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The New Houdini 10

And then he woke. The summer sun streamed through the large windows of his bedroom, blinding him, and Chuck covered his face with a sweaty hand. Slowly his senses adjusted from the dream's alley to his presence nestled between the fluffy sheets of his king-sized bed. His room was easily three times as big as the alley where he saw Ben, with more than enough space to hold his antique dressers, his couch, his television, his desk and his shelves of films. His film equipment sat dusty in a corner by the walk-in closet, unused for four months. It was silent aside from the rustling of trees outside his windows, the Quentin house situated far enough outside of Boston's city center for privacy. Chuck wished he could hear even the faintest car horn; the dream felt too real, and his bedroom alien and overlarge. Some noise, any noise, might have made him feel more human. Instead he felt like he was still asleep.

The clock read ten in the morning; Max would be waiting to meet him at one. He had a lot of preparations to complete before then, if his plan was going to succeed. And it was imperative, more than ever, that they had to succeed. This was connected to Ben.

He rose and showered until the water ran cold. His parents, despite the day being a fine summer Saturday, had likely already disappeared into their world of business meetings, lunch parties and phone conferences. Chuck doubted the idea of a lazy weekend even existed for them. Even when Ben had disappeared, they had only spent three days away from the office, trusting in the police to manage things.

He chose his outfit carefully, wanting to express wealth and prestige without stating it openly. This wasn't difficult, really; he shunned visible designer labels and never purchased anything that wasn't made of the finest fabrics and stitching. Anything less made him uncomfortable. Ben and Max claimed his standards made him a snob. Ben in particular had always gone out of his way to dress as casually as possible. Chuck chose a pair of soft gray slacks and a pressed slate shirt and matching blazer. He considered a gray ascot, tying it around his neck and scrutinizing himself in the mirror before deciding against it. He wasn't going to a polo match. Briefly he wondered what Max thought of the idea of polo. He pictured her looking incredulous, mouth frowning and eyes wide, and his mouth quirked up. He brushed his blonde hair carefully, though not too much.

A basket of fresh muffins sat at the dining table waiting for him. A folded newspaper rested beside his plate. Their cook, Carl, came out of the swinging kitchen doors and offered to make him an omelet. Chuck refused, though he did take two muffins with him.

He spent time in the garage choosing a car, pacing between the glistening machines until he settled on a Bentley Continental. Max would hate it, he knew, and so he decided to pick her up instead of meeting her at the auction house. As the driver made his way out of Chestnut Hill's plush residences and over the Charles River into Cambridge, Chuck contemplated his move. Should he tell her about his dream? Would it upset her more than necessary?

"Park directly in front of the house," he ordered the driver, who hesitated, his gray head peeking at Chuck carefully in the rearview mirror.

"We're picking up Miss Pilar, correct?"

"Of course," Chuck snapped from the backseat, "who else lives at that address?"

"She hates being picked up," the driver said. "Sir."

Chuck threw his head back in laughter, nearly wrinkling his blazer. "Are you afraid of a girl Ben's age, Vincent?"

"It's not that," Vincent said sourly. "She's a sweet girl when she's not made moody by your antics."

Chuck settled into the leather seat and looked out the window at the sturdy, nondescript houses that they zoomed by without a thought. Max lived in one of those houses, in an apartment nonetheless. He couldn't decide if an apartment would be cozy or suffocating.

"Unfortunately," Chuck said to his reflection, "it's going to be a very moody day."

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