Gadget in Chains
Written by: Loneheart
Chapter Fourteen: The Silence of the Mice
The morning after the incident with the electro-shock chair, Gadget awoke to see the last person she expected standing over her.
Gadget tensed her muscles. Upholding the law be darned! Whatever oaths she had taken in her life, they didn't involve having electricity passed through her head, or being treated like dirt by someone who wasn't just doing their job but going out of their way to make her life miserable. If Haggs tried anything
"Good morning. I trust you slept well?" Haggs said politely.
Gadget waited for the punch line, which experience suggested might be more punch than line. It didn't come.
"Everyone's so sorry and sympathetic after that terrible business yesterday." Haggs patronised her. "That dreadful Doctor Schadenfreude. You know I never trusted him. Mind you, the warden had her suspicions as well, I think. She called the Medical Council herself, you know."
"Doctor Schadenfreude?" Gadget frowned. There was still an ugly taste in her mouth from yesterday's dose of sedatives. Cotton wool and lemon peal, yuck.
"Yes, nasty, eccentric little creature. I've always suspected that some psychiatrists go into the profession because they're a little mad in the first place and he certainly seems to prove it."
Gadget tried to move carefully and discovered that Officer Haggs' new civility did not run to waking her before placing restraints around her wrists and ankles.
"I'm afraid that it seems that the warden herself doesn't have quite enough evidence to bar the Doctor from the prison entirely, so I'm afraid that you will have to endure another session with him." Haggs continued. "I'm just here to take you to him but, bare up, I think it will be your last."
Gadget was just digesting this new information when Haggs leaned down to pull her upright, putting her mouth next to Gadget's ear as she did so. "One way or another." Haggs whispered, straight into her ear.
Raising an eyebrow, Gadget cast a wary eye towards the door to her maximum-security cell. Sure enough, the peephole was open and a dark, beady eye glinted from the other side. Haggs was being watched. Gadget smirked to herself. She wondered how Haggs liked being under the microscope for a change.
"I'm going to take you to see Doctor Schadenfreude now. He thought he would give you a morning session, seeing as he's not sure he will be a licensed psychiatrist this afternoon. Malpractice can be very serious. I'm not sure that he won't be wearing some handcuffs of his own before the dust settles." Haggs pulled Gadget into a standing position.
Interesting, Gadget thought, the orderlies had been more careful about handling her before. Perhaps now the attention was on Haggs, she would find the opportunity to make a break for it.
"Just be sure you mind your Ps and Qs during your session. He's still a Doctor, for the moment, and entitled to some respect." A nimble pair of claws pinched Gadget on the ear that was out of sight from the doorway peephole. "We wouldn't want you saying the wrong thing to him and getting into trouble now, would we? That's a good little loony-toon." Haggs reached out to pat her on the head, then stopped and smirked at Gadget's hair, which was still standing on end after yesterday's high-voltage perm.
Gadget thought about it and nodded as discretely as possible. Deep inside of her head where no one else could hear, she caught herself singing a little tune she had heard Chip singing under his breath when he was preoccupied with a case: "You're going down, you're going down, you're going down " It wasn't much of a song she had thought at the time - it took delight in another's downfall. That wouldn't stop her singing it from now on. Some people deserved to fall. When they did and she had a personal stake in it, she would take her pleasure as she found it.
Doctor Schadenfreude hung dejectedly (by his feet) in the room where he and the patient he had come to think of as "Not Gadget Hackwrench" had spent their last session. He was not looking forward either to his meeting with her, or the meeting that he knew would come afterwards, when both he and Warden Phelps would be giving evidence to the Medical Council.
He heard the rattle of her chains down the corridor, beside her, the heavier footfalls of a much larger guard. Frowning, he tried to think of a way to handle what he anticipated would be a traumatised, mistrustful, delusional young lady who apparently had violent tendencies.
He hoped to authorise her transfer to a full time mental hospital before he left for his two o'clock meeting with the Medical Council across town but, even with the favour he had called in from an old friend who ran the main asylum, he would need his patient's co-operation to pull it off. There was no point in committing her if she carried on the way she had with him any competent doctor would simply return her to the prison as a fraud trying to work an incompetence defence at an appeal. It wouldn't be easy to persuade her - he was prepared to give it all morning if had to and, he suspected, he probably would.
To his shock, he heard a familiar voice outside the door.
"Now, here we are!" and then in a low whisper, the same voice added: "Just you remember, HE is on his way out of here, but you and me are going to be together for a lifetime. How long THAT is, is up to you."
Haggs. They had chosen Officer Haggs, of all people, to escort his patient to his session with her.
The door opened before he could think what to do. He had heard the threat but if he confronted the officer, she would simply deny it.
It didn't occur to him that Gadget had heard the threat too. Even if pressed, he would never admit that it was because she didn't count as a witness.
The door opened and, even after hearing Haggs' threat, Doctor Schadenfreude was startled to see the beautiful young mouse maid who-was-not-Gadget-Hackwrench hanging her head in the doorway. She was bound in neck, wrist and leg irons linked by the heaviest chains he had ever seen used on a prisoner, so much so that she was having trouble standing upright.
She entered, sullenly, her ears laid back so far she could hardly see them and her tail drooping. For a moment, Schadenfreude forgot his professional detachment and his heart went out to her.
"What did you want to see me for, Doctor?" she asked when she was sitting down.
"How are you feeling, my most unfortunate young lady?"
"Better than I might well have been feeling today, after what almost happened yesterday." She looked at him reproachfully.
The bat shrivelled. "I am most sorry for your ordeal. I prescribed only a small amount of sedative to calm you and an anti-hallucinogen to prevent any more worrying solo conversations. I never dreamed that someone would add their own ideas to my prescription."
She-who-was-not-Gadget-Hackwrench looked back at him carefully. "The last time we met, you made it very clear that you don't believe in me. Why should I believe in you?"
Doctor Schadenfreude's jaw dropped. "Young lady, surely you don't believe that I would deliberately subject any creature in my care to such treatment? Electroshock is a procedure reserved for the most intractable cases of depression, requiring the most skilled and careful medical skill to produce the desired results, which are less than certain in any case."
"Doctor, I have led a dangerous life. There have been times when I lay awake at night wondering what would happen if I were to die a violent death. I have wondered what would become of me if I was crippled and yet I always knew that it was worth the risks because what I was doing was helping people. That it was good. That it would make my father proud. But it never once occurred to me that I might end up unable to think, or not knowing who I was." The young inmate looked at him seriously. "After yesterday, I realise that if I stay in this kind of place, a mental ward, that is what will eventually happen to me."
Doctor Schadenfreude looked back at her, equally seriously. "Then you have a difficult choice before you."
"Between electroshock therapy and playing along with your psychotherapy until I think I'm somebody else?"
"No. No, I mean between agreeing with my diagnosis that you are delusional, going to a mental hospital and co-operating with whatever treatment the doctors there feel you need or, on the other wing, I am willing to certify you as sane and put you back into the main prison population." Seeing his patient open her mouth to answer, Doctor Schadenfreude rushed on. "I would be willing to do this at your request, to keep you out of reach of Officer Haggs, but consider the long term: Officer Haggs' assignment to this wing of the prison is short term. Your stay in this prison is not."
Doctor Schadenfreude paused to see if his patient was considering this. He was glad to see that she was. "If you were to go to a mental ward, you might spend a year, perhaps two years in a hospital, well away from Officer Haggs. You would be expected to cooperate with the doctors, and how long you spent there would depend on your stubbornness on this point of being Gadget Hackwrench. If you did not co-operate then you would either be there for a very long time, or they might perhaps return you to the prison if they felt that you were shamming. But if you did cooperate with them, my young lady! If you did cooperate then after perhaps only a year or two, you could go to the courts and ask them to reconsider your sentence. Public feeling against you would have died down by then, with evidence from your doctors that you were unwell and misused by corrupt and cynical people who thought only of their own gain and then abandoned you; only the harshest judges could confirm a sentence of fifteen years."
Doctor Schadenfreude beamed at her hopefully. He had given it his best shot, now it was up to her.
Across the table, the young lady looked at him in a strange way. It was almost as if he had asked her if she would like to go out on date when she got out. "Doctor " she asked, "should you be telling me something like that? After all, I'm convicted of a fairly serious crime."
"If I am sure about anything, it is that I am looking at someone who is sincere in their beliefs and who has a good heart, even if her head is a little clouded at the moment."
The Doctor was shocked to see her eyes fill with tears.
"Thank you. I'm sorry, but that means so much now. I haven't heard anyone say a nice thing about me in weeks. I used to think that I didn't need to hear people say good things about me because one time I went for practically a whole year without hearing anyone say anything at all, but then I wasn't hearing bad things said about me every day and now I am and that makes a difference."
The bat dug into his Doctor's bag and pulled out a hankie for her to blow her nose on. Thanks to the restraints Haggs had locked her into, she had to lower her head until it was almost touching the table before her hands could reach.
"'D'ank you." She said. "Doctor, I can't spend any more time in a mental ward. Like I said, I'm going to go crazy if I stay here!"
"But if you go back, you will be with the other prisoners, who may hurt you."
"I was nearly hurt yesterday, and in a way I don't think the other prisoners here could top! I could have ended up looking like the bride of Frankenstein and, considering the effects of electricity on the mammalian brain, probably with about as much vocabulary."
"That won't happen or at least, it is far less likely to happen in a proper hospital."
"But I'll almost certainly be medicated."
"I think it's only fair to accept that would part of your treatment."
"Almost certainly not. Unless you became clinically depressed during your time there and they feel it is necessary to restore you to good health."
"Unless I became depressed during those two years that I would be in the mental hospital, facing a possible fifteen year prison sentence when they decide I'm cured, with no way to contact my friends and nothing to do but brood about where I am while everyone tries to convince me I'm not who I think I am? Hmm, let me think about that for a moment " She looked at him levelly for two seconds. "Doctor, I can't spend two years in a place like this."
"How long can you stand to be in the normal prison?"
His patient set her jaw and took a deep breath. "I am Gadget Hackwrench. I don't belong in here. There has been a case of mistaken identity. I will not serve the sentence I was given because when this miscarriage of justice is discovered, I will be set free. It might " she took a deep breath " take a lot longer than I believed possible, weeks, perhaps even months, but it will not take fifteen years."
Schadenfreude's eyes locked with his patient's. His were sad; hers were defiant. "But what will you do, my young friend, if you are mistaken? What if you are crazy and you are here for the next fifteen years?"
She seemed paralysed for a moment. Then she blinked and said: "If I'm not Gadget Hackwrench, I did everything that they say I did then I belong in prison."
"Not if you did them because you were unwell. Do you remember doing them?"
"No. I remember only what I always have. Travelling the world on my father's knee when I was four. Not fitting in with the other cubs in school. Losing my father, then being alone for about a year before Monty found me again."
"Then why say you deserve to spend time in jail for something that you don't remember doing?"
"If I'd done something I didn't remember because I was drunk when I did it, or because I'd been hit across the back of the head since I got here, would that mean I deserved to walk out the front door?"
There was silence for a moment.
"Its odd you should choose those two things as examples, especially since I know that you were drunk when you were arrested and that you yourself told me you were hit by Officer Haggs when you arrived here." Doctor Schadenfreude remarked politely.
"Golly, I only meant that forgetting something isn't the same as being pardoned for it!"
"That is a very noble view, young lady, and it may be one fitting for Gadget Hackwrench but if you are not her, surely you should consider the view of a young person who's mind is clouded and future most doubtful. What would you say if you had to make decisions for her?"
"If she was crazy, I would want her to get the treatment she needed. But first I'd need to be sure she was crazy."
"She's facing a fifteen year jail sentence and when she's offered an easy way out, she turns it down! What better proof would you need?"
"That's not crazy it's integrity."
"Young lady, at nine o'clock we will both be able to settle this issue of who is and is not crazy."
"We will? How?"
"Mister Chip Maplewood of the Rescue Rangers is coming here to the prison to interview you about the whereabouts of three dangerous criminals who are still at large following the attempted kidnap of the real Gadget Hackwrench! Once he has seen you, we will see if you belong in the big asylum under the downtown Early Learning Centre or not!"
"Jeepers! Chip is coming here? To see me?" The young mouse maid was grinning from ear to ear.
"Yah, and I hope "
"YAHOO! I'M GOING HOME!"
Schadenfreude whimpered and tried to stuff his wings in his ears.
Gadget's shout was plainly audible outside the door. Officer Haggs would have been able to hear it even if she hadn't left the door just barely ajar so that she could listen in as she stood beside it, as though guarding the privacy of doctor and patient. Knowing that a bat's hearing is sensitive, if not just how sensitive, Haggs suppressed the urge to chuckle. This was going to be entertaining.
Chip caught the morning seagull to the prison when dawn was just a grey mist on the horizon. It was eight o'clock when he arrived. From above ground level, the entrance to Shrankshaw prison was through a drainage grate in an exercise yard of the human prison above. Any casual passer-by would have trouble even seeing it, since it was in the centre of the courtyard and located in a slight dip in the ground. Chip knew it was there because the seagull had dropped him off next to the upturned wooden shipping crate that housed the sentry post for Shrankshaw prison, where he had signed in and presented his credentials.
Alsatian dogs patrolled the inside of the human prison's perimeter fence. The very thought of these sharp eyed, keen hearing predators, with a sense of smell that was well over five hundred times sharper than a human's, was enough to frighten any small animal. Dogs were pack hunters, unlike cats, which had a weaker sense of smell and which were smaller and less likely to be accompanied by humans.
A sentry from the shipping crate introduced Chip to the two dogs who were on duty that morning. Chip tried to look as though it didn't bother him when they each sniffed one side of his body but allowing a predator to get his scent would never be something he would feel comfortable with, even if it was to make sure he wasn't mistaken for a criminal.
The worst part of getting in was crossing the human exercise yard itself. Hooded cloaks the same colour as the concrete ground were provided at the edge of the square. Good enough to avoid the notice of the armed human guards around the walls and in the sentry towers but it would never fool the superior vision of a bird of prey, though, and Chip would just have to hope that none would be overhead while he was exposed.
Once into the drain itself, life became easier. There was a row of pegs, some already with concrete pattern camouflage cloaks hanging on them, to which Chip added his own. He followed the arrows along the pipeline, grateful that the night's rain had stopped before daybreak and that he wouldn't get his feet wet, until he got to a heavy round metal door that seemed to have been made out of a 250 gram weight from a set of kitchen scales. A length of thick fishing twine with a loop at the bottom hung next to a sign that said: "Pull for Guard to Open Door."
Chip did, several times, then counted to one hundred before pulling it again. He got as far as eighty-four before the door swung inwards.
A plump lady chipmunk, who seemed just barely older than him, smiled broadly. "Mister Maplewood? The sentry called us on our new intercom system and told us you were coming. My name's Marion Cedar, I'm the Deputy Warden here."
"Yes. Do you want to see my credentials?"
"In case you were mugged and an impostor took your place between the sentry post and here? It seems ridiculous, but the Warden does like us to go by the book."
Chip handed over a small parcel of documents that had been wrapped in wax-coated paper. Marion Cedar looked at the documents at first politely and then with mounting interest. Some of the documents were similar to the ones she carried herself, occasionally but others were signed by officials from the Rescue Aid Society, City Street Watch, Statton City Mayor's Office and the Thorn Valley Border Guard. Mister Maplewood life was every bit as exotic as she had heard, it seemed.
Marion Cedar edged closer to him as she handed the documents back. "Would you like to see the warden first? I understand that the psychiatrist is keen to talk to you before you have your interview."
"With the warden?" Chip asked, puzzled, as he followed her deeper into the prison.
"No, of course not, with the impostor."
"Ah yes. I reviewed the court transcripts before coming here. They seemed short."
"Yes, I heard that it was very quick trial."
"Quick trial? They went from arraignment to sentence in less than seven hours. That's practically unheard of, even in district animal courts, especially for crimes this serious where the accused hasn't entered a guilty plea." Chip frowned to himself.
"You think there might have been a miscarriage of justice?"
"I think that an appeal would have a good chance, especially if the mood of the crowd in the public gallery was accurately reported. And I also hear that her lawyer went into hibernation before sentence was passed."
"You believe she may have been wrongly convicted?" Marion watched him closely, puzzled. He didn't seem upset by the thought that a guilty mouse might be set free, but seemed impossible that Chip Maplewood of all people might believe the mouse in the psychiatric wing might be innocent.
Marion tried to make out Chip's expression. She couldn't, his face was too carefully composed. He looked thoughtful, serious and slightly preoccupied. Aware she had already asked perhaps more questions than was seemly, Marion found herself fighting her desire to know more and losing. "Forgive my curiosity, but I understood from the newspapers that Gadget Hackwrench was safe in hospital "
"I wouldn't put any faith in what you read in newspapers." Chip said shortly.
Marion fell silent. Did that incredible statement mean the real Gadget Hackwrench was lying, chained, buried in the prison beneath them? It seemed impossible. Still, a ripple of disquiet ran through her as she pictured the public reaction to such a scandal.
They walked in silence for some distance and only when Marion realised they had almost reached the Warden's office did she speak again. "I'm sorry, Mister Maplewood, may I ask? Are you suggesting that the young mouse we have here is the real Gadget Hackwrench?"
For the first time Maplewood's face showed real emotion. Surprise. "Uh no, that wasn't what I meant." He collected himself and almost at once his face was the thoughtful, serious mask again. "It's possible that the prisoner you have was simply a drunken troublemaker who tried to get out of trouble by giving a false name."
"She continues to claim that she's Gadget Hackwrench."
Chip's ears went up. "Oh? I did wonder if maybe she was some kind of nut case who was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"You seem fairly sure she's been wrongly convicted."
"No No, I can't say that. She could turn out to be the very person I'm hoping to see." Chip's face was back to being thoughtful and serious.
Marion looked sideways at him, her head filled with one burning question. Who was he hoping to see here? Something about the way he had spoken so carefully caused Marion to wonder if his interest in the prisoner was professional or personal. She wanted to ask but she didn't want him to think she was prying. Now they had reached the office she could do nothing except ask Mister Maplewood to please wait here for just a moment while the Warden was told he had arrived.
Marion Cedar closed the office door behind her, grateful that it had a thick cork lining to keep whatever was said inside private, in spite of the superhuman hearing that most creatures possessed. Fanning her face with her clipboard, she rolled her eyes and smiled. "Wow! He really is everything they say he is."
Warden Phelps had been using an atomizer to freshen up her office for the visitor. She raised an eyebrow at her old friends girlish enthusiasm. "I take it Mister Maplewood has arrived?"
"Oh yes he's waiting outside, just say the word and I'll show him in!"
"You seem quite taken with him Have you asked him out yet, or do you want me to ask him for you?" the Warden teased.
"Gertrude!" the Deputy Warden cried. It wasn't a reproach; it was the Warden's first name. "You wouldn't!"
"Of course not! If you're going to ask him out, you'll have to do it yourself. I don't think that your husband will be too happy about it though."
"No, I suppose he wouldn't. Though I see you've made an effort to look your best. Are those new earrings?"
"We'll discuss it later." The warden replied evasively. "Well, show him in we can't have him waiting out there all day."
"No, we can't." Marion agreed.
Warden Phelps watched her old friend compose herself before showing Maplewood in. Part of her was annoyed at herself for acting out of the ordinary. It wasn't as if she had ever met Chip Maplewood, let alone harboured any strong feelings for him; she only knew about him from newspaper reports and occasional piece of gossip. Still, he was slightly famous and he did have a reputation for being very brave, daring and clever.
Her first impression when Chip Maplewood entered the room was of a strikingly hansom male chipmunk a good five to ten years younger than herself who wore an intensely serious expression. He had the robust, stocky build of all chipmunks but where most chipmunks would have built up a heavy layer of fat ready for winter, even if they didn't plan to hibernate, Maplewood seemed to have built muscles on muscles. He wore a brown leather bomber jacket of a type that had actually gone out of fashion some years ago and a hat that hadn't been in fashion since the nineteen-thirties. Both the hat and jacket were clean and had been carefully repaired many times. She realised his quick brown eyes were measuring her and their surroundings. Only when he had finished did he make eye contact and nod to her with a polite smile.
"Warden Phelps?" he enquired.
"Yes. It's a pleasure to meet you, Mister Maplewood." Were those fruit flies in her stomach? They felt big enough to be butterflies.
"Of course. Nice uh, I mean, well run prison you have here."
Warden Phelps laughed. "Well, I suppose nice doesn't really describe any prison. We do our best, though I find it difficult to believe that you've seen enough to form an opinion just on your way to my office."
"Oh well, I may not of seen much but from what I've heard, if I ever had to be locked up uh, I mean-" Chip grimaced as he remembered that this was a woman's prison. His polite joke could be taken a very different way. "Would you like to see any of my identification? I've already shown it twice " There was a faint look of panic in his eyes.
"Dont worry, you haven't made that bad an impression! I just wanted to have a word with you about the prisoner you came to see. In a moment our psychiatrist should be along to add a few words of his own."
Chip cocked an ear. "Really?"
"She's a rather unusual subject. We don't know what to call her the closest we have to a name for her is 'the prisoner who isn't Gadget Hackwrench', which is rather a mouthful. If we don't get a better one for her soon, I can see people shortening it to just 'Gadget Hackwrench'."
Chip's eyes narrowed. "I'd prefer that didn't happen."
"She seems determined to play the role to the bitter end. I don't think there's any force on earth that could convince her that she isn't the real thing. In fact, she's been asking for you since she arrived."
"Is that so?"
To the Warden's practiced eye, Maplewood's thoughtful expression seemed studied, as if he had rehearsed it. She wondered whether he was thinking about something else, like his shopping list, or hiding the fact that he was flattered. There were few males who were unimpressed by the idea of a damsel in distress calling their name and, given Maplewood's chosen profession, she doubted he was one of them.
"Our psychiatrist is rather worried by that, in fact." She felt it was important to remind him.
"I'm sure your psychiatrist will tell me when I see him."
Warden Phelps' smile became a little strained. "Marion," she asked, "would you go and see what has become as our resident headshrinker, will you?"
"Of course." Marion agreed, sympathetically.
"She's an unusual girl." The Warden continued when she was gone.
"In what way?"
"She had a lock pick tied to her tail when she got here. Even though she knew it could have unpleasant consequences for her, she turned it in at the gate. In all honesty, I doubt that we would have found it, if she kept quiet. She seems sincere, almost naïve. She's even passed on information about a prisoner who might possibly be suffering abuse. I believe she may have placed herself in danger by doing that, whether she knows it or not is another matter."
"She also seems to have had a raw deal. Her lawyer went into hibernation before the verdict was announced and isn't expected to wake up before the spring. He didn't have a proxy, so she can't even replace him until he wakes up."
"The hibernation protection act?"
"Yes. I have several people in here at the moment because of that well-meaning but poorly written piece of legislation."
"I've seen too many victims of scams, foreclosures and loan-sharks not to value the act for the protection it gives the helpless."
"All things considered, I really would appreciate it if you could give us your insight into the girl's situation."
"I'll be happy to, once I've seen her myself. Warden, I can see that, like me, you're an extremely busy person with a lot of responsibilities. I've no desire to take up more of your time than I have to, or be any kind of a nuisance to you, so how about your psychiatrist talks me through his concerns while we walk down to her cell or, uh, whatever room you've set aside for this interview?"
"I hope you can find time to discuss your findings with me afterwards." Warden Phelps said wryly.
Deputy Warden Marion Cedar put her head into the office. "Doctor Schadenfreude is here."
"Thanks for allowing me to interview your prisoner, Warden." Chip shook her hand sincerely and Warden Phelps silently forgave him their slight difference of opinion.
Chip found himself puzzled by the German sounding bat. The psychiatrist seemed as absent minded as Gadget and foolish as Dale but, as he listened to the Doctor talk, Chip swiftly realised that he was in the presence of someone who knew his stuff and knew it well.
"Our patient is suffering from profound delusions and possibly a case of split personality." Doctor Schadenfreude told Chip on their way to the psychiatric wing. "These conditions seem to be deeply entrenched, too much so for them to have developed recently. I believe she has spent longer and longer obsessing about Gadget Hackwrench, fantasising about being her for longer and longer, until she ceased to think as her true self at all. Initially, I believed this was her only problem but she has since begun to show signs of possible schizophrenia, including auditory and ocular hallucinations."
"Is she violent?"
"I didn't think so until yesterday. Though she had shouted at me several times, which is most unpleasant for a bat, she was most apologetic afterwards and I took her explanation of frustration and forgetfulness at face value. Then yesterday there was a most regrettable incident that I am not comfortable discussing in front of an outsider."
"I'm sorry to press you, Doctor Schadenfreude, but if I'm going to be in the same room as her I feel I need to know."
"Ach, very well, then, I will tell you as much as I can. There was a mistake of some kind made in the instructions given to the orderlies and they took her to receive a treatment that I had not prescribed. Although she was heavily drugged she became violent when she realised what was happening. She did this to one of the orderlies."
Schadenfreude held up a tiny photo that had been taken for prison records. The mouse orderly Gadget had sent to the infirmary was shown lying in bed with her head heavily bandaged and thermometer sticking out of her mouth. Chip looked at it and winced.
"I have to caution you," Doctor Schadenfreude said, "however harmless she seems, she has a capacity to inflict great harm when her fury is awakened."
"Uh, Doc, have you any idea what kind of mood she's going to be in?"
"She was in a moderately consolatory mood the last time I saw her but I know she has reason to be disgruntled. She has been with a guard she dislikes most of the day. I had hoped to address her feelings about yesterday's incident but I wasn't able to make much progress with her when I spoke to her this morning. I fear I may have lost her confidence as a psychiatrist."
Chip stopped walking and held up a paw to intrude. "Doctor, if that's the case, I don't think I'm going to make much progress with you there. I'm going to need her to get her on my side. And if she really believes that she is Gadget, then she will talk much more freely to me than to both of us."
"You intend to humour her?"
"It had occurred to me."
"I cannot urge you against it strongly enough. Her original personality is already deeply buried. With reinforcement from you she may never return to her true self."
"What if I confront her with the truth?"
"It could shatter both personalities forever and leave us with just a shell, a catatonic."
"The warden mentioned you were concerned about that. I have to be honest, Doc, I don't see what difference it really makes. Sane or not, she's going to be behind bars."
The bat's heckles rose. "It makes a great deal of difference. The mad can be cured, usually, and are not held responsible for their actions in law, particularly if those actions were instigated by others."
Chip looked at him speculatively. He had heard of woolly-minded liberals with good intentions, who wanted to put all the criminals back on the streets as soon as they were jailed, but this was the first time he had actually met one. (Gadget didn't count, he thought.) He'd have to keep in mind that this guy was just trying to help it wouldn't do to antagonize him. He kept his voice level and reasonable. "Hey, doc, has it occurred to you that she may be lying to you just to get out of here?"
Doctor Schadenfreude gave Chip a hard glare. "What an original thought. It reminds me of the one I had during my first session with her, when I thought she was probably just trying to talk her way out of trouble. Mister Maplewood, please remember that I am not merely some kind of turnkey. I am a trained, experienced professional and in my view she has a mental problem, possibly several."
"She shows some signs of having hallucinations, which you might expect with a delusional state, but she also seems to be suffering from some kind of chronic fatigue. That could be due to her trial and admission to prison, which would have been more than usually taxing on someone in her mental condition, but it does not seem to have improved in the time she has been on our ward.
"She has nightmares almost every night and shows various other symptoms of post traumatic stress syndrome, such as a nervous twitch when under pressure. She also shows signs of having unresolved grief issues. She has told me that she lost both parents in similar circumstances, some years apart and although you clearly believe she is lying I think some of what she has told me about her early life may be genuine memories of her own the memories are detailed and hold details that most people would not create if they were merely fantasizing. Also, not many details of Ms Hackwrench's early life are known publicly."
No, they aren't, Chip thought. Even I don't know many of the details because talking about them reminds her of her father, Gewgaw, and that makes her sad so I don't ask. With a bit of detective work a resourceful person might find out quite a bit if he if they had no scruples about snooping and violating other people's privacy. But how much could a nutcase find out? He ought to find out how much this person had discovered if only to find out whether Gadget's privacy had been violated. No one could accuse him of not conducting a thorough investigation or snooping, come to that.
"Really? You wouldn't care to share a few details, would you? I could tell you whether they really are based on Gadget's early life. I don't know much," his conscience forced him to admit, "but she has told me one or two details."
A moment of silence grew between them. Just one of the memories that Gadget had relived for the doctor would have been enough for Chip to know her instantly. He loved her enough for that, whatever his faults as a detective.
"I can't possibly tell you anything like that. Whatever a patient shares with me during a session is confidential, as you should know." Doctor Schadenfreude said eventually.
Chip sighed. "Well, it's up to you. But I think the best thing to do is for me to go in alone and see where things go from there."
"Very well, but I'd appreciate it if you kept me informed."
"You won't share your information, but you expect me to share mine? Doctor, the warden has already okayed my visit and is looking forward to discussing my views on the prisoner. I don't need your permission to do this and I'd like to see the inmate now."
Doctor Schadenfreude opened the door in front of them and stepped aside. "I think you can find the rest of the way yourself, Mister Maplewood."
Chip looked down a short darkened corridor that had a door at the far end. On the left hand wall were three cells with ceiling to floor bars. The first two were darkened and unoccupied. The last one had light shining out of it, casting long vertical shadows on the opposite wall. Though Chip could not see into the cell from where he was standing, he noted that the occupant would be visible from the peephole in the other door. A single matchbox had been set out for him as a stool in front of the cell, some way back from a thick white line of correction fluid that someone had drawn on the floor about an arm's length from the bars.
Slowly, with a nervousness he had not expected to feel, he made his way down the corridor. What kind of monster in angelic form would be waiting for him?
Chip advanced, staying well out of arm's reach of all the cells. He found himself trying to see the prisoner before she could see him.
The sight of the hockey mask strapped across her face to prevent her biting hit him like a slap in the face. He had wanted nothing more than to triumphantly declare that he could tell the difference between Gadget and the impostor, even when so many others had been fooled proof that he knew Gadget better than anyone. With that thought in his mind, he began comparing the prisoner in the cell to the mouse he loved.
The light was dim and dirty and Chip wondered if it was like that all the time, twenty-four hours a day. It was coming from above and behind, shining on a tight, denim straitjacket that emphasised the prisoner's ample charms. Rodent hospitals and prisons used denim because the canvas used in human straitjackets was far too thick to use in mouse-sized straitjackets. Chip's eyes travelled up the prisoner's body and confirmed that those well-emphasised charms, along with her general build and proportions, were identical to the ones that he had spent so long studying in Ranger HQ.
Her hair was darker than Gadget's and hung around her shoulders like tangled vines around a statue in an unattended garden. With hair like that, anyone would have an uphill battle to prove their sanity from the moment they entered a room, Chip thought. The analytical part of his mind noted that the prisoner's true hair colour showed through the dye job close to the scalp, where new growth was. If she had dyed her hair because someone had told her that Gadget was a redhead then she had made a mistake: the prisoner's natural hair colour was a far better match for the real Gadget's hair.
Perhaps Chip had put off looking into her eyes because knew they could never measure up to Gadget's, or perhaps it was because he had been so busy considering her form that he had forgotten to pay her any consideration as a person, but he could put it off no longer. The detective found himself looking into the eyes of the lunatic.
Chip had never seen such a look in anyone's eyes before and had never imagined he would it was part desperation, part frustration and part fury, all in equal measures but even as he felt his emotions shrink back from the creature in front of him, he was struck by their colour. Those terrible eyes were the exact same colour as Gadget's eyes. Just for a split second he expected to see them to be the same intelligent, caring sapphires that he had lost his heart in long ago, simply because they were the same shade of cornflower blue.
How foolish of him. Nobody in a place like this could have eyes like Gadget.
"I came to ask a few simple questions." He said, his mouth dry. "Are you willing to cooperate?"
The prisoner nodded as much as she was able.
Chip hauled the matchbox chair over to the white line. "I hear you're Gadget Hackwrench." He kept his voice light and good humoured, ready to tilt towards sympathy or sarcasm depending on her reply.
The prisoner nodded and grunted. So unlike Gadget, Chip thought. He couldn't imagine her answering a question like that in less than a hundred words.
"They say you've been asking for me." Chip prodded again, making it sound as though he doubted "them".
Abruptly the prisoner writhed in her straitjacket.
There was no doubt she was just trying to get loose but the half-light of the cell gave her struggles a suggestive undertone. Chip said nothing but a shiver ran through him as he watched. If someone had asked him, he couldn't have said why. Finally she slumped back into the restraints, the sound of heavy breathing audible from behind her mask.
Chip tried to remain poker-faced. He wasn't sure what effect, if any, that display had been intended to have on him but he wanted it clearly understood that it had failed.
"Was that it? Did you call me here to watch a badly rehearsed escape routine?" Chip stared soulfully into her wild blue eyes with his own, which were serious and brown. "At the very least I thought you might have something to say to me."
Chip was certain of getting something from her now, some word or expression that would be a giveaway to a trained detective but her face was darkly shadowed in the half light of her cell and her hair, which might once have looked like Gadget's but had since been butchered by the prison barber, had fallen across the part of her face the hockey mask did not cover. The detective couldn't read her expression at all. He wondered whether she had provoked the guards into putting the mask on her in order to keep her face hidden. If it was the sort of strategy she had based her career of deception on, he was sorely disappointed.
"I want to know what hideouts your gang has used in the past."
The mouse made a gasping sound and tried to shake her head, but found the hockey mask too heavy and wound up nodding from side to side.
"You will regret it if you don't answer. I can put in a good word for you. Arrange privileges that most inmates have to earn with years of good behaviour. But someone who can put in a good word well, if they're so inclined, they can put in a bad word too. And there are worse places than this, ya know."
The cornflower eyes above the hockey mask widened with shock.
Encouraged, Chip pressed on. "It's sort of like what that human, Dante, wrote about hell There are levels of punishment, but the people who have to live here don't get to see them, so they all believe that they are in the worst place possible. It's only the people who get the full tour, the ones who are just passing through so to speak, who get to see all the bad places they could be." Chip looked the prisoner in the eyes. She was staring at him like he was a hungry snake who had just hypnotized her. "Believe me, I've had the tour. There are places that make this look pretty good. You've got your own cell, they feed you regularly and there's no one to steal your food. You get medical attention. A nice, sympathetic doctor who listens to your stories about how the world hasn't treated you right. So, if you want to stay here, get let out of that straitjacket, you should definitely cooperate with me. Who knows, maybe I could even get you something to read in here. You like magazines?"
Throughout Chip's sales pitch, the inmate's eyes had been growing rounder and more amazed. The visible part of her face suggested either shock or horror. And still she was silent!
How could she how could anyone, much less anyone who claimed to be Gadget Hackwrench, remain silent for so long? Was she gagged or something? With a shake of his head, Chip smiled ruefully at the thought of what it would take to silence the mouse he was so fond of. Then, seeing that he had only one option left, he lent close to the bars and whispered: "Gadget? Is that you? Make a circle with your tail if it is."
The effect on the prisoner was electric. The end of her tail drew little circles in the air then stopped, hesitated, and the whole tail rolled itself into a loop, as if unsure of what Chip had in mind.
Chip smiled. He had a bite finally. "Can't talk right now, huh?"
The tail "nodded".
Chip nodded back and blinked in amazement at how easily his attention had been transferred to a mere body part. If it was this easy to stop people looking at your face, no wonder the impostor had gotten away with it for so long.
"Afraid someone might be listening in? It's okay, I understand. Oh Lord, it's good to see you again, sweetheart." Chip pulled a newspaper from inside his jacket and showed a headline with a picture of a chained Brandon fighting half a dozen Street Watch guards in a gutter as they tried to put him in the back of a prison van. "We got the ringleader." He said.
The tail hooked itself into a remarkably good impression of a question mark.
Chip put the newspaper away again and sighed heavily. "Gadget, we pretty much know all the what's and where's but we don't know any of the who's or why's, so we aren't half done wrapping this thing up yet. I'm sorry, but I'm afraid that means you're going to have to stay where you are a while longer. Can you do that for me?"
At the mention of staying in jail the tail jolted upright like a startled exclamation mark, every hair standing on end as though it had been plugged into a light socket. By the time Chip had finished speaking, the tail was waggling like the finger of a reproving schoolteacher.
"Oh, c'mon what would Monty say? We're all counting on you to carry on pretending to be a real prison inmate. I know you probably feel like we've all abandoned you, but if any of us had shown up before now it would have tipped off the bad guys. Why, if they knew that you were the real McCoy, they'd know for sure the Gadget with us is really their phoney and they'd stop at nothing to silence her before she tells us everything."
Chip smiled at her and watched as tears replaced the desperation in her eyes. Part of him cringed at the thought of making a sick, helpless girl cry, but something else seemed to drive him on. Perhaps it was the thought of all the people who had been deceived in Gadget's name.
"We might be able to protect the impostor from whoever is behind this whole thing, but that wouldn't leave us any time to chase down what leads we have and there's always the chance that some innocent might get hurt in the crossfire. You couldn't live with yourself if that happened when you could have prevented it. I know you too well, Gadget." He leaned close and encouraged her. "Give me a sign that you'll stay here a little longer for me."
The hockey mask clanked against the metal frame of the trolley the prisoner was strapped to. In spite of Chip's passionate appeal, the mouse was shaking her head in a desperate refusal to remain behind bars.
Chip shook his head. He had been reasonably sure the speech he had just given would have convinced anybody, including the real Gadget, to do anything he asked. Then again, it was a marvel just how strong and resilient the real thing was, compared to this weak, unstable fraud. The girl in the straitjacket had been sane when she lied, seduced and betrayed her way around the country using Gadget's name, Chip would have bet his trademark hat and bomber jacket on that, but the trial and less than three weeks in this place had very nearly, if not very actually, unhinged her. Already she seemed to be an elective mute and even with the real Chip Maplewood standing in front of her, playing up to her "delusions" and telling her that she would only be for a little while she still couldnt put a brave face on being incarcerated.
Clearly Schadenfreude hadn't been kidding when he said this was a fragile mind. Chip's conscience goaded him. Perhaps, the chipmunk decided, he could at least persuade her to speak. Doctor Schadenfreude couldn't object to him humouring his patient if it got her to talk; this silence must be making his job impossible.
"Gadget, if you really want to come with me now and leave your job here unfinished, all you have to do is just ask me. Flat out. Tell me you want to come home now, loud and clear." Chip told her in a low voice.
The prisoner stared at him. Even with the mask, there was no mistaking the flat disbelief on her face.
Then, very slowly, she began to wink at him.
Chip blinked. Then he remembered the nervous tic Doctor Schadenfreude had spoken about. With a heavy sigh, he rose from the chair and made his way out. He would learn nothing here.
"Can I be of assistance?" A calm, professional voice enquired. It belonged to the large, female, white rat standing in the doorway he had entered through.
"I don't think so." He told her. "Is Doctor Schadenfreude still waiting out there?" He owed the bat a partial apology at least, Chip thought.
"No, he had an urgent appointment with the Medical Council. Something about a Miss Conduct, whoever she might be."
Chip stared at her. "Miss Conduct?" He asked.
"I'm afraid I don't know the name. I only heard it in passing. I'm sure you could make enquiries elsewhere and find out more, if you really wanted to know what it was about." The officer's tone was casual.
Chip wondered if she was as disinterested as she appeared. "Thank you." He said.
"I came to check on the inmate after your visit but since the doctor didn't leave anyone else here to escort you out, I'd better do that first. It's prison regulations and common sense too, I might add." She held the door open for him. "After you."
Chip silently accepted her lead. At the same time, he instinctively disliked the large white rat who seemed to be trying to cause trouble for the psychiatrist and recognised some of his own better qualities in her. Perhaps she had her reasons for causing trouble, and Chip was puzzling what those reasons could be while the officer showed him out. He was thinking hard and walking with his head down, so it was left to Haggs to look back at the pair of desperate, pleading blue eyes with their unread message in the cell at the other end of the corridor.
"Doctor Schadenfreude has had to leave for an important meeting." Marion Cedar explained. "Warden Phelps was hoping that see you in person to ask about how your interview with our mystery prisoner went, but she had already promised to go with him."
"To lend support?" Chip enquired politely.
"Misconduct hearings can be tough." Chip commiserated.
"Can they? I mean, how did you know " Marion gulped.
"I gossiped a little with one of the other staff. Ms Cedar, I don't know anything about the office politics of this prison and I find myself in an awkward position. May I be completely honest with you and count on you to be discrete? Please don't answer too quickly, I realise you have no reason to keep anything I say confidential from your warden, who I don't doubt you are very loyal to."
Marion looked Mister Maplewood in the eye. "You're right. I've known Warden Phelps for ten years and she's my friend as well as my superior. She does a job I don't think I could do and she does it well, in my opinion. But if there's something you need to know then I think you should ask me and if you won't do that unless I'm promise to keep quiet about it, well, I'd rather keep a confidence than have you to go off with the wrong idea."
Chip Maplewood considered Marion Cedar for a moment and then he smiled. "You know, it's a great relief to hear you say that." He told her in their native, high-speed chipmunk babble. "I'm afraid I didn't get along with the warden too well."
Marion grinned back and matched him. "I don't think the warden bares a grudge. You just happened to pick one of her personal pet hates to talk about; thats all. Your visit was quite the highlight of her week, in fact."
"It's nice of you to say so, but I got the impression she thinks highly of Doctor Schadenfreude and I'm afraid I didn't do too well with him either. I disagree with his professional opinion about this case." Chip confided in her.
"I can understand your concerns, then! Doctor Schadenfreude has had a hard week I can't see him welcoming any criticism today of all days."
"I thought that he knew his stuff pretty well but well, he seemed a little too trusting, naïve even. I mean, I wouldn't have any reservations about him working in a normal mental institution but in a place like this where an inmate may have a deliberate intention to deceive " Chip let the sentence trail off to nothing. "What's your opinion of him?"
Marion swallowed hard. The truth was that Gertrude Phelps was probably more objective when it came to Doctor Schadenfreude than she was. Most people thought the Doctor was eccentric at best. Margo Haggs had openly called him a bumbling idiot to Marion's face. The truth was that Marion liked the foreign-sounding bat. "I like him and-" she hesitated "-I trust him. He's been here nearly two years and he's got experience of cons looking for a little holiday until whomever they upset in the general population cools down. Anyway, I don't think normal psychiatric patients have a reputation for being completely truthful, either."
Chip forced himself to be completely honest in return. "I felt he had been taken in by a clever liar who wanted to base an appeal on an insanity plea. Of course, I based that on what I knew of her crimes from my investigations. There's no doubt in my mind that the person who impersonated Gadget Hackwrench was in her right mind at the time. It's harder to be absolutely sure of her motives but I'm fairly sure it was mostly done for material gain and not because she was threatened or feared for something or someone being held for ransom."
"The rest of the gang gave her too much freedom and independence for her to be anything other than one of them. She could have asked for help a hundred times in a hundred different ways but she didn't and, from all the evidence, she took time out from committing her crimes to have a lot of fun along the way." Chip preoccupied himself for a moment, picturing the kind of fun he had been told about time and again. It ranged from mindless, random violence to cold, cruel marriage wrecking.
"But you couldn't convince Doctor Schadenfreude? I've always found him to be very open minded." Marion said uncertainly.
Chip opened his mouth to reply and hesitated. "I'm afraid I didn't explain it fully. I had a disagreement with him about sharing information." It sounded petty now he came to tell it to someone else.
"Oh." Marion seemed disappointed. "You're sure that he's been taken in then? I suppose I felt sorry for the girl, too."
"I'm not so sure There's definitely something not right down there. She was in a straitjacket and a hockey mask. Is that normal for patients in your special wing?"
"No, we haven't used hockey masks in years. With the medication we have nowadays, it's hardly necessary. We might use gags if someone is trying to bite to the point where we have no choice. That way they can't bite themselves either; that was the problem with the old hockey masks."
"But you still have some in stock?"
"I should think so. We've got all kinds of old stuff around here. This prison has been around for nearly a hundred years. It's actually older than the human one above us because ours was established under the previous prison that was up top before, which they rebuilt on the same site, after the old one burned down. That would have been before any of us were born."
"The prisoner I saw was definitely wearing one, Ms. Cedar." Chip said softly and insistently.
"She shouldn't have been."
Chip became quiet and thoughtful as they walked back to the rack of camouflage cloaks that Chip had passed when he first entered the prison. "Is the prisoner I saw normally quiet? Sullen? Reluctant to speak?"
"No. Quite the opposite. She's quite the babbler. She could give us a race, in fact. Was she quiet when you saw her?" Marion asked.
"Silent as the grave. I could almost believe she was gagged under the mask."
Chip froze just for a second. It didn't mean anything. They were talking about a person who was in prison for trying to impersonate Gadget Hackwrench. Of course the prisoner was going to babble. It was practically proof of guilt. Still, he found himself thinking: I have heard Gadget babble since the accident. When she saw me at the hospital, after her coma, she was talking so fast I thought her mouth was going to catch fire, thought Chip. She thought I was going to be mad at her for losing the Ranger Plane.
"I suppose if someone knew you were coming but the prisoner was trying to bite, they might have gone back to the old way so you could talk to someone who wasn't gagged or drugged." Marion broke in on his thoughts.
"Yes. That must be it." Chip agreed slowly, drifting back into the human-speed speech used by most sentient small animals.
There was something turning over at the back of his mind, telling him there was something wrong somewhere, but he couldn't drag the idea into the light. He would get it eventually, he told himself. This case was over, after all, and with the impostor safely locked up in here he had all the time in the world
She could have been home by lunchtime.
The very thought was enough to make her see red.
She could have been sitting at the kitchen table ready to share everything that had happened to her over a plate of spaghetti and cheese, in the company of her friends. After everything that had happened, after the endless dreams and fantasies of being rescued, Chip had finally walked through the door. And then he had walked out again.
Chip had gone away.
Everyone she'd ever cared about had gone away.
Standing over her was Officer Margo Haggs. It was all her fault.
Gadget's quicksilver mind was matched by her quicksilver temper. Her muscles tensed. She was still strapped into the straitjacket and the rubber bands securing the rescue ranger to the gurney were still in place. In a moment Haggs would undo them and she would be free to wreak horrible, crunchy revenge.
Haggs smiled and did not untie her.
Instead she plucked a whisker from her chin and used it to tickle Gadget's nose. Gadget's eyes widened in surprise and then crossed, trying to follow what Haggs was doing.
"Something wrong, dear?" Haggs murmured as Gadget's nose twitched. "Does your nose itch? Well, why don't you scratch it then? Oh, that's right. You can't. Your arms are strapped into a straitjacket." Haggs carried on tickling for a few seconds.
When Gadget sneezed it was messy.
"Ah, does someone need a tissue? Ask me nicely then. Say: Please may I have a tissue to wipe my nose, Officer Haggs, Ma'am?"
In the back of her throat, Gadget moaned with frustration. By the time the sound made it past the ball gag, it sounded weak and nasal, somewhere between a whine and wheeze.
"What's that? You'll have to speak up a bit. Here, let me take that gag out for you."
Gadget gasped as the ball gag came out of her mouth. With a groan, she blinked away the tears. Her lips were bruised from the struggle she had put up when Haggs had forced the gag into her mouth. She hurt where the tight straps and cuffs had cut into her skin.
"Now, what do you have to say?"
Gadget took a deep breath. Something very un-Gadget-like was building up in her chest and was about to come out of her mouth in the form of words she hadn't known she knew. Something inside her heart held the breath. She couldn't think of anything but Haggs. She couldn't think of anything except what had just been done to her.
Gadget's lip curled and still the breath she had taken hesitated to leave her chest.
"What have you to say?" Haggs pressed, applying the whisker again.
Gadget's head was pounding. She longed to give vent to that rage, but something held her back. If she searched her soul for a hundred years she couldnt say what it was; her father's memory; her battered reputation, which was so far unstained by any act she had actually committed; the thought of giving Haggs the satisfaction of seeing her lose control
"Please untie me so I can wipe my face." Gadget finally said in a polite, level voice.
Haggs hit her in the midriff.
Gadget tried to double up in pain. The straps holding her to a gurney meant she couldn't.
"Just for that, you can stay there until one of the other orderlies has time to untie you." Haggs turned away and walked to the cell door. "I'll let them know you need untying. After I've had lunch." Haggs locked the cell door. "I'm sure they'll be along as soon as they can find a spare moment. Try not to have an accident in those plastic panties oh, wait; I didn't have time to put you in any, did I? Never mind. It washes off, I'm told."
Haggs started to walk away.
Haggs stopped. "What was that?"
"Why? Why did you do this to me? I don't think you believe that I'm the real Gadget Hackwrench. So why stop me talking to Chip?"
Haggs scratched her chin and thought about it. Then she shrugged. "Because you wanted to."
"That's it!?" Gadget exclaimed in disbelief.
"That and I wanted to teach you a lesson about who's in charge around here." Haggs looked at her steadily. "It's not the Warden."
Chip wanted to ask Marion Cedar to take him back to the grim and dingy cell. There he could check his suspicions and conduct a proper interview with the Deputy Warden as a witness. He didn't, for two reasons.
Firstly, the case of the Counterfeit Rangers was over. The crimes had stopped. Gadget's ringer was in jail, whoever she was. If the rantings of the grey mouse who had tried to kidnap Gadget at hospital were true, then he was the ringleader behind the gang. They had him behind bars, too, and that wrapped up the hijacking of the Ranger Plane and attempted robbery of the City Museum of Culture and Antiquity into the bargain. Anything he could learn after the event would only be of academic, or at most personal, interest.
Secondly, he had started out especially early because today was a big day for the Rescue Rangers and he didn't want to miss it.
Gadget was coming home, finally.
The hospital had at last decided that Gadget Hackwrench was stable and healthy enough to be sent home. Keeping her in hospital was serving no useful purpose; she was making a formidable recovery, worthy of her reputation as a walking miracle. The reporters who insisted on hanging about the hospital in the hope of another kidnap attempt, on the other hand, were clogging up the corridors and making it difficult for the hospital to function. Nor, the hospital had respectfully pointed out, could they really offer the level of security that Gadget would need if someone made another attempt on her life.
If Chip was lucky he could be back in time to say: "Welcome home".
It wasn't until he was scowling patiently and waiting for Mac and George, the two sentry dogs, to finish sniffing him that the obvious occurred to Chip. He turned, causing one of the dogs to break off in surprise, and stared back at the imposing monolith of the human prison, the concrete courtyard and the pretend drain that was actually the entrance to Shrankshaw Prison and the dungeon the mouse girl he had visited was being kept in.
Scent, he mused, wasn't as important between rodents as it was between predators like dogs and cats. Chipmunks seldom went hungry because they couldn't follow the scent trail of a fleeing acorn, so their sense of smell was comparatively weak (though still many times better than a human's). To most small animals, a scent was just another part of who a person was, like the shape of their nose, or that scar on their forehead. It wasn't what you used to recognise someone you knew; more something that told you how they were and what they had been doing lately as many divorced husbands could testify, to their chagrin!
Chip was still fighting the tail end of a bad cold, which had kept him from seeing much of Gadget during her recovery, and he had stayed behind the white safety line that was meant to keep him out of arm's reach of the prisoner. That meant that he hadn't been able to get the scent of the girl in the straitjacket himself, but there was no reason scent couldn't identify her. Once given a name, the prisoner would have a history, and that history would make it easier to judge if she was where she belonged.
Chip was ninety-nine percent sure that the mouse who had impersonated Gadget on so many robberies was Lawhiney, the beautiful but deadly femme-fatal who had challenged both his love for Gadget and his wits as a detective on the island paradise of Hawaii. Months ago Chip had written to the Chief of the Hawaiian tribe-mice and discovered that Lawhiney had escaped from the isolated and well-guarded hut where Chief Hubba Hubba had sworn she would live out her days for her many crimes against his tribe.
No matter how dead the case was, no matter how cold the trail, Chip wanted to know the name of the mouse in the mask. He was ninety percent sure that name wasn't Lawhiney. He had seen the prisoner's natural hair colour where it showed through at the roots and it had been wrong for Lawhiney. That meant either the mouse he had just left behind in that cold, dark place was innocent of most, if not all, the crimes she had been convicted of; or Lawhiney was never involved with this case, that she had nothing to do with the counterfeit rangers and never had.
Chip wondered what the odds were of Gadget Hackwrench being impersonated twice, by two different people, on entirely separate and unconnected occasions.
They were long odds.
In the four hours since Haggs had left her alone, Gadget had calculated the number of bubble wrap bubbles it would take to cover the Sahara Desert, Death Valley California and many other very, very dry places. The sight of Deputy Warden Marion Cedar was a welcome one.
"I'm going to remove your straitjacket and restraints. I can get someone else in the cell if you're going to cause trouble but I'd rather have a little talk with you in private." Marion said.
Gadget looked at her steadily. "It's alright. I won't cause trouble. I've never wanted to cause trouble for anybody."
"Right then, I'm going to trust you on that." The chipmunk lady replied.
With those words, the Deputy Warden opened the door to the cell. She entered and, after a pointed look first at Gadget and then at the still open cell door, began undoing the straps that were holding the young mouse to the upright gurney.
"Mister Maplewood mentioned that he might visit you again when I was saying goodbye to him. I thought that was rather nice of him." Marion began. "I wouldn't set your hopes too high, or tell too many people about it, though. You might make people jealous of the special attention you're getting and he's a very busy chipmunk, after all. Once a person has been convicted of a crime, it really does take a very long time to free them, even with strong evidence behind you."
Gadget turned her big eyes away from the open door and towards the chipmunk. The Deputy Warden seemed to be deliberately avoiding eye contact.
"Did Chip say that he was going to work on releasing me?" Gadget asked.
The chipmunk paused with something that might have been a half-smile and met Gadget's eye. "Mister Maplewood didn't say that he was, no, but he is still investigating the crimes you were convicted of. I'm sure that if he finds any evidence that suggests you shouldn't be here then he'll pass it on to the appropriate authorities." Marion turned her face back to the buckles and straps. "I'm going to take you up to the Warden's office when you've had a chance to get the feeling back in your arms and legs. She's just come back from a Disciplinary Hearing at the Medical Council."
Gadget looked surprised. "Disciplinary Hearing? Whose?"
Marion looked at her in amazement. "Why, Doctor Schadenfreude's, of course! Someone has to be held accountable for what almost happened to you in the electroshock room."
"But that wasn't his fault!" Gadget protested. "He was hurt trying to get me out of that chair! And he told me that he never wrote that order for me to be taken there. Someone must have faked his signature."
Marion undid the last of the straps. "Well, I could believe that but the board felt otherwise. They seemed to feel that some of his other behaviour has been, well, unprofessional: the earmuffs, hanging upside down during his sessions with patients and one or two other things. They said it was bringing the profession into disrepute and that he most likely wrote the order when he was thinking about something else and then forgot about it.
"To be fair, the Doctor always has been very absent-minded and forgetful, but I don't believe he ever did any harm by it. I've always thought he seemed like a bit of an innocent." Marion Cedar looked sad. "They've suspended him, pending a full enquiry."
"Oh. We've got to do something." Gadget said.
"Well, someone has to. I think you should just mind your P's and Q's and try to stay out of trouble. Turn around and bend over, please."
Gadget complied without hesitation; she felt none of apprehension she might have suffered if the order had come from Haggs.
"Whoever put this thing on strapped you in really tight." Marion observed.
Gadget gasped as the strap that ran between her legs was momentarily tightened and released.
"Haggs. It was Haggs." Gadget said and winced as circulation returned to the places that had become numb.
"Really? Well, I'm sure she wasn't trying to make you uncomfortable. She probably just thought she was being thorough." Marion tried to reassure the prisoner, but remained unconvinced herself.
"No, I mean it was Haggs who forged the order to have me electro-shocked." Gadget clarified.
"Really. And you witnessed this, I suppose? Turn around again so I can finish getting you out of this thing."
Gadget turned. The straitjacket, like all straitjackets, opened completely at the back like a hospital gown. She had to hold out her arms so the Deputy Warden could pull the jacket off by the long straps on the sleeves.
"Of course not." Gadget said. Her arms had been held across her chest for so long that she had been close to getting cramps in them. She shook and stretched them as she talked. "I worked it out. I've had lots of time to think and I do know a little about detective work. I was going to tell Chip about it but Officer Haggs put a ball gag in my mouth and covered it with a hockey mask. I thought it was so I wouldn't tell on her, but she said she did it just so I know who's boss."
Marion hummed as she considered the machinegun fire speed the mouse was talking at. Not quite as fast as the chipmunk chatter between her and Chip Maplewood earlier but certainly close. "She forged an order to have you electro-shocked to show you who's boss?"
"No! Because I told Doctor Schadenfreude about Officer Haggs beating Bubbles McGee the night I had my hair tied to the cell bars by the other inmates in my cell!" Gadget didnt pause for breath. "He went to see the Warden and when he came back he told me he believed me. Officer Haggs only started coming to the psychiatric wing after that. I don't know if she was looking for revenge or just to make sure it didn't happen again but the way she did it was pretty smart, though; Doctor Schadenfreude is out of Officer Haggs' way and if it had worked I'd be in no condition to tell any tales."
"You heard her beating your friend from five cells away, while you were hanging from the bars and shouting for help?"
"I stopped shouting for help pretty soon. Everyone in the cellblock was just laughing and making smart remarks. Some of them even made suggestions. After a while the big rat in the cell said she'd start taking requests if I didn't If I wasn't quiet." Gadget turned her large blue eyes on Marion Cedar. They were like a lost child's. "I was awake all night and I heard a lot of different things."
Marion didn't speak. She had walked the halls of Shrankshaw Prison at night and knew the sounds they made too well. Sometimes she heard them in her sleep.
"I didn't understand most of what I heard. I didn't even understand some of the suggestions the prisoners made and I don't think I'm sheltered or prudish." Gadget said. "After all, I'm a Rescue Ranger, I've seen lots of bad things; I deal with criminals all the time."
Marion hesitated while she was folding the straitjacket. She hoped they weren't making a terrible mistake by not transferring this girl to a proper mental institution.
"Come in." Warden Phelps looked up from the paperwork she had been clearing.
The Deputy Warden opened the door and entered with a smile and a shake of her head. "I've brought the prisoner." She announced.
"On your own? Not standard procedure, Marion." Warden Phelps reproved her.
"Well, no. I, uh, know. I wanted a chance to talk to her. It wasn't easy to get a word in edgeways."
"She is quite a motor-mouth-mouse, from what I recall." Chuckled the warden.
"She's absolutely sure that Margo Haggs fixed that order to have her sent for ECT. She thinks it was because she passed on her concerns about Bubbles McGee."
The Warden became grim. "I'm not entirely sure she doesn't have a point. Doctor Schadenfreude might be absentminded but sending someone for ECT when our ECT room hasn't been used in years! I don't know how the Medical Council can take it seriously."
"Margo has sailed pretty close to the wind in the past, but there's never been any serious evidence against her. Surely you don't really think she's capable of criminal activity?" Marion seemed appalled that a fellow prison officer might behave like an inmate.
"We'd better keep that possibility quiet until we do have some serious evidence." the Warden cautioned her.
"This girl we don't have a proper name for: she still insists on calling herself Gadget Hackwrench."
"I hope you've explained why she should stop doing that?"
"I think her first night gave her a pretty good idea, though she doesn't know how bad it could get." Marion looked depressed. "She asked me what 'being the human' meant on the way up. I couldn't bring myself to tell her."
Warden Phelps sighed heavily. "Send her in. And go and find Bubbles McGee. I'll try and finish what you started."
Marion left briefly to escort their troublesome inmate into the office and then departed with a polite nod. The Warden pretended to be momentarily preoccupied with her paperwork in order to study the young inmate in front of her; a mouse of slightly more than average height with a figure many females would have died to possess, a head of badly cut deep-red hair which was now beginning to look like a dye job and a pair of clear blue eyes filled with relief and hope.
Gertrude Phelps had long since ceased to pride herself on being a fine judge of character. She had seen too many clean, polite inmates with good manners and honest faces enter her prison with the blood freshly washed from their paws. Even so, she could detect no real badness in the mouse before her.
"You wanted to see me, Warden Phelps?" The voice was a little timid. Certainly better suited to a prisoner meeting with a prison warden than the tone she had used the last time she was in this office.
"Yes. How are you feeling?"
A flicker of mistrust ran across the inmate's face.
"I'm fine, thank you." The words came quickly, a little too quickly for Warden Phelps to believe them, even from a motor-mouth-mouse.
"Are you sure? That business with the ECT room must have been very upsetting."
"Oh, it was, but the pain didn't last all that long and I'm used to getting electric shocks from my inventions."
"Your workshop?" Warden Phelps lifted an eyebrow.
The inmate hesitated with an answer on her lips. She watched the Warden's reaction carefully when she spoke. "Yes. My workshop. In Rescue Ranger HQ, located in the big oak tree in the west corner of Central Park. I haven't been there since the day I was arrested but that's where I work on my inventions, which I use in my work as a Rescue Ranger."
The two mouse women looked levelly at each other for a heartbeat or two. Then The Warden took a deep breath and took the plunge. "You do realise that no-one in here believes you are Gadget Hackwrench." She tried.
"Yes. Yes, that's very clear to me."
"You've told me that you are Gadget Hackwrench before. I didn't believe you then." The Warden pointed out.
"No. You didn't."
"I sent you to the Special Ward on the Psychiatric Wing." The Warden added, pointedly.
The inmate hesitated before answering. "I know."
"Do you want to go back to the Psychiatric Wing?" The Warden looked down while she spoke, her conscience weighing on her.
"No." Gadget almost whispered.
"Speak up, please."
"No, Warden. I don't want to go back to the Psychiatric Wing." The inmate stared straight ahead with a blank look, as though she was trying not to hear the words coming out of her mouth. For the first time she was behaving like a real convict. The Warden didn't know whether to be glad or sorry.
"But you're still telling me that you're Gadget Hackwrench, even though I didn't believe you last time."
"Because it's true. I don't want to lie about it. Asides from anything else, it will be too difficult to explain why I told a lie when the truth is discovered."
The Warden picked over her paperwork for a few seconds. "I feel like I'm arguing about an article of faith with someone who's been jailed for a religious belief." She finally observed. "Chip Maplewood was here today; a renowned detective and your friend and leader, according to your version of events. Are you saying he didn't know you?"
"It's not the first time. There was a case on Hawaii where I met a mouse who looked just like me. Even her scent was a pretty close match if you weren't paying attention, or maybe standing really close to her on a hot day. We could have been " Gadget stopped, caught up on another memory, this time of an insolvable problem that she had long abandoned due to insufficient data.
She was too distracted to notice the Warden's fascinated stare. "Could have been what?"
"Sisters from the same litter." Gadget said faintly.
"That's very interesting. What was her name?" The Warden's voice was gentle, but there was no hiding the excitement under it.
"Lawhiney. It was a name she adopted when she entered the tribe she never told them her real name and she refused to tell any of us, no matter who asked. Not many people knew about it you could check with the Rangers "
"And tell them that you've tried to prove you are Gadget Hackwrench by revealing details of the only case they've had involving a person who looked like Gadget Hackwrench? No don't go on. Almost every case handled by the original Rescue Ranger team is well known, or at least not impossible to find out about."
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to annoy you." The prisoner said bitterly.
"You haven't. In fact, Doctor Schadenfreude would be delighted. Unfortunately, the good Doctor will be unable to attend any more sessions with you for the foreseeable future. He has some urgent business to attend to and it doesn't permit him to continue his practice here. That was one of the things I wanted to discuss with you."
"Does the Doctor's urgent business have anything to do with Officer Haggs faking an order for my electroshock treatment?" The redhead's fiery temper showed for the first time since she had entered the office.
"Behave yourself, 24601, I can have you back in a padded cell in a heartbeat. I won't tolerate any belligerence."
Gadget subsided. Shoulders back and eyes looking anywhere that wasn't making eye contact, she was acting like a convict again.
"I was able to talk about your case at length before the Doctor took his leave. He has confirmed that you are sane and that it is therefore possible to be returned to the general population, however he tells me that you do have some remarkably unstable tendencies and that you should therefore be monitored carefully. He recommends that I should take any mental health problems you complain of in the future seriously and that I should review whether you should be returned to the Psychiatric Wing in 28 days or whenever Officer Haggs returns to duty elsewhere in the prison." The Warden lifted her eyebrows a couple of times to indicate conspiracy.
Gadget was unimpressed. "If I'm sane, then I am who I say I am and I should be released."
"Unfortunately, 24601, sane people lie all the time."
Gadget scowled, acknowledging the point. "If you know Officer Haggs is doing wrong, then why let her run free through the prison?"
"I don't know she's doing wrong, I suspect she's doing wrong and it's very easy to be suspicious of someone you don't like. I don't have the right to get rid of someone just because I don't like them." Warden Phelps explained patiently.
The prisoner stared at her with suspicion. After a moment she said: "That's not the real reason."
"It is the real reason!" The Warden declared hotly, wondering why she was bothering with this wretched girl whose crimes had outraged the entire city.
"It isn't the only reason, then. I could have been killed in that ECT chair. You got a shock yourself, so did the Doctor, and you suspended the orderlies on the spot."
The inmate's eyes were penetrating. They reminded the Warden of Chip Maplewood's eyes, which she had looked into just a few short hours ago. Shaking her head, the Warden found herself admitting something that only her trusted deputy, Marion Cedar knew.
"Margo Haggs has friends throughout the Department of Corrections; better than friends in some places. She's a by-the-book officer who can get results, when she wants to. If I threw her out, she'd be calling in favours left, right and centre. If I suspend Margo Haggs I don't think I could make it stick at a Board of Enquiry and then I'd have to reinstate her. I'd look bad and lose friends along the way. Some of my reforms aren't popular; I need friends to get the budget approvals that I need."
"I see. So it's all about money." The young mouse rocked back on her heels, considering a plain and ugly truth she hadn't expected to uncover.
"I need the money to improve life for the inmates here! Some of them genuinely want to lead good lives. Can you understand that? Wanting to lead an ordinary life and never being allowed to? Can you even imagine it? Being locked away in a place like this, perhaps for your whole life, because you haven't been given the chances other people were when they were growing up? Or because you've acted foolishly once in your life and never been allowed to forget it?"
The Warden's passion surprised Gadget. It may have surprised the Warden, too.
"I won't have to imagine it, will I?" The prisoner said sadly. "I'm going to be here to experience it first hand!"
"You want to reform, then?" The Warden asked.
"I dont need to reform. I'm not a criminal." Gadget pouted.
"OH, FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE, GIRL! You've told it to the person who arrested you, the jury, the judge and you've told it to me when you first got here and to anyone else who will listen!" The Warden slammed her open hands against the desktop. "Rightly or wrongly you are here until the powers that be say otherwise, so stop WHINING about it!"
Gadget flinched like a frightened child in front of the head-teacher. When she saw the Warden's glare, it took all Gadget's courage to speak up. "Warden, I can see you're a good person but the bottom line is that you're willing to let Haggs do whatever she wants, so long as she's discrete, simply because you want money oh, I dont say you want it for yourself, you'd probably turn it down if someone offered it to you personally. You want it for the prisoners, me included, but you are still letting someone do something bad for money."
"How dare you!" the Warden hissed. She would have gone on but a sharp rap on the door stopped her. "Come!" she ordered.
Marion Cedar opened the door and escorted Bubbles McGee into the office. The Deputy Warden didn't notice the tension between the two mice but the brunette inmate seemed to shrink as her eyes flickered between the Warden and Gadget Hackwrench.
"I've brought Bubbles McGee to see you, Warden, as you requested." Marion said formally.
"Thank you, Marion. McGee, you're an old hand at life behind bars. You've been here before and you know how things work. I understand you already know this young lady. In fact, I'm told that you've been asking after her health?"
"Ma'am?" Bubbles quailed.
"You've been bribing one of the trustees to make sure the food she gets hasn't been tampered with. I know all about it. And you, 24601, you might have taken a long time over it, but you put yourself in harm's way to make sure McGee wasn't being abused."
The two prisoners glanced at each other.
"Officer Haggs felt that the last thing a new inmate needed was to be locked up with an old hand who would teach her bad habits. Have either of you any thoughts on that?"
"No Ma'am." Bubbles replied without hesitation.
Gadget opened her mouth and shut it again when Bubbles stepped on her tail. Across the table, something that might have been a smile flickered across the Warden's face.
"That's a start, at least." The Warden said. "I'm inclined to think it's high time someone taught you something about the real world, 24601, even if it is a bad habit."
Gadget's jaw dropped indignantly.
"24601. We really can't keep on calling you that; not after nearly a month here. What do you call her, McGee?"
"Red, Ma'am. I call her Red, cause of her hair. So do the other girls." Bubbles said.
"Tell the other Officers, Marion, and add 'Red' to 24601's file as an alias. Try to stay out of trouble, both of you. That's all." The Warden put on a pair of reading glasses and returned to her paperwork, as though they had already left.
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