Gadget in Chains
Written by: Loneheart
Chapter Seventeen: Catfight, Mouse-fight, Mouse-fight!
"I hope that rotten good for nothing impostor is enjoying herself." Gadget slurred as Molly and Bubbles helped her back to her cell. "'Cause when I catch up with her, it isn't going to any fun for her at all."
"Yeah, try and hold that thought." Bubbles agreed. "Of course, you're going to be about forty-five by then and I expect she'll be married and living in a big house. First thing she'll do after you ruin her fun is call the nearest vigilante gang and they'll bring your scrawny tail straight back here. You'll be behind bars when you're older than Darla if you start thinking like that."
"Darla. Now Darla's nice. And Shelly seemed okay. Molly reminded me of Monty. I bet she doesnt take any nonsense from anybody."
"That's right, so you better not give her any, or you'll find out what she does when someone does give her nonsense." Bubbles told her. "You might be used to dealing with a lot of nice tame males who are too well brought up to hit a pretty girl but Molly's got a right hook like a prize fighter and her using it on you is no different from one male slugging another. And you do know how little it takes for guys to do that, and how hard they can hit each other, right?"
Gadget thought about Chip and Dale and the last argument she had seen them have. Dale had passed her a spoon for her morning half a grape with lemon juice. She had smiled and thanked him. Before she had swallowed the first mouthful the two chipmunks were rolling around on the kitchen floor, fighting over whose turn it was to wash up. In the end she had declared that she would do it, simply to keep the peace.
Bubbles watched her expression and read it like an open book; a large print open book at that. "Yeah, I figured a pretty girl like you would have seen a few guys fight."
"They don't fight over me." Gadget was in denial.
"Whenever two guys fight in front of a woman it's because of her. Even when the trouble starts over something else, it ends up with fighting because neither one wants to back down in front of a good-looking girl. Something below the waist thinks a girl's less likely to hitch up with the one who backs down." Bubbles disillusioned her.
"Chip and Dale would fight less without me?"
"Red! Sheesh, you've got to get a grip, girl. Remember what you promised? No more pretending to be Gadget Hackwrench?"
"Who says she's pretending?" Asked a smug, self-satisfied voice.
Both Bubbles and Gadget turned slowly towards the speaker. It was Roxie, the white mouse. As she stepped out of the side corridor she had been standing in, two large rats slid out of the shadows behind her. All had evil smiles.
"Heard about your little party, girls. Guess my invite got lost in the mail, huh? Never mind. I got better things to do than watch the twins play pattycake with each other, anyway." Roxie sneered.
"Roxie! What do you want?" Bubbles demanded, her tone belligerent with Dutch courage.
Roxie was surprised. She hadn't expected an old hand like Bubbles McGee to stick by a lost cause like the redhead against such overwhelming odds. "What do I want? Well, gee, McGee, I just want to satisfy my curiosity. See, some of us were wondering, what if, just maybe, she's the real deal?"
"Are you insane?" Bubbles demanded.
"Hey, what if someone on the outside really had it in for her? I mean really had it in for her. Wouldn't the best way to really stick it to a crime-fighter be to turn her into a criminal? To put her in a place like this? To make her one of us, when she's spent her whole life thinking she's better than us?" Roxie was in full swing now. She advanced on Red on Gadget mercilessly.
"I'm not a crime-fighter!" Gadget objected (truthfully, in her own opinion). "The Rangers are a search and rescue organisation, not a law enforcement agency. That's why we're called Rescue Rangers. We only fight criminals when our work brings us into conflict with them."
"Oh, Red! You're hopeless!" Bubbles sighed.
"I'll say she is!" smirked Roxie. "Notice she doesn't deny thinking she's better than you!"
"Red doesn't think she's better than us!" Bubbles snapped back. "Red, tell her-"
Bubbles broke off.
Gadget was standing stock still halfway between Bubbles and Roxie, staring thoughtfully off into space with one crocked finger hanging from her lower lip. She seemed unaware of her surroundings, as if entirely absorbed by some internal conflict.
"You do think you're better than me, don't you?" Bubbles asked softly, her voice somewhere between disbelief and disappointment.
Gadget did not answer; she was still lost in her own thoughts.
In the heartbeat or so that Gadget had devoted herself to answering her friend's very simple question, Roxie had stepped in close to her. Now Roxie almost lazily slapped Gadget across the face with the back of her hand. The blow was not as hard as it might have been, but it was enough to force Gadget's attention to more material problems.
"I didn't do anything to you." Gadget said.
Roxie's hard blue eyes blinked at Gadget. Gadget continued to stare directly into them, both in reproof and in hope that Roxie would back down. She didn't.
"Yeah, you did." Roxie said. "You got me drenched in sewage water and then you got me knocked on to my tail and then you kept me awake the whole first night here with your non-stop whining and every time it's because you can't keep your smart little mouth shut."
Roxie grabbed Gadget's face and then squeezed her mouth into an artificial pout. Gadget tried to twist away but Roxie followed her every move.
"How am I going to teach you to keep that mouth shut? Put something nasty in it, perhaps? Or show you how to put it to better use?" Roxie taunted.
Furious, Gadget raised a fist to punch the bully in the face. One of the rats Roxie had brought with her had worked her way around to stand behind Gadget. The rat immediately grabbed the fist and used it to lift Gadget completely off the ground.
Gadget gasped. It felt like her arm had been wrenched out of its socket. She was unprepared when Roxie punched her in the stomach, which was now at the same level as Roxie's shoulder.
"Leave her alone! She's not well!" Bubbles lunged forward to help but the other rat grabbed her by the tail and swung her against a wall.
Roxie glanced approvingly towards the violence then leisurely turned back to Gadget with a smile.
Gadget kicked her in the face, hard enough to make her topple backwards.
The rat holding Gadget growled. Gadget cut the growl off by twisting her body round until she was in position to bury her elbow in the rat's throat. The rat gasped and dropped Gadget to the floor.
Gadget landed on all fours. She took careful aim and shot back a foot to kick the rat in the knee.
The rat choked with pain and fell over.
Bubbles slumped against the wall she had collided with.
The rat that had dealt with Bubbles was still holding onto Bubbless tail, but the rat's attention was on "Red".
Tiny "Red", half the size of the rat she had just reduced to a ball of pain. Well, she had knees and a throat too, thought the second rat.
The rat took a step forward.
Gadget, still on all fours, nonetheless managed to crouch. She glared at the rat, anger rolling around behind her eyes like hot oil.
The rat took another step forward. She still held Bubbles by the tail and dragged her across the floor without realising. Gadget watched the rat across the hall take another confident step forward, heard the rat behind her begin to stir, and decided to strike while she could.
Roxie lay on her side, with a dumbfounded expression, halfway between Gadget and Bubbless rat. It hadn't occurred to her that "Red" could be dangerous. She couldn't see Bubbles or the rat that was still standing, so when Gadget tensed her body and prepared to spring forward Roxie assumed she was the intended victim.
Roxie reached into her prison overalls and pulled out an ugly looking knife made out of a razor blade and a chicken bone. She slashed at Gadget from the ground.
Gadget barely saw the blade at all it had already slashed through the left thigh of her prison uniform by the time it entered her field of vision. More by reflex than judgement she threw herself upwards and sideways like a startled cat.
Roxie pulled herself up on to her feet and glanced sideways to see the downed rat climb to her feet again. Her confidence returned, along with the nasty smile.
Gadget backed down a corridor with the two rats in front of her, spearheaded by the armed Roxie.
The rat on the left was limping from the injured knee. The one of the right was still dragging Bubbles. Both were slower than Roxie. As Gadget continued to back away the gap between Roxie and the rats slowly widened.
Bubbles began to shake off her daze, noisily, by swearing. Gadget took note before the rat holding Bubbless tail did.
Bubbles sat up and sank her teeth into the right buttock of her rat. She was rewarded with a loud shriek.
The limping rat looked over, distracted.
Gadget made the best use she could out of the opportunity and threw herself at Roxie. The buzz of homebrew racing around her veins made Gadget less frightened than she should have been.
Roxie slashed at Gadget.
Gadget was expecting it and intercepted the blow using a trick Monty and her father had shown her long ago. The knife was in Roxie's right hand. Gadget sidestepped to her left and blocked the swiping blade by grabbing Roxie's knife arm at the elbow. Then Gadget brought her right hand up from under and locked her fingers around Roxie's wrist and twisted as hard as she could. It wasn't enough. Roxie didn't drop the knife.
Still twisting Roxie's wrist, Gadget turned on her heel until she faced the same direction her attacker did. She threw her left leg in front of Roxie's right leg and forced the white mouse's arm forward and up, twisting until the knife was pointed to the floor. Roxie had no choice but to step forward and trip over Gadget's leg.
Roxie's face slammed into the floor.
Gadget released her grip on Roxie's arm, kicked the knife further along the corridor. Roxie lay stunned, face down.
Elated, Gadget turned through a full circle to face the two rats and planted her heel on the back of Roxie's neck for good measure.
The two rats were trying to prise Bubbless teeth off the buttock of the unfortunate rat that Bubbles had bitten. If they tried much harder, it was entirely possible that Bubbless head would come off. Gadget considered her chances of taking down both the enraged rats before they could dismember her friend. They weren't good. She would need an edge and unfortunately she had just kicked the only available edge half way down the hall.
Drunk, angry and frightened now, Gadget ran to fetch the knife, treading on the back of Roxie's head with her full weight on the way.
In the dingy light the grey razor blade of Roxie's homemade knife was almost invisible against the concrete floor. Only the chicken-bone-white of the handle showed up, and Gadget was grateful it wasn't the other way round as she snatched at it and skidded to a halt like a baseball player sliding home.
"Just what do you think you're going to do with that, dearie?" Roxie taunted softly from a safe distance. Behind her, Bubbles looked thoroughly defeated. One of the rats was holding Gadget's friend out at shoulder-level, a large hand almost entirely encircling Bubbless neck.
"You can't use that on me. They'll rip your friend apart." Roxie developed the theme. "Run for help and it's the same story. Won't be anyone left to bring help back to. Not to mention you might trip and have yourself a little accident if you go running around with such a sharp knife. No telling what that's cut in the past. Sure you want to be seen holding it? You might as well just give it back and take what's coming to you."
Gadget's shoulders slumped as Roxie talked. Everything the white mouse was saying was true. Gadget's eyes darted to and fro as she searched for a way out but she couldn't think of one. The choice was to abandon Bubbles and save her self, or surrender to whatever Roxie had in mind and hope that she and Bubbles could both walk away afterwards. As a ranger, she had made the choice to risk her own life for the sake of others long ago. The knife almost fell from her hand.
"'Atta' girl." Roxie encouraged. "Maybe I won't take too much off the ears after all "
It was like throwing a match on gasoline.
Roxie had held out a hand when she asked for the knife. Gadget lunged and grabbed the hand and pulled on it with all her strength. Roxie stumbled. Suddenly Gadget was behind Roxie and the knife was at the white mouse's throat.
"Alright." Gadget growled. "You two put Bubbles down or I'll be the one doing the trimming. A little off the top, for starters."
"You arent the type." Sneered the rat Bubbles had bitten.
Gadget didn't speak. She simply scraped the blade against Roxie's skin and sent a snow flurry of shaved white fur scattering to the floor. Roxie whimpered.
The rats exchanged a glance. "You wouldn't " the bitten one said.
"From what I hear, it was what you had lined up for me." Gadget snapped.
Roxie began babbling the word "no" over and over again.
"We were just told to hold you down and stop Bubbles getting in the way." The rat holding Bubbles sniffed. "Nothing else."
Bubbles had gone limp. Her eyes bulged frighteningly and her lips were nearly purple.
"Let her go. Now!" Gadget hadn't noticed it, but her hand had started shaking. The blade scratched a jagged red line on bare patch of skin she had just shaved.
The two rats exchanged another look and shrugged at each other. The one holding Bubbles dropped her in a heap like a piece of dirty laundry.
"Fair's fair. I let her go, you let Roxie go." The rat said.
Gadget smiled. She was catching on. "No."
"Whaa?" The bitten rat looked at her incredulously.
"I said no." Gadget replied. She felt like she was ahead of the learning curve here. "You can get lost or you can try and jump me but, I promise you, someone's going to get hurt if you do." Probably me, Gadget added in the privacy of her own head, but you can't be sure of that and somehow I don't think you like Roxie enough to chance it.
"I could just pick her up by the throat again." The other rat said casually, with a nod to Bubbles.
From the floor, Bubbles made a weak bubbly noise.
Gadget glared at the rats, her once innocent eyes hard and cold for perhaps the first time in her life. "Get out of here. Or else."
The bitten rat took an angry step forward. Then voices came from the far end of the corridor. "There they are. Come on, you idle buggers!"
It was Darla. From somewhere behind her, Molly could be heard muttering to herself, promising mayhem and destruction. The sound of running paws began to approach them.
"We can deal with them." The bitten rat told her friend. "We're bigger than them."
"There are five of them. The nutcase holding Roxie makes six." The other rat proved she could count.
"You want everyone to know we were run off by Darla and the crazy fresh fish?" The bitten rat was nursing her pride as well as the bite marks in her rump.
"It's not worth it. Not for what Roxie offered us." The other one said. "You coming?"
The bitten rat snorted at Gadget in contempt and turned away. She aimed a last kick at the prone Bubbles before she followed her friend.
Gadget watched them leave. She noted that while the sound of her reinforcements was loud and nearby, they were also approaching at a speed that gave the rats time to debate their next course of action and then wonder away nonchalantly, as though they had simply got bored with waiting for their opposition to show up. She wondered if that was deliberate or if rescuing the "crazy fresh fish" wasn't important enough to merit running.
Seeing her muscle desert her, Roxie collapsed. "I wasn't going to shave you! I promise!" she sobbed miserably. "I was only told to take a notch out of your ear so everyone would know the boss had marked you out for special attention."
"You mean someone told you to do this? Who?" Gadget gripped Roxie by the ear and shook her roughly. "Who? I want answers!"
"Haggs. Please don't hurt me. Haggs." Gadget let go of Roxie's ear and allowed the inmate to slump onto her knees where she sobbed to herself. "I don't belong here. I didn't know what was in the bag. I don't want to be in prison. I'll be old when I get out."
It was only then that Gadget noticed that a half moon shape had been cut out of Roxie's ear. The cut looked recent, probably less than a week old. Someone had probably already put the white mouse through this ordeal and then told her to pass it on.
Gadget felt a sudden pang of sympathy for the failed bully. Slowly she reached down and gently patted the white mouse on the shoulder; but the gesture that would have seemed natural, almost habit, two weeks ago seemed as foreign to her as a language she hadn't heard since childhood. A slight noise behind her reminded Gadget that she hadn't even checked on Bubbles yet.
"Uh, Bubbles, are you going to be okay? Can you breathe?" Gadget asked guiltily.
Bubbles growled something incomprehensible that was almost certainly a swearword.
"What do you think we should do about her?" Gadget asked. She didn't like the idea of just leaving someone, even Roxie, curled up in a ball and sobbing, like a baby.
"How about this for starters?" Bubbles grabbed Roxie's hair, pulled her head up and punched her in the face.
After Bubbles had punched Roxie in the face several times, she had pulled the mouse-girl's tail with both hands. Gadget had heard the unmistakeable crunch of dislocated bone as Bubbles swung Roxie against the wall with all her strength. As Roxie had lain and whimpered for mercy Darla, Molly and the twins had surrounded her. Gadget had supported Bubbles, whose strength seemed entirely spent by her brief revenge.
Gadget still held Roxie's knife in one hand.
"You take her back to the cell, Red." Molly ordered. "We'll deal with this piece of trash."
"She's beaten. She lost the fight. Isn't that enough?" Gadget appealed to them.
Four pairs of hardened eyes looked at her.
"No, it ain't." Molly replied.
"Please, no?" Roxie begged Gadget.
"Haggs told her to do it. She's got a notch out her ear like the one Haggs has." Gadget said.
Molly bent and grabbed Roxie by the wounded ear. "She's going to get worked over either way then. Haggs doesn't like it when someone lets her down and then rats her out."
"But she doesn't have to be hurt by us." Gadget said. She could feel the eyes of someone close to her staring intently. It was Bubbles.
"Red, have you seen the state of me?" Bubbles asked gently. "I could have been killed. I dont want go through this again. If we do something to her because she tried to get rough with us and lost, then everyone else who might get rough will think twice about it. It's like advertising, see?"
Gadget looked at Bubbles for a long time, like a child asking a parent for the world to be a better place than it was. Then, finally, Gadget knew what she had to say, even though she didn't want to admit it to herself.
"She's like me." Gadget said.
Molly snorted in derision.
"No, really." Gadget pressed ahead. "You said yourselves I didn't belong in here. I don't. Roxie fell in love with someone who gave her a bag of stolen property and left her to wait for the cops while he ran out the back way. She was convicted for someone else's crime, just like I was. Bubbles, if I hadn't met you on the barge, if you hadn't befriended me on the barge and looked out for me, stopped me from making more mistakes than I did anyway, then maybe I'd be like her by now. Take away your influence on me, Bubbles, and Roxie there is about what you would have left."
Bubbles, still leaning heavily on Gadget's shoulder, looked like she was ready to pity somebody but it was impossible to say just who. "I'm hurt, Red. I'm hurt, I'm tired and I'm your friend here, not her! I'm the one who took on a rat twice my size for you a few minutes ago. Do you remember that?"
"I remember, Bubbles, I remember." Gadget whispered.
"You remember! You remember it the next time someone says that you think you're better than me and I ask you whether it's true!" Bubbles stormed.
Gadget flushed guiltily. "I I'm sorry, Bubbles. I swear Ill never think of myself as better than you again but please, dont do anything that will force me to lower my opinion of myself to keep that promise!"
Molly watched the sentimental exchange between the two friends with cool disapproval. As for the suggestion that Red had at some point considered herself better than Bubbles, who was seasoned and experienced and who had taken the little crackpot under her wing, Molly would keep a careful eye on Red from now on. If she saw any sign of it for herself then Molly would make it her business to straighten Red out. "If you two are done, I'd say it was time to do kick some tail here." The mole growled.
Bubbles looked long into Gadget's eyes and then sighed. "Look, take Roxie somewhere quiet and teach her a lesson, but nothing that's going to stop her working tomorrow. She's got that to look forward to from Haggs, anyway."
"Great. That'll leave her more scared of Haggs than us and when Haggs tells her to try again, she'll be back with a couple more friends than she had this time." Darla sneered.
Bubbles shrugged at Gadget as if to say: Well, I tried. What more do you want?
Gadget took a deep breath. "Look. Maybe she'll be more scared of Haggs than us. Maybe she should be. But maybe she'll be grateful to us for not hurting her."
"Oh please." Molly growled. " Right now that girl doesn't know what gratitude is, even if she did when she came in here. And why should she be more scared of Haggs than us? Because Haggs is a guard? It's two of us she tried to hurt, not two of them."
"Because Haggs is the bad guy!" Gadget exclaimed.
Everyone looked at her.
She had briefly forgotten that she was talking to convicted criminals. For the first time in her life, Gadget wondered if she was having a blonde moment. "Well, I don't think I'm a bad guy." She pointed out.
"Did you have earwax when the judge sentenced you, honey?" Molly demanded.
"Red, whatever you think she might have been before she arrived here, right now she's the person who tried to cut you up and have my head unscrewed when I tried to stop her. Now, in this situation you can be her friend or you can be mine. Are you hers or mine? Choose. Now."
"Yours." Gadget hung her head. "I'm yours."
"Good. Now I'd like to go back to our cell and it would help if I had someone to lean on."
Gadget looked at the others for a moment and sighed deeply as she accepted some unpleasant facts. "You're going to do something horrible to her the moment I leave, aren't you?"
Heads nodded in perfect time with each other.
"Fine. Then I won't leave. Would one of you please help Bubbles back to her cell? She's not feeling well." Gadget decided.
Bubbles wearily grumbled something into Gadget's shoulder.
Molly glared at Gadget. "Fine." She snapped. "You can watch. I told Bubbles you could use toughening up, anyway."
"Remember what you said about Molly not taking any nonsense?" Bubbles said in a low voice directly into Gadget's ear. "If you're not careful, you'll be doing more than watching. You'll be a participant. Maybe even on the receiving end."
"You mean I need to be toughened up the way she toughened up?" Gadget, speaking to Molly, pointed at Roxie. "A while ago you were saying that I wasn't like her. Back at the party, you seemed to think that was a good thing."
Molly seemed to regret her words. She sighed as she looked at Gadget and blinked slowly. "I do, honey. I guess you don't need any toughening, come to that. Figure you proved that when you picked up that knife." Molly nodded to the blade that was still hanging from Gadget's hand.
Gadget tightened her grip on the blade. She didn't want the knife but she wanted to avoid someone else having it more, even if it was one of her new friends
Molly noted the gesture disapprovingly. "Like I said, you don't need to get any tougher, but you do need to learn who your friends are. See, even if we give in and you walk off into the sunset arm in arm with Roxie as your new best friend, tomorrow morning she's going to find herself nose to nose with Haggs again. Or nose to some part of Haggs' anatomy, if you get my meaning. Then she'll sell you out. You'll be back where you were five minutes ago, only without Bubbles or any other friends to watch your back.
"Now you stick around-" Molly continued "-and maybe after we've taught Roxie here a little lesson, you can try your angel of mercy routine again and this time we'll listen to you. Heck, we'll even let you act like you're rescuing her like Gadget Hackwrench would. You'd like that, wouldn't you, Red?"
Gadget counted to thirty before answering. It took her the length of time it took most people to swallow. Persuading her new friends that revenge was bad, or even unnecessary, seemed impossible and the worst of it was that they were just looking out for her. The important thing, she reminded herself, was to get the wretched Roxie out of this without injury.
A new strategy was called for.
"If I do something to teach her a lesson, will you let her walk away when I think she's had enough?"
"You already think she's had enough." Molly said. "You expect us to just stand here and let her walk away after you slap her across the nose and tell her she's been a bad little mouseling?"
"Would you?" Gadget felt obliged to explore the possibility.
Gadget sighed. "Roxie, I want you to come over here and apologise to me and to Bubbles, for everything, and then I want you to promise that you won't do anything like this again."
Dumbfounded Roxie looked from side to side for someone to countermand the order. When no one did, Roxie sniffled and crawled forward. She knelt in front of Gadget and spoke in a halting voice. "I I'm very sorry. I should shouldn't have tried -" sniff, sob " to hurt you, Red. And I'm sorry you were hurt " she made a small choking sound " Bubbles." Here Roxie began to sob. "I won't do it again; on my life, I won't. Please, may I go now?"
Everyone gaped at her.
"What do you think this is? Some children's story?" Darla complained in a hushed, slightly awed voice.
Gadget looked from face to face in the hope of seeing something like support. Finally she even looked to Roxie looking for an agreement. Roxie looked as if someone had just stepped out of the shadows and told her she was on Candid Camera. Gadget was vaguely aware of some rapid movement to her left and glanced across in time to see Bubbles making indistinct gestures at her own head.
Before Gadget could say anything to Bubbles, Molly spoke up and distracted her. "Okay, Red. You brought Roxie down, I guess you ought to have a say in what happens to her."
Gadget brightened. "You mean it?"
Molly made a slow sweeping gesture to the others to indicate they should be silent. "Sure. You win. You've made your point. Anything to stop the sermon..."
"Unbelievable, I almost get killed and you guys want to let her off with a warning." Bubbles slapped her forehead. "I can't believe I have to stand here listening to this."
"It's the right thing to do, Bubbles. You'll see." Gadget was eager to jolly her along.
"I feel faint." Bubbles grumbled. And suddenly her legs failed her. It was only for an instant but it was dramatic enough to stop Gadget questioning Molly any further.
"I'll take you back to your cell." Gadget said as soon as she was sure she could take the extra weight.
"Our cell, Red. Do you remember the way?" Bubbles reminded her.
"Our cell. No. I don't. I think Darla's homebrew is fogging up my memory." Gadget admitted.
"I'll guide the way." Bubbles told her, smiling bravely. Gadget didn't see the wink Bubbles threw over her shoulder to her friends.
Almost forgotten in the wake of Gadget and Bubbles exit, Roxie also began to shuffle away on her paws and knees. She didn't get very far before she discovered that Molly was standing on her tail. The white mouse looked back at the foreboding expression on Molly's face.
"Red said I could go." Roxie whined in a plaintive voice.
"Red was mistaken." Molly's voice was as final as a cell door closing. "Now, where were we?"
Bubbles lay on her bed in her cell.
The mattress was hard and it was infested with fleas and possibly with lice as well, but Bubbles was used to it. Sometimes when she woke in the morning she couldn't remember which sentence she was serving, but when her feet searched for the ground and she found herself in the top bunk she knew this was her cell, not the pokey little box where she had been locked up with the rat mugger and the gecko housebreaker for two years when she was just twenty years old. Technically this cell was Red's cell too, Bubbles mused, but since Red had spent less than an hour in it since they both arrived in the prison she couldn't really have any claim on it.
Rubbing her neck with one hand, Bubbles allowed the effect of Darla's homebrew to seep away over the next few hours. Her thoughts wondered over memories of the past day like a bored child idling through a museum. "Red" was in the bunk below her. That was as it should be, Bubbles thought. Red was a first timer, inexperienced in the ways of inmates and guards, however fast a learner she was. Red was weak in the head to the point where she thought she was someone else and could be childishly naïve into the bargain. So Red should be the one who got the lower bunk and the decision of whether to lay with her head at the end of the bed next to the bars or the toilet.
Apart from the smell, sleeping with your head at the toilet end of the bunk meant that when someone used the toilet their behind was only a hand span away from your face. Mercifully, in a ladies prison, you didn't have to worry about splashes. The end close to the bars was the obvious choice and the one most prisoners used most nights but at night the guards ran their clubs along bars to wake the prisoners. The guards did this partly out of boredom, partly to check that none of the prisoners had left manikins in their beds while they tunnelled under the walls and partly out of petty sadism.
Red was sleeping with her head against the bars. It wouldn't be night properly for another three hours but when you were this deep underground it didn't make much difference. Bubbles suspected that Red was smiling as she slept, convinced that she had done good this afternoon. The thought made Bubbles smile too, kindly. Red was difficult to dislike, no matter how inconvenient she could be.
"Red?" Bubbles said even though she knew Red was asleep. Again, a little louder: "Red?"
Red grumbled in her sleep.
One last try then. "RED!"
"Uh, wha- garfungle?"
"Red, are you awake?" Bubbles asked casually.
"Uh, yeah." Red sounded bleary.
"About when Roxie said you thought you were better than me. Why didn't you just deny it, no matter what you really thought? I mean, I could have just walked away when you didn't and left you to deal with Roxie and her rats on your own." Bubbles had rolled over on her belly and leaned over the edge of the bunk to see Red's expression.
Gadget frowned. Her clear blue eyes met Bubbles. "I'm sorry about that. I'm not better than you."
"I know. You told me after the fight. Not that I need to be told when someone's not better than me. That's not what I asked."
"Oh." Gadget thought about the question Bubbles had asked. "I hadn't thought about it until Roxie brought it up. I mean, well, to tell the truth, I like you. I mean, I shouldn't be here, because I'm innocent, and you're a self-confessed thief. But I like you. You're friendly. You could probably be a good person if you put your mind to it."
"I am a good person." Snarled Bubbles.
"You're a thief. You told me yourself. That doesn't fit in with being a good person."
"It depends what you steal. And why you steal it." Bubbles snapped.
"Why comes into how bad it is, how easy it is to forgive someone for what they've done. It's still wrong."
"What about holding a knife to someone's throat. Is that wrong?" Bubbles put in.
"You put a knife to Roxie's throat."
"I did it to save you."
"And that makes it right, which makes you good person, which means I can be a good thief. I mean a good person and a thief." Bubbles spoke with almost scientific certainty. She turned over onto her back and looked at the ceiling. The cell's previous occupant had left behind some graffiti of a lurid and artistic nature. Bubbles smiled at it and briefly missed having the cell to her self.
There was a pause. Then from below: "It was wrong of me to put the knife to her throat."
Bubbles hooded her eyes and pursed her lips. "Are you saying that if you had it over, you would have run and left me to take my chances?"
"No. I'd do the same if I had it over. But it was still wrong. A sin." The word seemed strange in Gadget's mouth.
Gadget's religious education had been eccentric. She had counted Buddhist monks and Catholic nuns amongst her childhood babysitters. She had never belonged to any religion herself, though all pilots are of the same religion when the weather turns against them. She frowned as she considered her current status. She was used to operating from a position of absolute moral certainty.
"So you're not a good person? Is that what you're telling me?"
There was long pause.
"Because you did something to save a friend's life? That makes you a bad person?"
"I couldn't find a way of doing it that didn't involve breaking the rules. That makes me I don't know. Flawed, I guess; imperfect, like everyone else. I did wrong holding the knife to Roxie's throat, but I think I can live with it."
"I told you I was going to put my kids through college with my share." Bubbles said.
"There are other ways to put your kids through college. They could even work their own way through college. They might even decide they don't want college degrees."
"It's all I know. But it's not all my kids are going to know. And I can still do it, too. I know where my cut is hidden I had time to do that before some smart-alecky detective worked out I was involved with the robbery. You have no idea just how gracious I'm being about your Rescue Ranger fixation. You might not be the real Gadget Hackwrench but there are a lot of people who would get satisfaction from pummelling the closest thing to Gadget Hackwrench they can find. If I can get out of here, or find someone I can trust who can get to my stash, then my kids will be fed and clothed and educated. That's almost worth fifteen years in here. Assuming I can avoid telling Haggs where my stash is."
Gadget spent a few moments thinking about moral certainty and life without it. She brought out her moral calculus and found the imaginary numbers were all blurred. Then she made a decision. "I'm not going to be here long." She said. "I know you don't believe it but, when they work out who I am, they will let me out of here. If you tell me where your stash is, I won't betray you. I'll see that your kids get your share."
There was another long silence.
"I believe you would. Thanks. I'll think about it." Bubbles said.
Bubbles was prepared to let that be the end of the conversation, but Gadget wanted to know something. "Bubbles?"
Gadget wanted to ask badly but couldn't think of a tactful way to phrase it.
"What?" Bubbles demanded impatiently.
"You're going to be behind bars for fifteen years and you just accept it so well. I'm just having trouble getting my head round how you can do that. I mean I'd expect anyone to just be in denial, or shock, or planning an escape or an appeal, but to just be okay with it? I don't understand."
Bubbles stared at the naughty sketch on the ceiling, her eyes following the lines without seeing the picture itself. She didn't like being reminded of how long her sentence was. She was twenty-four. She was going to be thirty-nine when she got out. She'd be lucky to get more than a year or two off with parole.
"First time I was in prison, I went through the search on the way in trying to pretend that it was all happening to someone else and I was just watching. You know what that's like?" Before Gadget could answer, Bubbles laughed. "Look who I'm asking. Never mind.
"Anyway, as soon as that was over and I looked around I just said to myself: I'm not going to stay here for two years. Then I spent a year chasing my tail trying to get out. Begging guards to let me go. Trying to get on to the outside work parties so I could give them a slip. I asked every visitor I got if they would help me escape. Even my mother. I went down on my knees and cried when I saw my first parole board. The guards had to drag me out of the room.
"At the end of the first year I was emptying kitchen waste into a bin and I saw that the prison gate had been left open while everyone searched the garbage truck. Everyone was distracted by the search except for this old vole guard who was watching me. I must have had a foot and a half head start and twenty-five years on her and she was wearing bad shoes to be running in.
"She looks at me and says: Girly, you've been itching to make a break for it since you got here and if you take off now you just may make it. I'll chase you but I doubt I'll catch you. Someone will, though, probably before sunset. And if they don't you're going to have to spend your whole life running, hiding and living around people who can't turn you into the police because they're crooks too. The ones who can help you will know why you need their help as soon as they look at you and they'll take advantage of you in every way possible and few you probably thought weren't. And then sooner or later we will catch up with you and drag you back here. You'll finish this sentence with another five years for escaping tacked on to the end.
"Assuming you stay out a year and you'll be luckier than most who try it if you do you'll be in here seven years instead of two. You'll be twenty-seven when you get out, not twenty-one. And believe me those are the years you don't want to miss."
Gadget waited for Bubbles to finish the story. Her friend had already told her some time ago that she had served two years, not eight, and they were both twenty-three, so Bubbles would never have been released to take part in her warehouse robbery if she had tried to escape and been recaptured. So she could more or less deduce which decision Bubbles had made. Still, she needed to hear it from the other mouse, so she asked: "What did you do then?"
"The rest of my sentence."
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