Gadget in Chains
Written by: Loneheart
Chapter Eleven: Express Elevator Ride to Aitch-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks
Lawhiney was scowling in her sleep.
Her guide had been watching her for ten minutes. His own expression was relaxed and neutral, apart from a slight frown that marked his genuine concern for his charge. He had threatened her with a nightmare for her ill behaviour before but this one was not of his making.
After everything she's done and been through, she's certainly owed a few nightmares, he thought and pursed his lips. If it was a natural nightmare, he could help her, though that would probably just be storing up trouble for later. It would probably be counter-productive as well. On the other hand, if it wasn't a natural nightmare, if someone was trying to get to her- and someone from the other side should have shown up to sink their hooks into her by now then he had a duty to intercede.
Lawhiney tossed her head, her face twitching into an expression of terror. A tiny moan escaped her lips.
Her guide shook his head, a ruthful half-smile on his face. If the powers that be complained, he had an excuse, and if it turned out to be storing up trouble for later then it would be a later when she was stronger and he would be there for her. He stretched out his hand as if to brush the hair away from her forehead.
Lawhiney's eyes snapped open. It wasn't long before they fixed the Guide with an accusing stare.
"How dare you!" she hissed.
The Guide looked from her to his hand, which he slowly withdrew. "I don't know what you mean." He said, awkwardly, all too aware of what she suspected but with no idea how he could convince her she was wrong.
"I thought we had an understanding!"
"I don't know what you're talking about!" The Guide protested. He was horrified to realise that he sounded guilty even though he hadn't done anything wrong. "I was just trying to help, that's all."
"Help me come round to your way of thinking, that is!"
"Well- no, I didn't cause your nightmare!"
"Then how do you know I was having a nightmare?"
"Well, because " the Guide stopped, reluctant to admit that he had been watching her sleep.
"You liar! You interfered while I was sleeping!"
"I did not! It was obvious you were having a bad dream. I was just about to see if I could help you, that's all!"
Lawhiney looked at him sternly. "Why should I believe you?"
"Why? Well, because I'm not the one who made a living out of lying to everyone around her for most of her life, how about that?" he shouted.
"Well, maybe youre a fast learner!" Lawhiney turned over and pulled the blankets over her head.
"A fast learner!?"
"Yeah- maybe I'm a bad influence on you." Lawhiney's taunt was slightly muffled.
"You could be a bad influence on anyone!" The Guide complained. "I came here to give you a dire warning and the only thing that you can do is pick a fight with me. Well that's fine with me-" he turned to leave "-if you don't want to know, you can just take your chances. And you've been offered plenty of them."
"What warning? Give myself up and repent my sins, this is my last chance to come on out with my paws up?"
The Guide looked back at her. I've failed, he thought, and there's nothing I can do for her. Except, perhaps, leave. "Yeah, something like that. Okay, fine, there's nothing I can tell you. I give up. You're on your own."
Lawhiney's head poked out from under the blanket. "You mean that? I thought I was stuck with you?"
"Until the day you die or you don't need me any more."
"And I don't need you any more, huh?"
"You don't need me when you've repented your sins and established a good life for yourself."
Lawhiney did a quick stock check on the repentance and good life front and came up empty. Mentally, she chalked a line through that option. She didn't like the one that was left. "Hey, wait up!" she yowled and discarded the blankets. "Didn't you mention duty? Weren't you sent to watch over me by the Big Mouse Upstairs Himself?"
"No, we call him the Big Fella Upstairs. The Big Mouse lives in Florida."
"Well, whatever, isn't he going to be awfully annoyed with you if you show up back on his doorstep early?"
"I won't be early. I have to stay with you until the day you die but no-one said I had to stay with you to the last second." The Guide said with his back turned.
"Wait!" Lawhiney cried.
"Wait? You're the one who's waited!" The Guide turned to face her, enlarged by his anger to the point where he towered over Lawhiney like Saint Peter. As he thundered at her, his presence seemed to draw all the light and colour out of the room, until his furious expression was the only thing Lawhiney could see. "You're waiting for someone to find you out before you tell the truth; you're waiting until you've made your getaway and left your crimes behind you before you start to lead an honest life; you're waiting for everything to get straightened out before you decided to straighten everything out."
The Guide looked at her, exasperated. "Well, it's not going to happen, Laurel. You're out of time. Unless you confess everything to the next person you see, then the only way I can see you getting out of this place is in a pencil case!"
Animal ambulance crews and coroners used pencil cases as body bags. Lawhiney didn't need the reference explained. She'd never killed anybody but she had been to rough places and seen the results of random violence being taken quietly away.
"Wait." Lawhiney said.
The Guide drew further away from her, backing into the shadows until she seemed to be alone in the dark.
"Wait." She cried again. "I don't want to be alone!"
The door to her private room opened and light exploded back into her eyes. Sitting up and blinking, she was left wondering if it had all been a dream. Standing in the doorway was Doctor Bell, holding a small bundle in his arms.
"Are you alright, Miss Hackwrench?"
"What? Oh, Doctor! I- yes, I'm fine. I was just feeling a little isolated. And depressed, I guess."
"Hmmm. Well, people often feel down while they're convalescent." Doctor Bell told her as took her pulse. "Your heart's racing. Are you sure that you're feeling down? I could swear you've just run a foot race."
"I got a little worked up about it."
"Perhaps this wasn't a good time."
Lawhiney held him by the arm to stop him leaving. He had just spent over a week putting her body back together, so he had something invested in keeping her in one piece, she thought. She could trust him, more so than the Rangers, who might well throttle her if they found out the truth. "A good time for what?" Reading his eyes, she noticed the bundle in his hands. Her face lit up. "You brought me my things!"
"Uh, yes. I've consulted with the hospital board and they think it would probably be in your best interests to return home as soon as you're well enough. You've made a remarkable recovery. In fact, you're in better shape than anyone I've ever heard of, considering the fall you took."
Lawhiney's eyes glazed. The next thing she knew, the doctor was holding her by the shoulders and she was gasping for air.
"What happened?" she asked as the doctor pressed a cup of water on her.
"Soon find out." Doctor Bell replied. He shone a light in each of her eyes and began asking questions. "Do you remember anything of what just happened?"
"Um, no. We were talking. You mentioned the hospital board. Then you were holding me."
"What did it feel like? Dizzy?"
"Yes. Like I was falling."
"Hmm. You've already been diagnosed with selective amnesia. You could have post-traumatic stress, as well. Think back to the accident; do you remember anything more than you did a moment ago?"
Lawhiney shook her head. "I'm not sure. I remember falling, free of the Ranger plane. I wasn't wearing a safety belt and I think the impact against the museum wall threw me out of the pilot's seat. I was facing the sky and I could see the Ranger plane scraping down against the brickwork above me. As it slid down the wall, the propellers were still moving and they were pushing it sideways across the wall, so at one point it was directly above me. I thought it was going to land on top of me and squash me."
"That's a lot more than you said you could remember when we asked you before."
Lawhiney looked away. "I lied, then." She said weakly.
"I think it's more likely you just regained a part of your memory. Think back, are you sure you remembered falling before now?"
"No, you don't understand, I-" Lawhiney broke off, as part of her mind interrupted her thoughts. "Actually, no. I don't think I remembered this at all until now."
"There you are; you're being much too hard on yourself." Doctor Bell smiled at her, kindly. "The Rangers are planning to take you home in a few hours. I was hoping to give you back your things as you wanted but, in light of your flashback, I think that you would be better off without them. I can give them to Chip until you're ready for them."
Lawhiney had a sudden vision of Chip going through her things- "Say, I never knew Gadget wore this kind of fancy underwear- hey! What's this? An I.D. card in the name of ?" -she pounced on the Doctor quickly enough to bring a sudden pain to her side.
"I want them now, Doctor."
"Now? But, oh, Miss Hackwrench, I'm not sure that's wise." Doctor Bell objected as he tried to pull away.
Doctor Bell looked into her eyes and weakened. "Oh, very well. But I want you to look at them with me here. And you'll stop the moment you feel unwell." He passed the bundle to her and she wasted no time in tearing it open.
She quickly discarded the tattered and bloody clothes that someone had thoughtfully wrapped in plastic. She could hardly suppress a shudder as she did so. "Could you please burn them?" She asked, shivering.
Doctor Bell nodded, taking the clothes.
Lawhiney brought out the few items that she had had on her when they crashed. The first was a compact made from a pair of tiny human buttons. The second was a switchblade. "Ha, ha. I, uh, confiscated it from some kid in the park." Lawhiney excused. The third item was the helium breather that Lorrie had made for her. Lawhiney shook it to check how full it was. It seemed to be empty. The broken valve was the reason, she suspected. The canister also matched the most uncomfortable bruise on her back.
"Hmm." She became aware of Doctor Bell looking at the cylinder in puzzlement. "New invention I was testing. Didn't work. Could you dispose of it safely for me?" She smiled, dazzlingly.
A few minutes later, Doctor Bell was making his way down a hospital corridor with half of the bundle he had taken to Gadget Hackwrench still under his arm. She had seemed very self-controlled, he thought and he worried about what had been going on behind the façade she had shown him. She had kept three or four personal possessions and everything she asked him to destroy had been damaged in the crash. All in all, a good sign, he thought. She wasn't afraid to hang on to something that was associated with a bad memory and she hadn't kept anything that had been damaged just to prove that she could stand to have it around. But there had definitely been something false about her manner, he mused.
He was so absorbed in his thoughts that he didn't notice the scruffy orderly mouse who was propping up the reception desk. If he had, Doctor Bell might have noticed that the mouse was wearing his name tag upside-down and that the name tag belonged to someone named Dorothy, which wasn't the name of the person buttering up the duty nurse with a rakish, breezy charm. "Just checking, so that I don't get the wrong time to show up with the wheelchair."
"Well, I'm not sure I should. I don't know you and Sister Fitzgibbon is the one who normally " The duty nurse fluttered.
"Aw, com' on. You don't want to make me suck up to Sister Fitzgibbon just so I can do my job, now, do you?" the orderly wheedled.
"Hmmm. Why should I?"
"Make it worth your while?"
The duty nurse, a brown mouse with white patches that emphasised her narrow face, looked at the new orderly and blinked slowly. "How?"
"Is that a yes? Come on, say that was short for yes please!"
"No, that was short for please spare me!" laughed the duty nurse. "They're taking Miss Hackwrench out of here at five. Here's the paperwork. Now, will you get out of here? Some of us have got to work instead of flirt all day, y'know?"
"Catch you later, sweetie." The orderly winked and made himself scarce.
"Hey, Carol?" a young vole in a nurse's uniform asked. "Who's the stud?"
"I don't know. I haven't seen him before. Guess he just started here." Carol, the duty nurse, said without looking up from her magazine.
The new orderly didn't go far. Brandon dodged into a stairwell around the corner from the nurse's station and took off the orderly's tunic, stuffing it under the T-shirt he had been wearing underneath. He ran to the sub-basement, where the rest of Lawhiney's Lawbreakers were still in hiding, and checked that no one had followed him before giving the secret knock on the storeroom door.
"How did it go?" Pierre asked.
"Not bad." Brandon replied. "I know what room she's in, when she's leaving, they've given me the official paperwork to take her out of the hospital with, oh, and I think I might have a chance of getting a date with the duty nurse."
"My mother always said that it was amazing how far good manners and a smile could take you in life." Pierre smiled, forgetting his accent.
"Wouldn't she be proud if she could see you now." Lorrie ribbed him.
"Lorrie, I need you to get control of the elevator mechanism. I'll take care of the Rangers and opening the elevator doors but, once I hit the alarm button, I need you to get us out of there fast and stop all the other elevators from working."
"Can do." Lorrie suddenly stopped grinning. "Oh, but wait, should I make the lift go up, or down?"
"Depends. You have any luck finding that plane?"
"Yeah, we got what you wanted."
"Then go up. Fast. But I want the lift there, waiting for me. Can you swing that?"
"I'll take out the call buttons on all the other floors." The mole laughed to himself, like a child.
"Yeah, sounds good. Do it. Just in case someone pushes the button while we're on the way up. Now we'll need a way to make sure no one else gets in the elevator."
"I'll put an Out of Order sign on it."
"Good. By the time the Ranger's see me getting in, I plan to have a big enough lead for the doors to close before they can reach me."
"I'll fix the doors too. They'll close fast, Brandon, you'll see. You'll see."
Gadget was sitting up in bed, reading a cheap paperback detective story that a nurse had kindly given her. That was a good sign, Monty thought, though he didn't recall her ever showing an interest in that sort of thing before; it was more Chip's line but perhaps she was finally taking a break from all her hard work. When she looked up the brightly coloured muffler around her neck became visible for the first time and Monty raised his eyebrows in surprise. Gadget wasn't known for her fashion choices even though she actually had a sharp eye for good clothes and could make herself look fit to start a riot in a monastery when she wanted.
"Monty!" The invalid croaked.
"Gadgetluv, what's wrong with your voice?"
"'S nothing. Just a sore throat." She told him, holding out a hand.
"Oh, poor Gadget." Monty put his arms round her and gave her a gentle hug, wary of any still mending bones. Gadget flinched at his touch. "What's up? Did I hurt you?"
"Uh, no. No, I'm fine. Just a twinge that's all." Gadget hugged back with surprising strength. "I've missed you."
"How so? Either me, or Dale, have been right next to you from the moment they told us you were here until the moment you woke up. And that was when the Doctors said you needed some rest like you hadn't been out like a light for the best part of a week."
Gadget broke the hug and looked up at him, a careful, searching, look in her eyes. "I guess I just mean since I woke up, then."
"Aw, hey. That's nice. Looking forward to getting home and trying some of my legendary cheese flapjacks?"
"Mmm. Cheese flapjacks."
"Ahem." Doctor Bell had been waiting on them to finish their reunion. "I'm afraid we've got a list of things you should be eating and shouldn't be eating until your insides have recovered from the injury. And you should definitely avoid even slight exertion. You have some stitches on the inside that mustn't be split and you shouldn't be out of bed for at least another week, except for bathroom visits, in my opinion."
"Would Cheese flapjacks be on the list of shoulds or shouldn'ts, Doctor?" Monty enquired grimly.
"Dairy produce is on the should list but we recommend easily digestible foods for the next three or four weeks. Nothing you wouldn't feed to someone who's just had a serious stomach upset. So, no cheese."
The door to the private room opened after a careful knock.
"Chip!" Gadget smiled nervously.
"And Dale!" Dale objected, leaning out from behind Chip to wave hello and earning a grumpy look from the serious chipmunk.
Gadget's smile widened. "Hiya, Dale!" she waved.
Chip did a double take at Gadget, who immediately put her hand down and looked apprehensive. Before Chip had time to think, Dale had raced across the room and started to make a nuisance of him self by asking if he could see Gadget's operation scar.
"I bet my appendix scar is bigger. I bet you the washing up for a whole two weeks!"
"I'm not going to be up to doing the washing up for months!" Gadget chuckled.
Chip closed his mouth. He'd been about to tell Dale to behave himself but something about Gadget's laugh stopped him.
"You can pay up when you feel better. I don't mind." Dale offered. "Hey, I'll even make three weeks!"
Gadget smiled knowingly. She can tell he's up to some kind of a game, Chip thought approvingly. Normally she's too absent minded to notice.
"Appendix scar?" She mused. "Maybe. If you agree to wait on me hand and foot while I'm getting better if you lose."
"Okay." Gadget grinned. "It's a bet!"
Chip's jaw dropped.
"Turn your backs guys." Gadget prompted, giving Chip a knowing stare that was so unlike the Gadget that Chip knew all he could do was stare back at her. Everyone except Chip turned their backs, including, weirdly, Doctor Bell, who had probably done the stitches she was about show off. That left Chip facing Gadget and every other male in the room and they were all looking at him, expectantly.
Chip couldn't believe Gadget was really going to do this.
Gadget shooed Chip with her hand. Chip blinked at her. Then realised that Monty was looking at him pointedly. Chip turned as if moved by an invisible hand.
There was the rustle of bedclothes and hospital gowns. Chip realised that given that Gadget wore a one-piece swimming costume, he was about to see parts of her he had never seen before. Never even imagined seeing, he told himself sternly, even as his mind's provided optimistic images.
"Okay, you can turn around now." Gadget's voice told them, sounding a little rough from the sore throat she had complained about.
Chip turned. The mental image he had been trying to ignore shattered at the sight of a shaved belly, with neat stitches knotting their way from belly button to ribcage; scars clearly at least an inch long marring the body of the mouse he had deep feelings of professional admiration for.
Dale broke the painful silence. "Cool!" he whispered. "But it can't beat this!" he suddenly shouted and lifted up his Hawaiian shirt to display a full two inches of surgical stitching that wound their way around his belly as if someone had taken a saw to him and worked their way up his body in a spiral.
Chip gaped. That hadn't been there when Dale had got out of bed this morning, he was sure!
"That's an appendix scar?!" yelped Doctor Bell.
"Yep!" Dale showed off proudly.
Zipper flew down from the ceiling and started to brush at the scar so quickly his hands were a blur. A cloud of black dust rose from Dale's fur.
"Hey, what the-? That tickles!" Dale objected. But it was too late.
Zipper's tickling reduced Dale to helpless laughter and left him half-sitting, half-laying on the floor. When Zipper retreated, Dale's scar had gone up in a cloud of dust, revealing a much smaller operation scar not much longer than his little finger.
"Well, what do you know? His scar's just drawn on!" Monty realised.
"So that's why you took so long in the bathroom this morning!" Chip scowled. "Dale Oakmont, you ought to be ashamed of yourself."
Dale hung his head, his face contrite. "I'm a baaad chipmunk." He agreed. Turning his huge brown eyes towards Gadget, he asked: "Can you ever forgive me, Gadget?"
Gadget's eyes twinkled. "I'll think about it. While you're waiting on me hand and foot for the next three weeks."
She lets him get by her far too easily, Chip thought to himself. Maybe I can talk to her about that while she's recovering. No, wait Chip thought Dale's going to be waiting on her hand and foot for the next three weeks; I won't have a chance to speak to her privately. Dale's done this deliberately to monopolise her! But surely he isn't bright enough to think of that? No, it's just Dale messing everything up with his childish antics again!
Chip just was about to let Dale know what he thought of these antics when he became aware of someone entering the room behind him.
"Hey, did someone order a taxi?" Grinned a grey-furred mouse in an ill-fitting orderly's uniform.
"Taxi?" Chip wondered, absently, his fist twitching for the feel of Dale's scalp.
"Yeah, you know, a little transportation to the front door?" The grey mouse's smile became a little strained as he gestured to the wheelchair he had brought.
"Oh, sure. Bring it in." Chip said; the argument with Dale shelved for later.
"Would you guys mind waiting outside?" Gadget requested in a hoarse voice, her expression strained.
"You all right, Gadgetluv? Your throat bothering you?" Monty asked.
"Miss Hackwrench is still in her hospital gown. I expect that she'll want to change into her own clothes. I hope you got my message to bring something suitable?"
"Oh sure!" Dale piped up, proudly holding up a paper bag he had been clutching.
Chip put his hand over his eyes, already fearing the worst.
"Why thank you, Dale." Gadget said, taking the bag absentmindedly.
"Should I call a nurse to help you out?" Doctor Bell asked.
"No. I think I can manage." Gadget told him. One by one the occupants of the crowded room filtered out. Chip gave Gadget a last lingering look. Gadget frowned at him and covered herself with the blankets as she shooed him away with her hand.
Reluctantly, Chip joined the other males waiting in the corridor outside. They were already huddled 7against a wall in an awkward silence as they tried to stay out the way of bustling doctors, nurses and visitors. Everyone tried not to think about the person getting dressed in the next room and especially not about the big scar that was running down her shaved, furless, stone white belly.
"Where's Zipper?" Chip asked after a couple of uncomfortable seconds.
"I told him to check the exits and see which one had fewest reporters buzzing around it."
"Good thinking, Monty. It's a shame we can't take her home in the Ranger wing."
"Say, are you new here?" Doctor Bell asked the orderly, in an effort to make small talk.
"Yeah, I started just recently. I was on another shift before." The grey mouse nodded, after a pause. Then he looked away until he caught the eye of a nurse at the nearby duty station and began flirting.
Two minutes passed before a voice came from the other room; the voice was strong for someone with a sore throat but deeper than Gadget's voice usually was. For a moment Chip looked round in alarm, thinking that someone else was in her room. But, of course, there couldn't be. There was only one door and he had been standing right next to it.
The orderly walked past him without making eye contact, pretending to busy himself with the wheelchair. For a moment Chip wondered why the orderly was familiar but Chip had spent so long pacing the hospital's corridors that he could have passed the mouse a dozen times without noticing. Still, something bothered Chip. A suspicion that he couldn't name prickled at the back of his mind.
"Well, as much as I'd like to see Miss Hackwrench off, I have other patients to see and I'm afraid some of them won't wait. Be sure to tell her that I wished her a speedy recovery." Doctor Bell announced after he had looked at the cut down digital watch that he kept in his coat pocket.
"We'll do that, Doctor, and thank you. For everything." Chip said with genuine gratitude in his voice.
"Too right, Doc! When I think where we might be without your help, it fair makes my blood run cold." Monty put in, shaking the Doctor's paw enthusiastically.
Chip stopped listening to the exchange. He had seen the door to Gadget's room open quietly. The grey furred orderly peeped out, caught sight of Chip and pulled his head back in again. Chip could hear the mutter of an unseen conversation, the speakers eclipsed by the doorframe, and his curiosity was piqued.
Sensing Monty was still preoccupied with the retreating doctor, Chip began to lean forward, trying to catch the words. Just as he thought he was close enough to make out what was being said over the general background hubbub of hospital business, Gadget's wheelchair ran over his foot.
"Oops! Sorry, Mister!" Grinned the orderly, without sounding a bit sorry.
Chip glared at the orderly and opened his mouth to say something that he found he could not say in front of Gadget. Settling for a pained sigh instead, he rolled his eyes at the ceiling and wished someone could give him patience, preferably right that very instant.
"Freedom of speech is never more important than when you've just hit been hit on the thumb with a hammer, 'ay, Chip?" Monty ribbed gently.
Chip forced a weak smile. "I guess not, Monty."
"What do you think of the outfit Dale picked?" Gadget asked.
Chip did a double take as he noticed what Gadget was wearing for the first time. Dale's raid on Gadget's wardrobe (which he must have gone into her room for he would have to talk to Dale about that later; Chipmunks were barred from Gadget's room on general principles, Dale especially since the spaghetti ladder incident) had yielded a blue summer dress with a white flower blossom pattern, a very wide brimmed hat decorated with glitter that Gadget had once worn to a wedding and a pair of gold tinted sunglasses.
"I'm glad I'm not going to be doing much walking." Gadget said shaking her good leg to draw attention to the white, knee-high platform boots Dale had picked out to go with the costume.
"Dale, why didn't you just pack a pair of overalls like she usually wears?" Chip asked in a complaining voice.
"Aw Chip, she doesn't want to go back to work straight away!"
"I didn't mean so that she could go back to work! I meant so she could walk out of here without looking like she was on her way to a nineteen-seventies revival!"
"She isn't going to walk out of here, that's why she's in a wheelchair." Dale argued.
"Says you." Chip corrected.
"Now boys, don't be starting a fight now." Monty cautioned them. "I know the last few days have been rough on all of us but this is supposed to be a happy occasion."
Both chipmunks looked contrite and turned to apologise to Gadget for their rowdy behaviour. They found themselves looking at an empty space. Gadget and her wheel chair were being pushed down the corridor at a fast walking pace by the grey furred orderly. "Hey, wait for us!" Chip called out.
"No running in the hospital corridors, boys!" Gadget's voice came back, her voice at once clear, charming and yet somehow unlike the voice of the Gadget Chip knew.
Chip didn't have time to examine the thought too closely. As he smiled at Gadget's admonishment, he found himself looking past the wheelchair to the elevators at the end of the corridor. One of them was out of order, standing with the doors wide open and a sign taped up next to its button. Why was the orderly hurrying? Couldn't he see that there was going to be a long wait for the remaining working elevator when he got there?
A nurse stepped out from the duty station as the orderly approached. "Hey, Romeo." She grinned at him. "I've decided to let you buy me that dinner-" she broke off as the orderly pushed roughly past her, spinning her into a wall. As the nurse looked over her shoulder at him in shock the orderly broke into a run.
Chip's heart started pounding. All his half-formed fears and suspicions crystallised into a hard lump of certainty in the pit of his stomach. He was running after the accelerating wheelchair before his brain had started to put names to those certainties. Gadget had been known to inspire impulsive behaviour in males who were seeing her for the first time but this was no desperate act by a rash suitor. The grey mouse was kidnapping Gadget!
A visitor stepped out of a side room and screamed when the wheelchair ran over his foot.
Chip passed the dazed nurse before any of the other rangers. She was only now starting to get angry and make a fuss, shouting after the retreating orderly and shaking her fist.
The grey mouse looked over his shoulder to gauge his lead on the pursuit and, for a second, their eyes met. Chip expected to find fear in those eyes; there wasn't any. Instead there was a gleam of excitement, or something similar that Chip couldn't put a name to for the time being.
"The orderly's kidnapping Gadget!" Dale informed Chip, drawing level for the first time. Behind him, Chip could hear Monty's heavy puffing as he tried to keep up with rodents that were nearly half his age.
The look in the grey mouse's eyes, Chip wondered: Why had he found it so familiar?
A patient on crutches leapt clear of the on-coming trouble with surprising agility. A hand- Gadget's hand shot out from wheelchair and snatched one of the crutches away from the patient, sending him crashing to the floor.
Preoccupied with jumping over the fallen patient, Chip lost his train of thought. About six inches separated him from the kidnapper and Gadget. He thought he could catch them before they reached the end of the corridor. They certainly wouldn't have time to wait for an elevator and they were going too fast to take the corner, Chip noted and leapt over the fallen patient without sparing him a downward glance.
Where does he think he's taking her? Chip demanded of himself. There's nowhere to go.
Chip heard Dale gasp as he made his own jump over the floored patient. There was a slightly longer pause than Chip expected before he heard the heavy thump of Monty trying the same manoeuvre and failing to clear the obstacle.
At roughly the same time, Dale seemed to come to the same conclusion as Chip, or get distracted by Monty's fall, or perhaps notice the out of order sign on the lift for the first time, because he slowed down.
Chip recovered his lost train of thought. The glint in the grey mouse's eye reminded Chip of himself, at the end of a case, when he was certain the crook he had been chasing was in his grasp. The kidnapper knew there was nowhere to go and he didn't care. What was he planning to do? Take the stairs? There was no way-
Chip's eyes widened. You couldn't escape down a staircase with someone in a wheelchair but if you hated someone who had just had major surgery enough; there were less certain ways of trying to kill a person.
Chip began to run faster. He considered shouting a warning, to let Dale and Monty know what he thought the kidnapper intended, but he didn't have the breath. They were too far back to catch up now, anyway.
Gadget was still holding the crutch she had grabbed from the fallen patient. She stuck it out like a scythe and began to knock the legs out from under the wall-hugging bystanders. I know how she feels, thought Chip; you'd think one of them could put out a foot to trip him up or something.
The grey mouse was almost at the end of the corridor.
Now Chip found himself having to avoid stepping on fallen witnesses. If he wasn't careful, he would be the one to trip.
The kidnapper reached the end of the corridor. Instead of going for the stairs he shot straight into the elevator, nearly tipping the wheelchair on it's back trying to stop Gadget from crashing into the wall.
Chip jumped over a fallen nun with a sense of triumph. There was no way those doors would close before he reached them and rescued Gadget single-handed!
The grey mouse had just enough time to smile wickedly at Chip.
Then the lift doors snapped shut like a trap.
Chip hit the doors nose first. Everything went black.
The chipmunk's nose hit the other side of the elevator doors with a dull thunk. In the instant before the elevator started to move, it was possible to hear the wet squeak of face sliding down smooth metal. Lawhiney burst out laughing, uncontrollably.
As he tried to catch his breath, Brandon listened to her laughter. Maniacal, harsh and cruel, it summed up everything about Lawhiney except her looks. Brandon found himself wondering about Gadget Hackwrench's laugh, as his breathing slowed to long deep gasps, about whether Gadget's laugh was deep and coarse and came from the back of the throat like something that was being thrown in the face of everyone who could hear it.
"So what's the plan, Brandon? I assume Pierre or the mole gave you a plan before you walked in here, or do you plan to push me all the way to Rio in this contraption?"
Brandon sighed deeply, his forehead resting against the cold metal of the elevator doors. "What makes you think I didn't give a plan to them?" he asked with emotions he had been holding back on for a lifetime boiling below the surface.
Lawhiney laughed again. This time the laughter was directed at him. "C'mon, a dumb cluck like you couldn't make find a way out of a mess like this with a flashlight in both paws. Who gave you the plan? Was it Lorrie, or Pierre?"
"Neither of them."
"Neither of them? Well, where are they? They are waiting for us, aren't they? They survived the fall, right? Well? Answer me!"
"Yes, they survived the fall. We all survived the fall. The wall was grinding against the plane all the way down to the ground. It slowed our fall. When we pulled ourselves out from the wreck and you were nowhere to be found we thought you had been thrown out when we hit, like most of the loot. We ran. Hid. Laid low until we heard you were alive."
"Never mind that now. Where are they?"
"Waiting for us up on the roof with an aeroplane."
"That's good, Brandon. Those rangers won't see us for dust."
"Why couldn't this be my plan?" Brandon demanded, turning to face her, finally.
"Well, I guess I just never thought of you as the planning type, Brandon." Lawhiney faltered, unsettled by her friend's expression.
"What type did you think I was, Lawhiney?" He asked, towering over her. "The he'll-do-whatever-he's-told type?"
Lawhiney didn't like this. It wasn't the Brandon she knew. Actually, to be more accurate, it was exactly the Brandon she knew but she was only used to hearing him talk to other people like this. Usually people she had pointed out to him with an accusing stare and a pout.
"How about the he's-too-dumb-to-catch-me-lying-to-him type?"
"Lying to you? Eh, the only lying I've been doing lately is lying in bed." Lawhiney tried to laugh but her sense of unease was growing.
"THAT'S WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT!" Brandon exploded.
Lawhiney cringed. "Brandon? I don't think this is the best time to talk about this."
Brandon was drawing closer, crowding her. She didn't like the look on his face one bit. He loomed over her, his eyes glowering. "Well it is my plan, see? Your phoney French rat folded like wet paper when he thought you were in the trap and that mole's no better. He couldn't work out which foot to start running with first, never mind a way to get you out of here."
"Uh, we're in the middle of an escape here "
Brandon glared at her, breathing deeply. After a second, he blinked twice and seemed to see the funny side. "Yeah, that's right. Heh, look at that. Us, fighting each other in the middle of a getaway."
Lawhiney breathed a sigh of relief. For a moment there just a moment, she had wondered what was going to happen to her.
The Guide's prophecy of her death was still fresh in her mind; so fresh that she had not allowed herself to think about it since the spirit left her room. She didn't want to die. She didn't want to think about dying before she was old and grey and sick of seeing the sun come up and eating good food and having more money than she could bother to spend. She was so close to that now. Just a little longer and Brandon, Pierre, Lorrie and, most importantly, Lawhiney herself would be free and clear. Then she'd break the news to the gang that it was time to split up and lay low until the heat was off. She'd find herself a nice rich old mouse she could settle down with and raise her mouseling surrounded by nice things, so neither of them would ever have to steal again.
Brandon began to chuckle. "Me, picking a lover's quarrel over a stand-up fight. Who'da thunk it?"
Lawhiney laughed too. "Can you imagine?"
"Just picture it: the Ranger's pry the doors open and find us making up, all kissy faced!" Brandon laughed.
"It's not as if we're even lovers!" Lawhiney wailed with laughter. She didn't notice that she was suddenly laughing alone. "I mean, sure there was that one time, but it's not as if it meant anything " she trailed off, helpless with laughter again. She didn't notice that she was the only one laughing.
There was a ping from the lift doors and they slowly opened. Lorrie poked his head out of a trapdoor in the lift's ceiling and beamed at both of them. "You see, Brandon, you see?"
"Yeah, I see." Brandon said in a dangerously quiet and brooding voice.
"I told you the lift doors would close quickly and they did, plenty quickly."
"Yeah, you did a good job, Lorrie. Now go find Pierre and bring him here, while I turn this wheelchair around." Brandon brushed the mole off like a stranger.
"Sure thing, boss." Lorrie answered and gave an upside down salute. Then he dropped out of the ceiling with a somersault and ran off through a door to the rainy autumn twilight of the roof top space above the Cosgrove Hotel.
"Boss?" Lawhiney queried when the mole had gone.
"It's my plan, Lawhiney, like I said. I'm the boss now and that's how things are going to stay. I figure your Gadget Hackwrench impersonation routine would fall flat about anywhere south of the north-pole after this escapade."
"Are you kidding?"
"About your chances of convincing someone that you're Gadget Hackwrench, or me being the boss?"
"What do you think?" Lawhiney demanded.
Brandon pretended to think about it but there was something else on his mind. "Well, gee, I don't know. What do you think? We could head to the Falkland Islands and try to fool some penguins who haven't heard about this yet Then again, we could do the smart thing like and do whatever the hell I think is best for once."
"Brandon, there's no need to shout at me. I can see you've got hidden potential that I didn't recognize before but if you think that you're really capable of leading an outfit like this you're crazy." In fact, Lawhiney didn't even really want to be in charge anymore but old habits died hard.
"We'll see." Brandon muttered.
"What did you just say?" Lawhiney demanded. Part of Lawhiney was asking herself the same question.
"Nothing." Brandon returned.
Pierre rushed in ahead of the mole, alarmed by Brandon's unexpected summons. "What is it? What's the problem?"
"We can't get Lawhiney's wheelchair into that aeroplane and she's not well enough to walk or be carried." Brandon announced tersely.
"Hey, I can make it. You aren't leaving me- oof!" Lawhiney had tried to force herself into a standing position but her injured leg had defeated her. She slumped back into her wheelchair as stars danced before her eyes.
"What are we going to do?" Pierre asked, imploringly. Beside him, Lorrie hopped from one foot to the other.
"I've got a plan." Brandon told them. "Just wait a few more seconds "
"What? We don't have time!" Pierre protested.
"Hush-up and listen!" Brandon said and cocked an ear.
The sound of running paws pounding the stairway came from behind the stairwell door, albeit heavy and sluggish paws after the five stories of human hotel they had climbed.
"It's the Rescue Rangers!" Mole wailed. "They're coming, they're coming!"
"And you guys better start going!" snarled Brandon. "I've got another way out of here at ground level. You make a break for it and be sure to draw them off. Don't let them know we aren't with you. We'll meet up at that spot in California where it all started."
No sooner had Brandon finished speaking than he hit the close doors button in the lift. Lorrie and Pierre stared at the door, aghast at being casually abandoned like that. Then the door to the stairwell began to squeak open and they were fighting one and other to be first out the exit.
Dale was first off the stairs. Behind him, Monty leaned against the doorframe, wheezing.
"We're too late, Monty!" Dale exclaimed. "The elevator's here but they're nowhere in sight."
Too short of breath to speak, Monty raised a trembling paw and pointed to the exit. Dale stared at Monty's finger in wonder. Monty looked at Dale's lack of comprehension and rolled his bloodshot eyes. "The door-" Monty wheezed "-to the roof-" he gasped "-hasn't swung shut yet." He drew a huge breath to finish the thought. "We can't be far behind."
Dale ran to the exit door and looked out on to the flatbed roof of the Cosgrove Hotel, where the Small Animals of Mercy Hospital had set up in the belief that they could stay forever because no one would ever notice them. Barely a foot from the exit, a fire engine red model aeroplane with a four-foot wingspan stood waiting for the kidnappers. The pilot gunned the human made petrol engine, something that few animal aviator's used because of the painfully loud noise and the attention it drew. Then the plane turned towards the chalked out airstrip that cut diagonally across the hotel roof and taxied into position for takeoff.
Monty joined Dale at the exit. "Well come on, Monty! What are we waiting for?" Dale yelled. The rangers hurried out on to the roof, not noticing the yellow lights above the lift doors started to blink and change.
Roof, the lights said. Then they said: 48, 47, 46
The door to the roof finished swinging shut, cutting off all sight of the lift from the roof and ensuring that the Rangers would not return to rescue "Gadget".
"I think they bought it. Ha, ha! The mugs." Brandon laughed with relief.
"Yeah, Brandon, that was smart thinking." Lawhiney laughed along with him, and wondered why she was making the effort to suck up.
Brandon's shoulders hunched guiltily. "Do you remember," he asked her suddenly, "the night I came to you in the woods and recited poetry to you? You kissed me."
"Sure I do!" Lawhiney said with a twisted half smile, grateful for the chance to put the dope back in his place. "There's nothing dumber than a tough guy trying to act sensitive. I would have done anything to shut you up." Her smile widened. "Come to think of it, that's just what it took to keep you quiet... if I remember right."
Brandon turned away from her and Lawhiney felt a twinge from what she suspected her guide would have called her conscience. She crushed it ruthlessly. He was nothing special, she reminded herself. Heck, he was nothing but a nuisance. How often had he been buzzing around bothering her since they left Hawaii? The last thing he needed was encouragement he'd want her even more because she was hard to get. Any moment now he'd be all over her.
But he wasn't all over her. He was resting his forehead against the elevator doors like someone with a bad headache, his shoulder's hunched and his fists tight.
Not interested in me anymore? It's the wheelchair, she thought, who ever heard of a femme fatal in a wheelchair? "I'll be out of this wheelchair soon enough." She told him.
Brandon said nothing.
"I guess you've proved yourself up to running things until I'm fully recovered." Lawhiney said.
Brandon started gently knocking his head against the lift doors.
Not a headache then, Lawhiney thought, at least, not yet. "Brandon?" she prodded.
"Stop patronizing me."
His voice was twisted with more emotion than Lawhiney had thought he could feel. When he turned, she was startled to see tears in his eyes. Tears had no place on the face of a mouse like Brandon. His face was hard and rugged, scarred in places where countless fights had taken their toll, his whiskers nothing but stubble, cut short so no one could grab them.
"Do you have any idea what it takes for a person like me to want to write poetry?" he asked. "What I had to feel before I tried to put it in words instead of just pounding at something with my fists until it went away?"
Lawhiney opened and closed her mouth but no words came out.
"No." Brandon growled sourly as he advanced on her. In the tiny lift he didn't have far to go. "You've no idea. No idea at all. And do you know why you've no idea? You've never really felt anything in your whole life, that's why. Oh, you feel pain when you fall down, perhaps a little sorrow when you look into the mirror and realise that you have to get older like everyone else, maybe even fear when the Ranger plane hit the side of the museum, but you don't know what it is to feel something for another person. Something like love!"
By the time Brandon finished his tirade he was shouting. Lawhiney felt oddly detached from reality. The last time she had felt like this was just after the crash, when she had found herself looking down at her own twisted body. She hadn't understood what was happening then, either.
"Love? Ha, what am I talking about?" Brandon subsided. "You don't even have a shred of empathy in your whole soul! You don't have a clue what another person is feeling. You're probably sitting there worried out of your skull that you'll go to jail if someone hears this and catches us."
Lawhiney gulped. It had, actually, been very close to what she was thinking.
"You don't have to worry about that. You'll never see the inside of a jail. I'll see to that. I'll see to that right now!" and with the last word, Brandon- his face twisted with fury -locked his hands around her throat.
Lawhiney tried to scream but only a frightened gasp escaped Brandon's claws.
The lift was suddenly quiet. The lack of sound frightened Lawhiney more than Brandon's speech. She hadn't realised that it was possible to die so quietly, with so little notice, or ceremony. Other people perhaps, but not her. Not her. Her death was supposed to be spectacular and dramatic, or touching and tragic. People were supposed to weep by her bedside and say there would never be another like her.
She began choking.
Her claws scratched at Brandon's but he was stronger, much stronger, and her left arm was still tender from the dislocated shoulder she had received in the crash. Even with both paws working on just one of Brandon's, she couldn't breathe.
Her vision started to fade. Just as she thought she was going to black out completely, Brandon changed his grip and she caught a lungful of air. She had time for one plea before he could tighten his grip again and it had to be good.
"Please. I love you." Her voice was so quiet that she barely heard it over the sound of her own blood rushing through her ears.
"You're just saying that! How many times, Lawhiney? How many times have you said that and lied? A hundred? A thousand? How many times have you meant it? Once? Never?" Brandon was sobbing the words now.
Lawhiney knew he was right, of course. She had never said those words and meant them. Now she never would. The chance to ever say them and mean it was being taken away from her forever. The lack of air was washing the colours out of the world. It suddenly occurred to her, as her desperate struggles became feeble swats at the blur Brandon had become, that her death would be tragic and that people would weep for her.
Because they thought she was Gadget Hackwrench.
When they found out the truth, there would be rejoicing.
They would be rejoicing because she, Lawhiney, was dead.
Lawhiney's lips began moving of their own accord. Even she didn't know what she was trying to say. A great sadness welled up inside her at the thought of disappointing Saint Peter. She had been given a second chance and she had thrown it away.
"What? What are you trying to say?" Brandon's voice rasped in her ears from a great distance.
Lawhiney's mouth tried to make the words clearer in the hope that Brandon could lip-read. Apparently he couldn't and the frustration of trying made him let up the pressure on her windpipe enough for a few paltry last words. Lawhiney's choice of last words surprised her as much as Brandon.
"I'm carrying your child!"
Chip woke up to find Zipper hovering over him. Seeing any eater of carrion is generally a bad sign when you're a small animal regaining consciousness. Recognizing the fly as a friend, Chip suppressed the customary shriek of "Get-outta-here-ya-bum! I-ain't-dead-yet!" There was also something large and red very close to his eyes, obstructing the view of where his feet would normally be, and a strange taste of soap in his mouth.
Zipper buzzed happily at Chip's revival.
"Just lay still, Mister Maplewood." The soothing tones of Doctor Bell's bedside manner were just loud enough to be heard over the bells Chip could hear ringing.
Chip didn't think hospital chapels had bell towers but he just hoped that wherever they were coming from they weren't tolling for Gadget. With that thought he struggled to speak. "Gadget?"
"Your friends went after her just a couple of minutes ago. You broke your nose hitting the elevator doors. In all the excitement, no one noticed that you'd swallowed your tongue until Mr Zipper arrived."
Zipper performed a brief mime act of someone giving CPR. Chip blinked. He knew Zipper was more heroic in every day life than a certain chipmunk working an easy case, but he couldn't imagine a fly giving him the kiss of life.
"You resuscitated me?" Chip asked Doctor Bell.
"Er, no. That was Nurse Phipps." Doctor Bell nodded towards a frog in a nurse's uniform.
Chip ran his tongue around the strange taste in his mouth and tried not to grimace. He pulled himself up into a sitting position.
"You shouldn't get up yet." Doctor Bell rushed to support him.
"I'm going after them." Chip explained, fighting his way onto unsteady feet.
"You stopped breathing for at least a minute. There's no way you can take the stairs."
"Then I'll take the elevator." Chip pushed the call button with his whole paw. His vision was too blurred to use a finger.
Brandon stared at her. The sound of her hacking gasps for air was the only sound in the elevator.
Lawhiney looked up at him. The hands that had just been strangling her framed his face perfectly.
"You're - You're lying!" Brandon whispered hoarsely.
Lawhiney managed a smile. The part of her that was good at pretending to be someone else said that a number three smile (shy virtue admitting to feelings never felt before) should be perfect for the occasion. The part of her that had fallen five stories and almost died told the first part to get lost.
Brandon took a step back as Lawhiney fixed the most twisted, black-hearted grin Brandon had ever seen on her face and leaned towards him.
"I could be." She admitted. "You could go ahead and kill me right now and go on telling yourself that for the rest of your life. But you would never know for sure, would you? Maybe you'd lie awake at night sometimes, wondering."
Their eyes had locked like antlers and it was impossible for either to look away.
"Maybe one day you'd hear that they found out I was pregnant during the autopsy and you'd wonder if that meant I'd be telling the truth about everything. Or maybe you'd stop caring long before that."
Brandon held up his paws in a pleading gesture. Turning them over was all it took. That was the difference between a death threat and surrender. "Truth." He moaned. "Give me the truth, Lawhiney. Just once before they come to take us away."
"The truth is I'm carrying a child, maybe yours, and in a few minutes they'll take us both to jail. They'll take my baby away, he'll grow up in an orphanage and never even see either of us." Lawhiney drew one shuddering breath after another. She put a paw to her eyes. She wasn't crying but she wanted to be. In a detached way she marvelled at how much pain, fear and misery her heart could hold with no release. "I don't know if I ever loved you. I think if I ever loved anyone I probably crushed the feeling, like a human smashing a stray bug, for fear of being weak."
Brandon blinked once, slowly. "I grew up in an orphanage. It's where I learned to be tough. Didn't take long to get into prison. That was where I learned how to fight. No child of mine is going through that."
Lawhiney looked at back at him with defeat in her eyes. "What can we do about it?"
"I know exactly what I'm going to do." Brandon looked at her another moment. Then he reached back to the control panel that Lorrie the mole had sabotaged and opened it. With one swipe of his claws he shredded the wires, to the buzz and sparks of dying electrical circuits.
The elevator shuddered like a wounded animal.
Lawhiney cried out in alarm.
There was a sudden jolt as the elevator came to fatal stop.
Then the lights went out.
Chip watched the elevator lights over the doors as they changed one second at a time. It was taking too long for the elevator car to get here, but his knees were trembling and Chip knew that Doctor Bell had been right about his chances of making it up the stairs. In irritation, he started jabbing at the button repeatedly.
"That doesn't make it come any faster. I've tried." A pleasant but worried female voice said behind him.
Chip didn't look back to see who it was. He just ran his free paw over the dent in the elevator door where his face had hit. Somewhat belatedly, he realised the red thing blocking his view of his feet was his own nose.
The paw that had explored the elevator door now explored his own injured face, which unexpectedly seemed to bite him.
"Try not to touch the injured area until our staff have had a chance to look at it." Doctor Bell said from somewhere behind him.
"You've jammed it." The well-meaning female voice said at the same time.
Chip's eyes crossed as he tried to work out how you could jam a nose, even a broken one.
"It's stuck between floors now." The voice put in.
Chip looked back and realised it was the nurse who had been knocked down by the kidnapper who had spoken. She was a brown mouse, with white patches that emphasised her narrow face, and Chip made a mental note to speak to her later about how well she knew the grey mouse who had snatched Gadget away from under his (now swollen) nose. He followed her gaze back to the lights above the elevator and saw that the numbers 23 and 22 were both flickering crazily.
"Why did it do that?" Chip asked himself.
"There's been an out of order sign on both of them since lunch."
"The kidnapper knew one of them would work for him." Chip answered the nurse.
"If it was working it wouldn't be stuck." Someone put in.
"Maybe someone hit the stop button."
"Monty and Dale wouldn't do that if they were bringing them back down." Chip reasoned.
"Maybe there was a fight and the stop button got hit by accident." Doctor Bell said.
Chip hung his head. He tried to remember what the control panel in the elevator looked like. He couldn't. But slowly a thought formed in his head. "When was the last time anyone here saw a stop button in an elevator?" He asked.
There was a second while everyone thought about it.
"Our elevators don't have them." Doctor Bell said. "I'm sure of it."
"Gadget is in that elevator." Chip deduced. "Either Monty and Dale beat them to the top, or someone who was an obstacle to the kidnapper was waiting on the floor he wanted to get off."
"Now they're both stuck. What happens next?"
Chip thought about it for one second. Then he spoke with an iron determination in his voice. "We have to get into that elevator car. Fast."
When Chip reached the twenty-third floor his head was spinning. He burst through the doorway with a loud bang and found that the only way to stop him self from crashing to the floor a second time was to collapse against the receptionist's desk opposite the lifts.
"Sir, I have to ask you to wait your turn." The receptionist informed him, frostily.
"I'm Chip Maplewood." Chip told her.
"I'll take your name when it's your turn."
"I need to see someone who can open the lift doors. The lift is stuck and there are people trapped inside."
"I'm sure they can keep until I've dealt with this queue." The receptionist nodded to a string of small animals who were all staring disapprovingly at Chip for jumping the queue.
Chip tried to count the number of people in the queue. He gave up when he realised that he was seeing double. "One of the people in the lift is a dangerous kidnapper and the other is his victim. We have to get the doors open before he harms her."
"Oh! My goodness! I can call the lift engineer but their office hours are nine to five."
Chip and the receptionist blinked at each other for a moment. Chip was holding off on asking why he would want to know the office hours of elevator repair animal and finally remembered that with painstaking punctuality he had turned up to collect Gadget at exactly five.
"Try the number anyway." He ordered carefully. "Maybe they haven't all gone home yet."
"Okay." The receptionist picked up a phone handset that had been made out of an earpiece that was meant to fit entirely inside a human ear and a microphone that should have been clipped to a human tie somewhere. With the medium sized hammer that she kept under the desk, she began hitting the keys on a salvaged dialling pad.
Chip bowed his head in gratitude and tried to think of his next move. Hospital security should be here any second. They would have to start a negotiation with the kidnapper somehow. Most lifts had emergency phones in them. It would be vital to convince him that there was a safe way out of this and that he didn't have to do anything to Gadget. Then they could spring the doors and take the kidnapper by surprise while they were agreeing to his demands.
"I got through!" The receptionist said cheerfully. "They said they'd be happy to help."
"Great!" Chip smiled.
"And they'll be here first thing in the morning!"
Chip swallowed his shock. "Where is hospital security?" He demanded.
"They're on their way. They'll be here any moment."
Chip tried not to think about what was happening in that elevator car right that second. He knew in his bones that anything could have happened by the time the lift doors were opened. He looked over his shoulder at the elevators, beside himself with desperation.
Directly behind him a pair of lift doors were standing open.
Chip would have done a spit-take but he was afraid that if he did, it might be his front tooth that he spat out. His whole face had felt wrong since his close encounter with the elevator door. Surely the kidnapper couldn't have simply wheeled Gadget out behind him while he was talking to the receptionist? He would have noticed. Gadget would have shouted for help, he told himself.
Then again, the nasty voice of cold reason pointed out, you've taken quite a hit to the head. And Gadget couldn't shout if she was unconscious or dead.
Chip gulped. "How long have those elevator doors been open?"
"Since just after lunch. That one's out of order." The receptionist told him.
Chip sighed. The blow to his head had shaken him more than he thought; enough for him to confuse the two elevators and think he'd lost the kidnapper.
"For a moment there, I thought-" A scream cut through his hazy explanation. It came from the elevator that didn't have its doors open.
It was Gadget's scream.
The fur on Chip's arms and back stood on end and his ears laid so far back that they disappeared into his hat.
A loud pounding noise came from inside the jammed elevator. Judging from the sound, something heavy, like a body, was being slammed against the inside walls of the elevator car.
"Tell hospital security to get into that elevator car anyway they can!" Chip yelled at the receptionist.
Then he was gone. There was no way Gadget would survive until security got here. There was probably no way she was going to survive until he could get there.
"You can't force the doors! You need a special tool!" someone yelled out behind him.
Chip ignored them. He had other ideas. Luck had dealt him only one card. It was the open, out of order elevator. Standing in the centre of the elevator car, he jumped up towards the tiny maintenance hatch in the roof. It was stiff. The first two tries did nothing. The third try opened it for just an instant. The hatch closed under its own weight the moment gravity pulled his fingers away.
Chip bent double and tried to get his breath back. The obvious finally occurred to him. "Zipper? Zipper, get in here! I need this hatch open!" There was a terrible second where Chip thought that Zipper had flown away on some inscrutable insect impulse. Then the fly was beside him, his wings invisible as he hovered at Chip's eye level. "Go on!" Chip urged him, gesturing to the small hatch.
Zipper rose to the ceiling as though weightless. Then he pushed with every fraction of an ounce of strength that he possessed. In a moment the hatch was open. Zipper buzzed through and looked back at Chip with a satisfied smile. The sound of screaming from the next elevator wiped the smile off his face fast though. It also gave Chip enough energy to jump up and join Zipper on top of the elevator.
The elevator car that Gadget and her kidnapper were in was about half a floor lower than the one they were standing on. The lift shaft was pitch black except for the square of light coming through the hatchway they had just opened.
From up here the noise coming from the other elevator was less muffled.
"I'm going to KILL you! I would have gotten away with it, if it wasn't for you! All that GOLD! You had to fly the plane into a wall! What kind of pilot are you?"
The voice was male, deep and masculine one moment, high and hysterical the next. As it broke off, there was more hammering at the inside of the elevator followed by female Gadget's cries.
Chip couldn't tell for sure because his otherwise excellent rodent night vision hadn't had time to adjust to the dark, but he was fairly certain there was a wide gap between the two elevator cars with nothing between him and the basement levels of the Cosgrove hotel. He jumped anyway.
"YOU'RE DEAD! DO YOU HEAR ME? DEAD!" Brandon roared with his paws clamped around Lawhiney's helpless throat.
Terrified, Lawhiney was beyond even screaming. She sobbed uncontrollably.
A heart stopping crash came from the ceiling. The lift lurched downward a clear six millimetres.
Lawhiney let out a single gasp of surprise as her injured tail sent a wave of pain up her spine. She pulled away from Brandon and felt him lose his balance completely then saw the look of anger in his face washed away by surprise. The wheelchair tilted back alarmingly and all fear of Brandon, or of the lift cables failing, suddenly vanished. Instead there was a dreadful anticipation of her already broken tail being crushed under the back of the chair.
The moment seemed to stretch out to eternity. Then the back of her head hit the rear of the elevator hard enough for her to see stars.
Brandon fell heavily on her, his body weight shifting the wheelchair's centre of gravity back towards Lawhiney's feet. Broken bones that had barely begun mending flared with agony.
The roof exploded with chipmunk. Angry, well-muscled, Rescue Ranger chipmunk.
Lawhiney screamed as she saw him drop from the little hatchway, not a descending nemesis bent on retribution but merely a heavy object about to drop on her from a great height.
Chip landed squarely on Brandon's back. Lawhiney screamed with pain. Brandon screamed with surprise. Chip screamed with anger.
The sudden impact and extra weight flipped the wheelchair upright and catapulted Lawhiney forward. Her head slammed into Chip's with a sharp crack. Stunned, she slumped in the chair while Brandon struggled to throw the dazed chipmunk off his back.
Chip hauled back on Brandon's collar as though he were riding a bronco. The lift lurched violently, adding to the effect. Suddenly they were moving downwards again.
Brandon struggled to his feet and began throwing himself about, slamming Chip against the elevator walls again and again.
"I won't let you hurt her!" Chip gasped between body blows.
"She's got it coming to her! Then you'll get yours!" Brandon snarled over his shoulder.
Chip locked his arms around Brandon's throat in a stranglehold.
Brandon countered by throwing his body back to bang Chip's head into the elevator doors. Twice Chip's head connected. On the third try the doors opened unexpectedly and the two fighting rodents fell backwards through them to lie stunned on the hospital floor.
Dazed, Chip released his strangle hold on Brandon's neck. Strong hands were quickly grabbing at Brandon's arms and legs. He slapped, shook and bit them until they fell away, then rolled onto all fours in an effort to knock the legs out from under one of the hospital orderlies.
The effort worked but the orderly, a large brown rat, fell squarely on top of Brandon, knocking the wind out of him momentarily. By the time Brandon had fastened his teeth onto the leg of another orderly and pulled himself clear the brown rat, he was surrounded.
Chip struggled back to his feet and positioned himself in the elevator doorway, hoping he was still strong enough to protect "Gadget" and praying he wouldn't have to.
The bundle of struggling bodies that had formed around Brandon became a vicious fistfight.
Chip watched, breathing heavily, glad he wasn't a part of it. He drew a paw across his tired eyes, pushing his fedora way back on his head.
From somewhere there was a pronounced cry of pain. Brandon chose that moment to break loose and lunge towards the elevator. Chip couldn't stop himself from taking a step backward. Brandon's paws stretched out his claws were only half a finger's length from Chip's throat when the hospital orderlies caught hold of his clothes, drawing him up short.
Chip peered at him woozily. He was seeing triple and each version of the kidnapper was shivering like a heat haze. Chip desperately, desperately wanted to throw a punch but missing at a moment like this would be more than embarrassing, particularly if he hit one of the hospital staff instead.
"Curse you, GADGET HACKWRENCH! It would have been the perfect crime if it hadn't been for you! GADGET HACKWRENCH, I'll have my revenge!"
Chip decided to take the chance.
Closing one eye to improve his aim, he threw the best punch he could. The blow missed and hit the hospital orderly on Brandon's left.
Chip winced and tried it with the other eye closed instead. This time he hit the orderly on Brandon's right.
Frowning apologetically at the dazed orderlies, Chip realised that the rising embarrassment he felt could now only be erased by successfully knocking the crook out. Since his aim was unlikely to improve with both eyes closed, Chip reluctantly opened both eyes and threw the punch at the Brandon he hadn't hit yet.
Brandon and all five orderlies fell backwards into a heap on the floor. Chip breathed a huge sigh of relief. Then he turned to check on Gadget. Before he could utter a word she was in his arms, her chin pressing on his shoulder, her hair covering his face.
"Thank you." She whispered in his ear.
Brandon and the orderlies tussled on the floor. By the time Brandon had regained his feet the orderlies had his arms and legs tightly restrained and it was over. Still he pulled towards the elevator, his wild eyes staring straight into the eyes of the woman he had almost killed. And she looked into his.
"Thank you. Thank you." She repeated with her voice full of gratitude and her eyes full of tears as the orderlies dragged Brandon away.
"It's okay, Gadget." Chip told her. "'I've got you and you'll never see him again. That's a promise."
"Gadget" buried her face in the wool collar of his bomber jacket
and sobbed uncontrollably.
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