Schafer complimented the vigilante, calling him a saint of saints.  His co-anchor disagreed with her disgusted expressions (but of course not daring to verbalize her opinion).  The disagreement was between Scott and Rachel as well; Rachel agreed with co-anchor on the vigilante while Scott agreed with William M. Schafer.  However, Rachel was simply glad Scott didn’t mind sharing the spotlight.  It was certainly a good sign he was improving.

Predictably, the fickle media quickly moved away from the vigilante.  In fact, quite unluckily for Rachel, it seemed the media was far more interested in Ted B.’s articles and how Scott was taking it than a vigilante who killed only once.  Scott, with Rachel’s help, had narrowly avoided the media on several occasions, even getting bombarded in a car together with the paparazzi practically scratching out the windows and screaming Ted B.’s name at them.  Similar incidents kept up for a month until Scott got cornered alone at a grocery store, right near the potato chips.

The media, which was filming the incident, had bombarded him several questions, most of them trying to confirm that Scott was filled with “rage.”  At first, Scott successfully kept his cool and brushed them off with silence.  When one of the journalists present suggested Ted B. was right, Scott quickly changed his tune.  Scott ranted and insulted Ted B. to the best of his ability, and Rachel was sure when she watched the footage that some spit must of landed on the journalists with the way Scott went about it.  His face ceased to be Scott in the moment and he became an unidentifiable tomato creature on the screen.  He raved about how Ted B. was the misguided one and how he was meant to save people.

For reasons unknown to Rachel, Scott pointed out the vigilante and compared their tasks, claiming they were equally heroic.  Scott seemed to fly with that point and continually referred to the blue baseball-cap as some symbol of safety, almost like a super hero.  Normally, Rachel would save that information and berate Scott later for it; she could hardly see the similarities between Scott and the vigilante.  Given the circumstances, however, Rachel later ended up berating Scott for the entirety of his conduct and pointed out he’d deserve the negative articles now.  Scott just simply laughed it off.

The entire incident left Rachel exasperated.  For a while she was sure that Scott was slipping through her fingers.  To Rachel’s great pleasure, Ted B. had noticed the incident and wrote a raving review about it, pointing out every fault with Scott’s attitude from his childish insults to his poor appearance.  He ended his article with, “In conclusion, just like that vigilante, that Mr. Scott Riverson knows so well, both are misguided tadpoles bent on the pure destruction of humanity.”  Scott, of course, did not take the statement well and grumbled about it on his couch for days.  Rachel almost wanted to kiss Ted B. in thanks for knocking Scott back down a notch.

It wasn’t till that two month mark that Rachel finally saw the catalyst to end Scott’s obsession.  She had watched Scott do several TV interviews over the past three months, and had been tasked with tidying the house while he was away.  Rachel took the responsibility but frankly wanted the ordeal to end for both their sakes.

Rachel had tuned in to Channel 6’s local talk-show while she took care to water Scott’s plants.  The plants, which were mostly located in the living room, sat on the opposite side of the television, an ideal multitasking job location.  She had paid only semi-attention to the interview at first.  After the fifth show they all generally repeated the same pattern: Scott comes in, blah blah hijacking, blah blah hero, Scott leaves, applause.  It was only natural she ignore it.

Her assumptions quickly proved correct.  Rachel nearly gagged at how many times she heard Scott’s rehearsed speech to explain how the events went down.  The poor plants got most of Rachel’s wrath as she haphazardly sprayed them, completing drowning one and forgetting one entirely.  She entertained the idea of just changing the channel and even grabbed the remote to do so.  Unfortunately, she was compelled to place the remote back down.  Scott would surely come home and talk about his interview.  He would know if she hadn’t watched it; she was a terrible liar with those kinds of things.

As Rachel rolled her eyes and sat in a lethargic state, an odd notion struck her: the audience was only half full.  She rubbed her eyes and got closer to the TV almost in a kid-like manner.  After watching the screen pan-out, her suspicions were confirmed.  She contemplated for a time.  Perhaps the commotion was calming down.  It simply had to be.   Scott had been the hot topic for months and for the attendance to be so low was a sure sign.  The media was finally going to move on the next hot topic to exploit at their leisure; maybe it’d be that new vigilante who’d killed yet another two murderers in the last week.  To say this relieved Rachel would be an understatement.  This is what she had been waiting for.  Finally, she would make some progress with shrinking Scott’s ego.

After the talk-show ended Rachel decided to tidy the house a bit more.  Scott, thankfully, wasn’t due home for several hours yet.  Rachel knew that despite her joy, Scott would surely come home to whine about the audience numbers.  There was no way he hadn’t noticed that.  Preparing the house was just one of Rachel’s battle tactics to soothe Scott over.  If she could get him relaxed she could at least talk him down after a while.

Rachel skipped about the house going about her task and was done within an hour.  By the time she had finished she had a whole two bags filled to the brim with trash.  As she took them out to the curb, where Scott kept his garbage can 24/7 if only for convenience, she spotted a black mass hanging out of Scott’s trash-can.  Rachel’s first inclination was to scream, but her years as a secretary had taught her to think before she panicked.

She approached the ‘black thing’ (as she so dignifiedly termed it) and soon saw that it was no ‘black thing’ at all; it was only a creepy man with his head in the garbage can.  It wasn’t much of an improvement for Rachel though, and she wondered why anyone would dig through the trash.  Her first theory, he was a hobo, was quickly dashed by the fact that his cloak looked expensive.  She also noticed that parked on the other side of the street was an expensive car, a Porsche, which did not belong to the neighbors.  As Rachel made more and more faulty theories up in her head she became irritated.  Even if this was a hobo, the man was invading Scott’s privacy.  Indignantly, she approached the man and tapped his shoulder.

“Excuse me, what are you doing?”

Drat, thought Rachel, that was more polite than she had hoped.  However, her inquiry was not in vain.  In a swift moment a head arose from the trash can and feigned a look at Rachel.  Rachel felt the atmosphere chill and felt a familiarity in his different colored eyes.  She couldn’t recollect where she had seen them yet, and searched her brain thoroughly for the answer.  Once out of her thoughts she realized the man had been speaking to her.

“Woman, are you listening?”

“No.  And frankly I don’t think I have to.  What are you doing here?”

The man paused for a moment.

“Collecting soda cans for charity,” he said finally.

“Do I seriously look that stupid to you?”

The man looked her up and down with his beady eyes.

“No, no you certainly aren’t a stupid woman.”

“Well?”

“Well what?”

“What are you doing digging through the trash?”

“All right, I’ll tell you what.  I’ll tell you what, girl.  I’m looking for dirt.”

“Dirt?”

“Yes.  Dirt on Scott Riverson.”

“Yes, I know whose trash this is.  This is invading his privacy.  Leave before I decide to call the cops and report you for theft, Mr.?”

“Ted.  Ted Bernard.”

Rachel stopped and wondered if it really was just a coincidence.

“Are you the Ted who uses Ted B. as his penname in the paper,” Rachel asked.

“One and the same.”

“I hear Scott whine about your articles everyday.”

Ted B. sneered at the for a moment but Rachel swore she saw a twinkle of pleasure at the edge of his mouth.

“Good to hear he’s seen them too.  Thought my superiors were blowing steam about him calling.”

“Listen, you, I want you to stop writing about Scott. He-”

“Before you start, let me say I’m done.  Scott Riverson is old news.  I thought I could get one last article out of him but it‘s no use.”  Ted B. stopped to smirk for a moment.  “Scott Riverson’s not hiding anything more I know about yet.  Can’t write about that.  The next thing is going to be that vigilante, you hear me.  And I‘m going be at the forefront of that train.  Yes…”

Ted B. trailed off and looked at the trash cans both disappointed and with a suspicious gleam in his eyes.  Rachel stared at him blankly for a moment.  Was it really going to be that easy to end it all?  No, it couldn’t be.  And why did Ted B. say he didn’t know of any hidden things yet?  Was Scott hiding something?  No, that couldn’t be it, thought Rachel, because she would know what it was.  Ted B. was a creep despite his help; what a normal person would consider out in the open he’d probably consider hidden until someone attacked it.  Her pondering was stopped though, as Ted B. shook his head and headed off for his car.

“You really mean it?  You’ll stop writing about Scott?”

“Yeah, I mean it.  Scott Riverson can just go back to being a nobody for now.”

Rachel stayed silence after that and watched Ted B. slide into his car and drive off.  Inside her heart was doing a dance, though.  As much grief as Ted B. had caused Scott (and subsequently her) she was glad he was done too.  She was even more sure now that normalcy was within her grasp.  With Ted B. out of the picture that was good news for Scott too.  That little tidbit would be her secret weapon tonight to cheer up Scott after the talk-show.  Of course, she’d sugar coat it a little to appease Scott’s ego.

~+~

Scott’s so-called fall from fame took a short two weeks.  The vigilante had killed his fourth victim and the news turned their attention to that, this time not even going back to anything related Scott, just as Ted B. had foreshadowed.  Rachel had known that Scott wouldn’t take his newfound commoner status well but she never expected him to take it as bad as he did.  The minute she had informed him even Ted B. was backing off Scott went into a flying rage.  Half the contents of the dinner table were on the floor when the rage subsided  Rachel had escaped from the house just as quickly and hadn’t been back since.  The incident had still been sending shivers down her spine.  Scott’s numerous apologies had finally won her over though.

As part of his apology Scott offered to make her lunch, and Rachel could use a free meal.  She hesitated at the door of Scott’s house before knocking.  Scott opened the door and the sincere smile on his face made Rachel solidify her forgiveness.  No one with such a smile could still be angry.  Rachel, none the less, kept a healthy skepticism.  Scott’s obsessions were hard for him to get over.

“Make yourself at home, Rach.  Lunch is almost done,” Scott said.

Rachel noted the truth in his statement from the stinging smell of curry in the air.  This was more like the old Scott she knew; the Scott who lived off of cheap curry and didn’t obsess about being a hero.  A smile spread to Rachel’s face as she surveyed the rest of the house.  The mess from last time wasn’t present to remind her of any misgivings and the place was actually quite clean despite her long absence.

Perusing the bulletin board Rachel noted some new additions.  To her joy, there weren’t any new articles; it was simple post-it notes scribbled out in Scott’s handwriting.  She ran her fingers along some, one saying, “Scum scum this isn’t right I never did this,” and another written as, “WRONG WRONG!  Who does this guy think he is!?”  It was nothing Scott hadn’t ranted about previously, and, as Rachel thought, it was a sure sign that Scott was coping.  Psychologists did say that quickest way to recovery was to write it all down.  Then again, the thought of Ted B. and him thinking Scott was hiding something crossed her mind too, but she quickly brushed it off; it was the wisdom of crooked person.

“Rach, last time-” Scott began entering the room.

“I know.  You’re sorry.  Stop apologizing all ready.”

“Forgive a guy for trying.  It’s just been hell since I stopped being the hero.”

“Scott, you’re not still going on about this are you?”

Rachel gave Scott the dirtiest look she could make.  She’d assumed too much from his smile. Scott stomped to the bulletin board and slammed his palm onto the it for the emphasis of some point.

“Look at this Rach!  Nothing!  Nobody is even writing about Scott Riverson anymore!  Not the news!  Not Ted B.!  There’s nothing!”

Scott, it’s over.  No!  It’s over!  You have to move on, Scott!  I know you did a lot for those people but the media has moved on!  You need to do so too!  Come back to reality!”

“Rach!  I-”

Scott paused and sighed, delicately running a hand through his hair.  Rachel remained silent and watched, hoping with her entire being that Scott would actually give it some thought this time.  Fortunately, Scott didn’t make Rachel wait long before he plopped down onto the couch with a look that told Rachel she’d won.  A breathless wait for his reply consumed her regardless.

“You’re right, Rachel.  It’s time to come back to planet earth.”

That was all Rachel had needed to here.  She was sure now that Ted B.‘s sentiments about Scott hiding something had been wrong.  If Scott was hiding something he wouldn’t admit defeat like this; he‘d put too much work into his bulletin board rantings for that.  At least, that’s what Rachel’s conscience assured her of and she usually had good instincts.  In the end, to Rachel all that mattered was that Scott was indeed moving on from his obsession.  She launched a hug onto him and kissed his cheek happily.  Scott complained about girl germs and the two had a good laugh.

~+~

Though it took some time, Rachel thought Scott was making real progress.  Despite the fact that he still hadn’t removed the articles from the bulletin board, Scott had actually stopped looking for them.  She’d hardly seen him touch a paper in the last half month nor had she seen him even so much as glance at a talk-show proposal.  On her way to Scott’s place for their new customary lunch tradition, she tuned into the news.  It was better than listening to 20 minutes of commercials on the music stations.  There were a few reports about some theft, a murder, the Iraq war, nothing that the news didn’t usually say.

Obviously, the greatest (and consequently next) segment was dedicated to the vigilante again, who stood out simply sometimes for having no nickname given by the media at this point; he was simply “the vigilante.”  This time the fifth and sixth victims had surfaced.  It appeared the vigilante always had a few ticks to him: he’d always wear his blue baseball cap, he’d always kill in a subway-ridden area at night, and there’d always be only one or two witnesses who saw the killing before the vigilante ran off.  It also seemed that the witnesses never agreed on if the vigilante had blond or brown hair under his cap.  While some journalists questioned where the vigilante got his information, suggesting he might be an off-duty police officer or in cahoots with someone else, Rachel knew better.  With the media and the internet, it wasn’t a stretch to even get the names of people in the most miniscule of crimes.  Rachel quite easily tuned most of the details out.

Once she arrived at Scott’s it took the standard greetings and conversations to get inside before Rachel found herself in front of the table.  The meal was nothing fancy (just a regular tomato-sauced spaghetti), although Scott had a terrible habit of making it too spicy.  Even so, it was a good excuse mechanism to visit Scott.  Her paranoia had warn her down over the past months, and she’d learned she’d always be paranoid about Scott’s welfare now.  There was no way out of it so she might as well eat during her visits.

“How have you been,” Rachel said to Scott, perturbed by the silence that had engulfed them for this meal.

“All right.  All right.”

There was more silence to be had for a few moments.

“So have you heard about the vigilante lately,” Scott asked.

“Looks like someone has a hero.”

“Of course.  Didn’t you know my hero is you, Rach?”

“Sure, smart guy.  You really still agree with this vigilante though?”

“You know I do.”

“He seems more like an attention hog to me.  It’s just a feeling.  It reminded me of you, actually.  The broadcasters seemed to argue if he was a hero or not.”

“Oh, so I’m an attention hog?”

Rachel threw some spaghetti at Scott, causing a laugh to resound from his chest.

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Rachel said, “I just thought he was, well, obsessed with being a hero too.”

“It’s possible I guess, Rach.  You going to his house and tell him to get over it too?”

“No, I’ve done enough with you, Scott.  I need a vacation.”

Scott grinned oddly at Rachel.  She stared at him for a moment, wondering what was on his mind.  To Rachel’s dismay, Ted B.‘s words crossed her mind again.  Maybe Ted B. was suspicious with Scott’s obsession with the vigilante; it surely didn’t give Rachel a good vibe.  Scott also didn’t smile that oddly at her usually.  Could he really be hiding something from even her?  Despite it being what Rachel had wanted, in retrospect Scott’s sudden attitude adjustment was a bit off.  It was entirely possible Scott quit his self-worship for unknown reasons to Rachel.  As Rachel continued to ponder, the idea that Scott had the smile of someone with a secret struck her.  Some spaghetti in her face a moment later told her it’d simply been about revenge, abating her doubts all together for a while.

Over the course of the next two months the vigilante became the biggest news in the city, killing his 7th, 8th, and 9th victim in that time.  Maybe it was simply the fact that other people, like Rachel, felt that terrorism was old news, or perhaps journalism was getting out of hand.  In either case, Rachel only paid vague attention to it.  However, Rachel took the time to pay attention to Ted B.’s articles.  He’d tormented Scott enough (and indirectly Rachel) to leave an impression on her.  It also disturbed her that she continually thought she saw Ted B. still lurking around Scott’s house from time to time.  No negative articles about Scott had appeared yet and Rachel decided it was paranoia on her part.  In fact, all of Ted B.’s articles were now about the vigilante, as he had promised her.  They were just as bad as Scott’s, calling the vigilante a “flat-out serial killer using the innocent guise of heroism to cover his slaughter of innocents.”  Occasionally, Ted B. would reference Scott, comparing the vigilante to him as he had done the first time he mentioned the vigilante in an article.  The passing nature of the mentions, though, never drew any particular concern from Rachel.

The news gladly exaggerated the numbers crime had gone down despite the vigilante killing so few, which Rachel didn’t see the logic of since the vigilante was committing crime to stop crime.  Rachel knew better to keep her opinion to herself though; her co-workers seemed to worship the new safer streets the vigilante had provided them.  However, Rachel would make an exception for Scott.  Rachel feared the vigilante would give Scott ideas.  The last thing she needed was for Scott to have a new obsession or do something drastic to be the hero again.

Once again Rachel found herself in the familiarity of Scott’s home.  Scott had eagerly called her to his home that day, mentioning he simply wanted her to hang out and socialize for a bit.  Rachel couldn’t understand why since he also mentioned he had work to catch up with, but she didn’t see the harm in going.  The aged couch, the desk, the TV, it was all the same.  Even the bulletin board was the same, serving as a memorable trophy of Scott’s time in the spotlight.  From time to time Rachel thought of demanding Scott to remove his trophy, assessing that it’d just lead him to hero worship.  She could say nothing though.  It wasn’t her house and the bulletin board still seemed to be Scott’s only form of coping.  Besides the usual familiarity, something odd caught Rachel’s eye.  Scott’s plants had withered, and it imparted a dread consisting of anger and worry on her.

“Scott,” Rachel said as she glanced at him while he typed diligently at his laptop, “your plants are dead.”

“What?  Oh, so they are.”

“Why are the plants dead?”

“Just been caught up with work, Rach.  Didn’t have to time to feed them.”

Rachel looked at Scott to assess the truth of what he was saying.  He was rather haggard in appearance.

“Scott, are you all right?  You look tired.”

“Work.  Stayed up too many late nights, Rach.”

“I thought you were behind in your work?”

“I am.  I am!”

Rachel stared at Scott, practically boring her eyes into him.  It was rather odd to her that no matter how much Scott worked he was still behind.  What was Scott doing at night?  Whether it was her paranoia or not, Rachel felt as though Scott might be up to something dangerous.  It wasn’t unusual for him to brag about his new props to her, but lately he’d said nothing about them.  However, Rachel didn’t wish to jump to conclusions so soon; Scott deserved the benefit of the doubt.  Needless to say, though, she would keep an eye on him this visit.

“…just get some sleep tonight, Scott.”

“Ha, all right, Rach.  As my zookeeper commands.”

Rachel made a witty remark to that, but seldom recalled what words had come out.  Quietly, she toured the house more.  A mess had come to reside in the house and take-out boxes of all sorts littered the floor in a pattern that told her Scott had hardly left the room.  A seed of doubt formed in Rachel’s heart and she wondered if she was loosening Scott’s leash too soon.

“Rachel!  Rachel!  Look at this!”

Scott ushered her over her and probably would’ve dragged her if he had been standing at the time.

“What is it, Scott,” Rachel asked as she approached him and looked to the laptop screen which Scott was gesturing at.

“Look who finally got his come-up-its, Rach!  Just look!”

Rachel scanned the article on the screen once and then again just to be sure she wasn’t dreaming.

Journalist Dead at 48
Ted Bernard was found murdered yesterday at 3:04 A.M. on Central Avenue.  Better known as the journalist Ted B., he specialized in numerous articles of infamy.  Reports indicate the vigilante was seen in the area at the time of the murder. Anyone with information should immediately contact the local police.

The rest of the article held no bearing to Rachel and she felt her heart in her stomach.  She may not have liked the man but murder didn’t sit right with her.

“Isn’t this great, Rachel?”

“Scott, somebody dying isn’t great.”

“He was scum, Rach.  Lighten up.”

“I know.  Scott.  I know.  But he was murdered!  Murdered by that vigilante!  I know he wasn’t a nice guy, but murder?”

“He had it comin’ to him.”

“No, Scott, this is just too terrible.”

“Don’t you remember all the things he wrote about me!?”

“Of course I remember!  But it’s a murder, Scott!  A murder!  Please, Scott, just please.  Don’t get any ideas from this.  That part of your life is over now.  Let’s just let Ted B. go.”

Rachel forced the laptop closed and narrowly missed Scott’s fingers.  She also couldn’t miss the disappointed look on Scott’s face.

“Rach, I know.  I’ve moved on from that whole plane thing.  Can’t I celebrate my enemies defeat a little though?”

Rachel wanted to tell Scott that he couldn’t but knew her argument would just be in vain.  She let the subject drop; she’d have to retreat and formulate a battle strategy.  Ted B. was always the unpredictable element of this incident.  Without that negative combatant though, Scott’s glory would just be all positives again.  The very news of Ted B.’s murder put into danger everything Rachel had worked for together with Scott.  Rachel would have to kill any of Scott’s foolish ideas quickly.  If she didn’t, the obsession was bound to return.

At her apartment that night, as she planned her new attack on Scott‘s obsession, details of the visit had begun to sink in.  It occurred to her many things hadn’t correlated that day.  Scott’s presentation of Ted B.’s article was a little too convenient.  He’d all ready said he would be working while they caught up, and he certainly couldn’t work and find obituaries about small-time journalists at the same time.  He had also been the one to call her over there in the first place, out of the blue too.  As Rachel pondered more and more, dots began to connect in her head while Ted B.’s words resounded in an echo.  While she still thought Ted B. was a lunatic for thinking Scott was hiding things before, Rachel inevitably found herself to be unable to deny it now.

Conclusively, Rachel thought, the only answer for Scott knowing to even look for the article would be if he knew more about the death beforehand then he let on.  Rachel entertained the thought that Scott had been the witness for the crime, but decided that he would’ve been mentioned in the article if he had; he was Scott Riverson, the vanquisher of terrorists still.  How could he know about the article though?  As much as Rachel tried to answer the question, she found herself incapable.  She was only sure that Scott knew something and that he knew something he wasn’t telling anybody.  At any rate, the situation became more dangerous to Rachel.  Scott involved with a vigilante incident in any manner was bound to set him onto the path of obsession again.  It was also bad if he knew something that could help catch the vigilante and didn’t go to the police about it.  There was only one thing Rachel could do now: drive to Scott’s house tomorrow and confront him about this revelation.

~+~

The first hint Rachel had that something was wrong occurred just a mile from Scott’s house when she noticed a helicopter was floating dangerously close to the area.  It disturbed her and made her hasten just a tad more to Scott’s.  She didn’t want to be on the road if they were scouting for a criminal of some sort.  Turning onto Scott’s street, Rachel finally felt the cold sensation of something amiss.

On the street- no, Rachel corrected herself- in front of Scott’s house stood a battalion of emergency forces.  There were cops on all sides, an ambulance, even a fire truck.  Rachel had never seen this large a gathering of law enforcement in her life, at least anywhere that wasn’t television.  The cops fidgeted and lined the streets, talking on radios and running about with the caution of someone prepared for a gun fight.  The ambulance and fire truck stood off to the side with their drivers nearby.  The whole neighborhood seemed to have congregated around the area as well, having to be forcefully pushed back by police when they got too close.

Rachel slowly creped to the area in her car, only stopping when the pedestrians formed too big a group for her to bypass.  Rachel carried heavy limbs towards the group and glanced around more at the cops  Their urgency and official manner could only imply the situation was dire.  Using that as inspiration, Rachel regained her baring on reality and pushed her way to the front of the line.  She even made a desperate attempt to crawl around legs, but found yelling and shoving much more efficient in the end.

“Scott Riverson!  Where is he!?  Scott,” Rachel shouted as soon as she got to the front of the line.  The police were too busy to take notice of her and Rachel feared the worse.  Scott was a stupid, foolish man and for them to be in front of his house meant he’d certainly done stupid, foolish things.  Rachel felt in her heart that Scott was dead.  She couldn’t spot any paramedics near the ambulance after all.  Scott had finally gone and gotten himself killed.

Despite her fears, Scott finally appeared from the depths of his house, smiling as if it was any other day.  Rachel just about pushed past the police man guarding the group when she noticed a silver gleam at Scott’s wrists: handcuffs.  Why were they arresting Scott, Rachel wondered.  He wasn’t the bad guy here, he was the victim.  A fool-hardy victim with a superiority complex but still a victim.  Rachel attempted to call out to Scott but her voice couldn’t carry through the other activities around her.  Rachel’s worst fears were coming to life as her original mission for coming to Scott’s place returned to her.  She was more sure than ever that Scott had known more about Ted B.’s murder than he’d told her; now he was in trouble for it.  Rachel dreaded to think what they’d do with Scott.  Panicked, she tried to think of a way to help Scott, anything to transfer responsibility for Scott’s silence away from him.  She came up blank.

Rachel continued to watch as Scott was escorted to the police car.  An army of cops surrounded him, ready to fire at him should he try anything.  Scott was the most frightening to her though, seeming completely apathetic to these activities.  His smile was wide- wider than it had been in months.  Rachel could have even sworn he said thank you when he was shoved into the car in a rather painful matter.  Unable to stand the confusion any longer, Rachel panicked and hastened her way to the cop guarding the line.

“You-” Rachel began.

“Please remain calm, Ma’am,” the cop said, hardly glancing at her as he did so.

“Don’t tell me to remain calm!  What is going on!?  Why is Scott Riverson being arrested!?”

“Don’t you know, Ma’am?  The evidence is clear: he’s the vigilante who’s been terrorizing the streets.”

Rachel’s thoughts ceased and she went stiff as an unused diving board.  If she had been able to think, she’d have wondered if the apocalypse felt remotely close to this realization of the vigilante’s identity.  In her daze, she could only watch as the police car with Scott left and the news crews arrived a few moments too late for their scoop.

~+~

The media was in an uproar from this development.  For once, Rachel deemed it important enough to listen to the news attentively.  Quite ironically, as the media discovered through their snooping into the matter, Scott was able to convicted by none other than Ted B..  As colleagues suspected from Ted B.’s files, he’d first come to suspect Scott when he was ranting on television about Ted B. himself and his love for the vigilante.  Ted B. dedicated the next months of his life to gathering the evidence Scott and bluntly stalking him without Scott being any the wiser.  Eventually, Ted B. finally got his hands on some incriminating evidence: the 9th victim’s murder weapon, a knife, from Scott’s trash, complete with Scott’s fingerprints all over it.  Ted B. immediately sent it to the police.  Unfortunately for Ted B., he was killed before the police could finish evaluating and verifying the evidence.  His colleagues considered it a shame; Ted B. had all ready begun the indisputable, award-winning article about Scott’s identity as the vigilante and Ted B.’s instrumental role in catching him.

A transparent glass now separated Rachel from Scott.  He wore a worn, orange jumpsuit which made it appear he’d been in jail for months as opposed to a few days.  Upon entering the visitor’s area, which was devoid of all color and furniture except for the blue, hard-backed chairs used to sit on, Scott picked up the phone and cheerfully greeted Rachel, acting as if the setting was no different than usual.  It almost sickened Rachel.

“Scott, why,” Rachel said, interrupting Scott’s complaint about journalist vultures.

“What are you talking about, Rach?”

“Why did you do this, it, everything?”

“You’ll have to be more specific, Rachel.”

“Stop playing, Scott.  You’re in jail!!!!”

Scott stared at her dumbly as if he didn’t know what she was talking about.

“Scott, a vigilante, why?  You had a good life,” Rachel said to fill the silence.

“I’m a hero, Rach.”

“No you aren’t!  You went too far!  Maybe with the plane it was all fine and good but a vigilante!?!?  It’s just too too far Scott.”

“I’m sorry, Rach, I really am.  But this world needs a hero and I’m that guy.”

“Scott!”

“It’s almost meal time, Rachel.  Don’t worry about it.  I won’t be in here long.  When I’m out I can go back to being the hero again.  That villain Ted B. can‘t stop me anymore from saving people.”

“Scott, I-”

Rachel stopped and stared with eyes devoid of any feeling.  She was far too late to save Scott.  Reason would hold no effect on him now and even if it did, he was still in jail.  Her wasted words would only dry her throat and delay the inevitable.

“Good-bye…Scott.”

“Oh, ok.  Bye then, Rach.  See you later!”

Scott hung up the phone and casually waved and smiled at her as he was escorted away.  Rachel sat numbly in the chair.  Her body, her brain, they were both numb.  The days had been cruel to her and tortured her with memories that reminded her of her own ignorance.  Finally, at a guard’s behest, Rachel stood.  She walked back to her car and left, tears streaming down her face the whole time as memories continued to play in her head like a film.  Of course, Rachel’s sadness didn’t deter the media.  New articles about Scott appeared, calling him a true heroic avenger who was a victim of the justice system.  For those who disagreed with his actions, there were also the endless articles about Ted B.’s heroism in his capture, as well as the new hot topic about the child who drove his mother to the hospital while she was incapacitated from a gun-shot wound.  All the same, Rachel still paid no attention; repairing her broken ignorance took priority.

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