Ben was as still as if someone had flicked a switch and turned him off. He stood in the midst of broken crockery, torn paintings and spilled jewelry, staring sightlessly at a point near the door. Mr. Curry's head was cocked as he posed against the shelf, examining a World War I artillery shell.
"Why are you still here?" Max snapped. "Your Artifact's not here."
He shrugged, a smile playing on his lips. "I like drama."
Max ignored him and clasped Ben's unresponsive hand in hers, feeling strange for doing so when he would least care for the gesture. They had only ever touched once before: in a darkened museum exhibit room he reached for her to stop her from leaving. His hand was cold, the fingers long and nimble, the nails overgrown and dirty.
"Hey," she said, "let's get out of here, okay?" Her voice shook.
His hand was limp in hers.
One of the fallen guards moaned and stirred. Max flinched at how loud the noise seemed. She tugged at Ben's hand with a rising urgency.
"Let's go," she begged again, more quietly this time. The guard was beginning to wake.
"He won't." Mr. Curry didn't seem much troubled by the guard; he barely strayed from his spot. He sounded almost pitying. "Unless you want to get caught I suggest you leave immediately."
She gripped Ben's hand tightly. "I can't leave him. I just found him. I can't. And Chuck –" pain lanced through her chest – "he doesn't even know, how can I?"
The guard let out another long moan, louder this time. Max stilled, panic overflowing and nearly bringing her to tears. She cast a beseeching glance at Ben, who didn't even notice.
"You're going to take him and go, with or without the Artifact?" she asked Mr. Curry.
The older man nodded.
Her choices began to unravel; there wasn't anything she could do right now. If they stayed and were caught having demolished a few dozen antique works there'd be hell to pay. No one would believe that Ben hadn't done it willingly and he would only escape again as long as Peter remained in control. As for Max... the jig would be up right then. Her mother wouldn't let her out of the apartment after this kind of mess. That would be end. Why was everything so unfair?
Feeling sick and trapped, Max let go of Ben's hand.
"Get out," Max said.
"You first," Mr. Curry retorted.
"What is happening?" the guard slurred.
With one last burning glare at her high school teacher, Max fled. She ran out of the room, down the twisting hallways, and opened the door to the main auction room. No one noticed her enter. The entire room thrummed with applause as Chuck Quentin stood from his seat, smiling graciously as he was announced the owner of item sixteen-oh-two. All of the room's faces were turned to him but for Maxine's. She pressed herself against a wall and looked at the bright lights of the stage, which blurred in her vision as she cried.
Four days after the auction Chuck still wasn't speaking to Max. He didn't pick up her calls, he stopped loitering at the Lighthouse, and he guarded the amber as jealously as a dragon guarding treasure. His parents were baffled at his purchase and even more surprised that he had even attended an auction. He had never had an interest in ancient art before, always preferring the more modern work of films and photography. But they took it in stride, to his relief. Maybe they thought the activity was better than his usual moping and stressing about Ben. The thought rankled him. If only they knew how connected it all was!
He knew, distantly, that his parents were just as worried as he was, perhaps even more so, but were too dignified to do more than call the police daily in hopes of news. Max would not have called it dignified. She called it repressed, but then again she didn't quite understand how his family worked.
He would not think about her. Because if he did he inevitably thought of what she did, and the rage would boil in him so fast he thought he would choke on it.
He would go for a walk.