Gadget in Chains
Written by: Loneheart
Chapter Twenty: Down Hill Run
The next day saw Gadget repeating the routine of the day before: Cell, shower, cell, breakfast, cell, lunch, cell, dinner then cell. She tried exercising but the floor of the cell was filthy, covered in dirt and dust and worse, and after a few short push-ups her hands were sticky and dirty. The toilet was the only source of water in their cell, which meant she couldn't wash her hands, let alone drink. She was careful to have as much water as she could with every meal.
Most of the prison food was pet store fare and Gadget had begun to wonder whether this was supposed to be part of the punishment. She mentioned the theory at lunch and Darla was quick to reminisce about the punishments meted down by the screws in the old days. Some her descriptions made the fur along Gadget's spine stand on end. Talk of being hung by the tail and beaten with sticks, of having fur singed off with lit matchsticks and of troublemakers who were disposed of by being thrown into mousetraps filled Gadget with horror even as the other prisoners carried on eating as though the topic was tired, old news.
Later, thinking it over in her cell, Gadget realised that she wouldn't have taken any of it seriously two months ago. To be fair, Darla probably had embroidered and exaggerated her stories for the benefit of the rookie but even so Gadget found it easy to believe that there was a well-used padded bench, still tucked away in the corner of some forgotten prison storeroom, which had leather straps to hold an inmate down.
She spent most of the day reading a book Bubbles had managed to get for her. She had hoped for something serious and challenging to keep her mind busy. Instead she found herself reading a racy detective story that even Chip would have eschewed as lightweight and heavy on the "romance".
Left to her own devices Gadget probably could have lived to a ripe old age without reading that type of book so it was a new experience for her and an eye-opening one. She had never thought much about other what people found entertaining. There were things that interested her and there were things that interested other people and she had always thought that the world would be a better place if everyone just accepted that and got on with whatever was that interested them.
Did people who read these books really find Detective Max Armstrong, who used his fists and feet as punctuation when he interrogated suspects, an admirable, heroic figure? Would females really throw themselves at someone like him in real life the way the desperate and occasionally airhead characters in the book did? It didn't seem likely to Gadget, though the world was a less certain place seen through a set of bars.
She read the book from start to finish in a couple of hours, without attempting to guess who had strangled the heiress just before the start of chapter one. Then she spent the rest of the day comparing the version of detective work in the book to what she had seen Chip do. It did keep her mind off getting out of Shrankshaw and off what her friends might be doing in her absence.
Lawhiney began the day early. Her leg and back were hurting her. It was two hours before the sun would come up and three hours before she could take another painkiller. She considered begging Monty for another pill but Geegaw warned her about the dangers of addiction. When that didn't work, he also warned her about the effect that too many painkillers could have on an unborn child.
To take her mind off the pain she opened Gadget's diary as soon as the first shafts of light came creeping over the horizon. She began reading aloud to Geegaw. He didn't object, mainly because the thought of Lawhiney becoming addicted to painkillers worried him more than the thought of her reading something personal in Gadget's diary, which mostly seemed to be full of technical details that would probably only mean something to another engineer.
By the time breakfast was being cleared from the ranger's kitchen table, Lawhiney was in Gadget's workshop. The floor was less cluttered than it had been the day before. She wondered at that - the signs on the door were pretty specific.
No visitors allowed - especially chipmunks. Do not enter. Dale Stay OUT!!
Yet someone had gone to the trouble of carefully picking up every loose cog and spring and placing the lot in a bucket on the workbench so nothing could get underfoot and cause her to fall. And they had done it while she was busy elsewhere so as not to upset Gadget. It was exactly the way the servants of a queen should behave, she reflected, but by all accounts Gadget never played that game. The thought that, without even trying, Gadget had what Lawhiney herself had always wanted filled Lawhiney with rage.
"Spoilt brat, born with a silver spoon in her mouth." She muttered spitefully to herself as she struggled back and forth on a crutch. She was so focused on her exercises that she even forgot about Geegaw standing right by her side, listening to every word as he walked along side her.
"No idea what it's like for someone to claw her way up from the depths with nothing but a pretty face and a smile in a world full of men with big teeth in their smiles and an appetite."
Geegaw watched her carefully, every step of the way. He wasn't just watching out for any sign she might be about to fall, he was cataloguing the depth of her hate. Lawhiney's hate for his daughter!
It was incredible!
Considering that she had only ever met Gadget once, years ago, it was unbelievable!
This girl had all but destroyed her own life in the name of forcing others to worship and admire her. Gadget had never once in her life done something with the aim of forcing or manipulating a person into liking her. She was just herself, doing what she thought was right. That was what people liked.
"No idea what's like to hated until you force or trick them into worshiping the ground you walk on." Lawhiney muttered.
"Like you were hated?" Geegaw probed in a low voice.
"Exactly like I was hated." She hissed in pain.
"Tell me how you were hated." The guide whispered.
"As long as I can remember people were jealous of me, right from the first day at school." Lawhiney began and with every swing of her crutch she continued to catalogue every slight and injustice in her early life.
The teacher gave her poor grades. The boy behind her tied her hair to the back of her chair. The children taunted her in the playground. Her mother was the only true friend in those days, telling her that she was better than the other children and they were just trying to drag her down to their level.
Slowly, Lawhiney learned to believe in herself, if in nothing else. Slowly, she learned to be strong enough to resist the other children's taunts, if not temptation. Slowly, she learned that when respect and admiration was not given to her, it could be taken by other means.
And so the day passed quickly for Gadget and Lawhiney.
Of the two, Gadget got more sleep and ate better than Lawhiney, if only because it was Dale's turn to cook. Lawhiney turned in early, her injuries aching horribly from the unaccustomed exercise. Gadget snoozed before lights-out. Bubbles was relieved. The talking had stopped.
By the time Gadget woke up and remembered that she wanted to ask Bubbles to send a letter to the Rangers for her Bubbles had curled up for the night and another day was over. Gadget, to her own mild surprise, didn't particularly mind.
She listened to her friend sleeping in the bunk above her for a while and slowly two new thoughts crept into her head. She'd miss Bubbles when this was over. She pictured herself visiting her new friend to say hi and catch up on the gossip but when she played the scene out in her mind a funny thing happened. She couldn't picture Bubbles liking her. Not once Bubbles knew that "Red" was really Gadget.
Lawhiney gasped in pain. She had a curse on her lips but Geegaw's eye caught hers and she left it there. Just as well. It might have given Chip and Monty pause if they heard some of the words Lawhiney knew coming from "Gadget's" pretty mouth.
It was a new morning, Lawhiney's second on crutches. The night before she had tossed with nightmares but they were normal nightmares - half-formed things that were part memories of the air crash, part fear of being found out. She woke stiff from the previous day's exercise and with blisters on the palms of her paws from the handles of her crutches.
"Gadget, are you sure you want to practice so hard?" Chip asked.
"Chip's right, Gadget-luv. You might make the break worse instead of better putting too much weight on it." Monty counselled.
"I'm sure. It's mostly just muscles aching." Actually she couldn't separate one pain from the next but if she admitted it they'd never leave her alone.
"Cheese is good for bones." Monty observed. "We're all having fondue for lunch!" he announced.
Chip winced but yielded gracefully. "Can we have acorns in it?"
"Acorn sprinkles for those who want them, perhaps." Monty allowed.
They left bickering. Lawhiney was relieved. They had been more than willing to help her back to her room after breakfast. Despite what they said, Lawhiney knew her leg was getting better. She would rest a couple of hours and then get two or three hours exercise before lunch. If she kept it up another couple of days, she should be able to walk as soon as Doctor Bell took the cast off.
Geegaw smiled. "Well, isn't that nice. Gadget's favourite uncle making you cheese fondue while you take a little nap and later Chip's going to help you practice walking again so that when your cast comes off you can stand on your own two feet. All so you can go on the lam while someone who dedicated their life to helping others rots in prison at the risk of saints-alone-know-what happening to her!"
"You're biased!" Lawhiney pointed out. "She's your daughter!"
"That's right, she's my daughter! She's also a rescue ranger! Do you know how many people she's rescued? How many all the rangers have rescued?"
"Do they? Chip's the only one who would bother counting you know." Lawhiney retorted.
She's probably right, Geegaw realised, but it doesn't change anything. "The point is, Gadget has done good and you're keeping her from continuing to do good. Every day Gadget isn't here, they aren't at full strength. People who need rescuing have to fend for themselves."
Lawhiney met his gaze. Her eyes were steady but there were tears in them, tears Geegaw suspected wouldn't have been there two months ago.
"Strangers. I have my son to think about." Lawhiney said.
"Tell me, Lawhiney, what do you think of the Rangers? Not the group, I mean Dale and Monty and so on."
Lawhiney's eyes hooded. She suspected a trick but Geegaw's tone had been kindly. "Dale's fun. Shorter than I usually like my males but kinda cute. I don't think he has a mean bone in his body. Shame he's a loser. Not like Chip at all. Now Chip, he could really be somebody with the right woman behind him. He's such a thug though. Sooner or later any girl he's with is going to have to duck. Chip would be good for a -" Lawhiney caught Geegaw's eye and broke off. "Oh, you mean as people?"
Geegaw nodded, his expression stony.
"Chip's very brave. A real stand up guy. You'd want him on your side, anyone would. I guess I'd admire him if I wasn't so scared of him. Monty's brave too but he's got a kind streak in him. I like him. I'm kinda sorry he isn't twenty years younger. Dale just comes across as goofy but I think he's smarter than he realises, probably braver and stronger too. The sort who won't believe himself until he's got a girl behind him to make him dread what will happen if he doesn't. Zipper's difficult to understand and easy to overlook but I guess he may just be the bravest of the lot. I mean all Monty would have to do is accidentally sit on him and he'd be history."
Geegaw laughed at that. "You're right of course. There's a lot more to Zipper than meets the eye."
"I never really understood why so many people want to belong to groups like the rangers before. I guess mostly I thought they were just a bunch of power freaks that liked making people jump through hoops. Now I've seen them like this, it's like they just see the world in a different way. They see it as a place that's basically okay where people like them just have to do certain things to keep it that way.
Lawhiney fell silent for a moment. "I think I have that in common with them." She said and then looked up at Geegaw like a schoolgirl who was uncertain she had remembered her lesson rightly. "Most of the time everyone just does whatever they think is expected of them, no matter who they are. It's just that what one person thinks they have to do varies from another depending on how they see the world. I always saw it as a messed up place where someone like me had to do certain things if they were going to get anywhere and make something of themselves."
Geegaw rocked back on his heels and looked down at her. He twisted the tip of his moustache thoughtfully between finger and thumb.
From her expression, Lawhiney at least partly expected him to explode with anger, to berate her for the suggestion that she had anything in common with people who risked their lives to save the lives of others without thought of reward. Geegaw wasn't sure that she was wrong. It sounded like the sort of thing a Guide should do. The problem was he didn't want to explode with anger. He just didn't feel like it. He could see her point, in fact, so if he did have some invisible person keeping watch on him and assessing his performance they would just have to knock down a grade or two.
"I won't disagree with what you just said. It wasn't all bad." He told her. "But here's the thing: do you still look at the world in the same way now?"
"Before the crash? He - I mean, heck no. I thought I was tough, invulnerable. That I was going to live forever and never get old."
"Really?" Geegaw cocked an eyebrow. "They have padded cells for people who think like that you know."
"Well, not literally, it was more like I just never thought about getting hurt, or getting old, or dying." Lawhiney explained. "Now I am and that changes things a lot. I mean, wealth is important but you can't take it with you and how much can you really spend in one lifetime? How much fine food could you eat before you got sick of it and wanted something simple? It's the same for everything else."
"True. Tell me though, do you realise that I asked you about how you saw the world and you answered by telling me about how you saw yourself?"
Lawhiney blinked. "Yes, I suppose I did." A mischievous smile crept over her face. "I may not be the most important part of the world but I'm the part of the world that's most important to me!"
Geegaw returned the smile. "That I believe. Will you feel the same why when Roche is born?"
Lawhiney's smile froze and her eyes glazed as she tried to imagine being in a room with someone more important than her. "I guess not. Not sure how I feel about that. But for now anything that happens to one of us is going to have to happen to both of us." Her hand stretched over her belly, which was now obviously larger, even under the bedclothes.
"I know you're afraid of what might happen when you tell them the truth but however hard you think it's going to be, Lawhiney, it will seem so much easier once it's done." Geegaw pressed.
"Yeah," Lawhiney agreed, "the hardest part of getting hung is always climbing the gallows. It's all down hill after that!"
Geegaw grinned ruefully in the safety of the shadows under his hood. It wouldn't help either of them to admit that he liked her defiant brand of humour. It reminded him of his.
"Tell me, Lawhiney, have you ever considered what it will do to the people around you when the truth finally comes out?"
"The Rangers? Not really. I've had other things on my mind. They aren't exactly my favourite people, though, so how much do you expect me to care?"
"Do you even remember that vision I showed you after the crash? Of what would happen if you didn't reform?" Geegaw scowled.
"I remember they took Roach, I mean Roche, away from me and he grew up to be-" she paused trying to find the right words "-a little reckless. Not that was good reason for Gadget and her little band of troublemakers to chase him off a roof."
"As I thought, you only remembered the parts about you and Roche!" Geegaw despaired.
"Let me get this straight." Bubbles began. "I'm allowed one letter home a week and you want me to use this weeks letter, this letter that would normally go to my youngest son on his birthday, to write to the Rescue Rangers."
"Who I don't in any way care for but who apparently you want to tell something important to, which could be called ratting but we won't go there because we both know that what you want to tell them is -"
"That I'm the real Gadget Hackwrench and that I'm in jail."
"Bing!" Bubbles chimed and she bopped the end of Gadget's nose with her pen. "Now, just remind me, what weren't we going to do any more?"
"Talk about me being the real Gadget Hackwrench."
"That's right. Now, what do we seem to be doing?"
"Discussing me borrowing your weekly letter home?"
"Which, like everything else with you, leads by a fairly short route to the subject of you thinking you're Gadget Hackwrench."
Gadget forced herself not to mention that was because she was Gadget Hackwrench. That was old Gadget Hackwrench thinking. She needed new Gadget Hackwrench thinking. "I could owe you a favour?"
"Be glad I'm not the type to take you at your word and then tell you what the favour is later, when you ain't in a position to say no." Bubbles said warningly. "If you're that desperate to write the Rangers, why don't you use your own letter home?"
"Haggs isn't on duty in our block this week. She's working in the psychiatric wing. Remember? She's probably not even censoring our mail this week."
"Our mail is censored?"
"Of course our mail is censored! How else do they know that we aren't all plotting to bust out of here? Not that any of us would dream of breaking out of here." she added hastily as a passing guard gave her a hard look. "I mean, what would be the point? All the guards and bars, no one would get anywhere."
"You mean if I write to Chip, Monty and the others, to convince them I'm the real thing, some guard is going to read whatever I put in that letter, no matter how personal it is? Because if I'm going to convince them I'm going to have to prove I know stuff that no one but Gadget and at least one other ranger knows. I'm going to have to put up something pretty personal."
Bubbles interest was tweaked. "Like what?"
"Oh, gee, I don't know. Maybe the time Dale got his head stuck in a pretzel loop. Perhaps the time Monty put on so much weight he fell right through the bottom of the Ranger plane. Lucky we were on the ground. Or how Chip and Dale had to put on dresses and snuck into Fat Cat's Casino to rescue a couple of squirrel girls they were supposed to be babysitting."
"Everyone's heard about that last time. They were the floor show." Bubbles pointed out.
"Really? I hope it doesn't get back to Tammy's mom. She'd throw a fit if she knew."
"Red " Bubbles warned her again.
"I know, I know, I'm sorry."
The pair sat in silence for a moment.
"Hey, you want to hear a joke?" Bubbles asked. "It's about the Rangers."
"People tell jokes about the Rangers?"
"Sure. Well, it's about Dale and Gadget but I wasn't sure how you'd react, what with, you know, what we aren't talking about any more."
"People tell jokes about-" Gadget stopped before she got to the word "Me" and broke Bubbles's taboo again.
For a moment she thought about asking her friend never to mention such jokes again but then her curiosity got the better of her. It couldn't be worse than the ones she overheard as a little girl when the airfield mechanics thought she wasn't listening. Gee, she mused, I haven't thought about that since I was a little girl and I tried telling one to Monty. Geegaw told me just to put stuff like that out of my head. You don't need it so just pretend you put it at the back of the closet and forgot about it.
"Do you want to hear it?" Bubbles asked again.
"Sure, go ahead." Gadget said.
If nothing else it would please Bubbles to be able to tell her joke and if Bubbles was in a good mood she might be more easily persuaded to go along with Gadget's letter plan. That was new Gadget thinking and in it people had levers sticking out of them like wind up tin toys, even if you couldn't see them, and it was important to know where all the levers were if you wanted to get people to do what you wanted.
"Okay, here goes." Bubbles began. "After a pretty good evening out on the town Gadget comes home to find herself alone with Dale. "'Dale,'" she coos, "'take off my blouse and lay it on the bed.'"
Gadget paused. She didn't wear a blouse. Was getting out of jail worth this? It wasn't just the direction the joke was going in. Bubbles impression of "the real Gadget Hackwrench" actually reminded Gadget of a part of herself she didn't much like.
"Well, Dale does and then she whispers: "'Dale, take off my skirt and lay that on the bed.'" Then she growls: "'Dale, take off my bra and panties and put those on the bed.'" Finally she yells: "'Dale, if I catch you wearing my clothes or underwear again, I'll kill you!'"
Bubbles paused exactly one second for Red's reaction and then laughed herself.
Gadget's brain processed the joke and stalled because the smut was coming from an unexpected direction. It tried to start over but gave up in the face of the mental image conjured up by the punch line and the general awfulness of the joke.
"Oh dear Lord, that is awful." Gadget dissolved into laughter.
Bubbles laughed too. "I can't see the real Gadget Hackwrench laughing at that. She'd just be sooo shocked."
"Are you kidding? She was there when Chip and Dale put on dresses to dance on stage!" Gadget giggled. She was talking about herself in third person terms again.
"You see? You don't need to convince anybody that you're anyone but my cellmate, Red, and even if you did, you don't need me to write to the Rangers. Haggs is working in the psychiatric wing, so if you really want to write them a letter, you just need to persuade one of the guards that your loss of privileges is up. How long did Haggs give you, anyway?"
"Well, it was fifty days, in fact, on the way to the Warden's office she said she was going to make it sixty but she didn't and then, when we were in front of the Warden, she claimed she'd only given me thirty days. So I guess I don't really know for sure how many days I have."
"Thirty days. You've been here way more than thirty days."
"Haggs said that time in the psychiatric wing didn't count."
"Red, you've got to remember that it's difficult for the guards to keep track. They all work different shifts, they don't always fill in the paperwork and, even if a particular prisoner has made themselves different and memorable the way you have, they still usually just see a set of prison overalls when they look at us. Same way we usually just see a uniform when we look at them."
"What are you suggesting?" Gadget asked.
"Lie, you idiot. If I really thought I could get out of here in time for my kid's birthday just by telling a simple lie and sending a letter, do you seriously think I'd hesitate? Would anyone even remember that you had lied if you proved you were the real Gadget? Even if they did, what would it matter once you were out of here?" Bubbles peered at her curiously. "It never even occurred to you to lie, did it?"
"No." Gadget replied thoughtfully. "I was so busy trying to convince people that I was telling the truth, it never occurred to me to lie. What lie do you think I should tell?"
"That you've served your loss of privileges. They'll check a list to see if you're on it but I don't think you'll be on it unless someone remembered to take you name off it when you went into the special wing and then put it back on when you were let out."
"Jeepers! Bubbles, that's great!"
"I can't believe you just said jeepers."
"Gadget tried to save Roach, remember? She wasn't trying to get him killed!" Geegaw was arguing with Lawhiney while she practiced walking. He hoped that, if nothing else, the pain in her leg would distract her enough for him to tie her in knots with his superior reasoning.
"Roche." Lawhiney corrected him.
"Yeah, Roche. Yeesh! That poor kid. He's going to have an even worse time in the playground than Gadget." Geegaw winced sympathy.
"Why, wasn't she always Miss Popularity?"
"Are you kidding? She was the smart kid in the class. How many popular smart kids did you know?"
Lawhiney looked at him doubtfully.
Geegaw sat beside her. "You know, it's funny you should put it that way. Reminds me of some of the nicknames the kids used to come up with for her. Miss Take, Miss Hap, Miss Fire. They used to make her so mad."
"Ha! I bet she ran to the teacher about it, too!" Lawhiney spat. "Sneaking on the other kids every chance she got."
Geegaw opened his mouth to deny it then shrugged his anger aside. "Sometimes." He allowed.
"Just like she was shoving her nose into my business and whatever little Roche was doing on that roof." Lawhiney pouted.
"Looked like Roche was trying to rob the place and Gadget was trying to save him from falling off the roof to me." Geegaw reminded her. "She might even have pulled it off, if someone had gotten her out of jail before she was injured in that prison riot."
Lawhiney tensed. "Are you saying that what's going to happen to my son up on that roof is my fault? You can't expect me to control what's going to happen maybe twenty years from now!"
"Lawhiney, I'm not trying to blame you for what might or might not happen twenty years from now. That's my purpose here, or anywhere else. I'm trying to show you that our actions shape our lives and the life of every living being casts a long shadow on the future. You know how your body can cast a really long strange shadow on the ground?"
"Well then, it's just like the mouse in the children's story, who saw his shadow on the cave wall and thought there was a monster living in his cave. You know that story?" Geegaw asked.
"Mom and Dad weren't the bedtime story type of parents."
Geegaw made a mental note to later find out what type of parents Lawhiney did think Mum and Dad were. "What we showed you in that vision was meant to give you an idea about what kind of shadow your life has cast on the future, Lawhiney."
"You were trying to scare me."
"No, not that scaring you seemed like an all-together bad thing. You've been pretty fearless, from what I've heard."
"Fearless can a bad thing, especially when it makes frightening someone else seem like no big deal." Geegaw told her.
Lawhiney looked at him unhappily. "I haven't heard that commandment before."
"It's not a commandment. Fearless can be a good thing too. It just depends on how you use it. I don't blame you for not working it out by yourself. I never got it either, when I was on your side of things."
"Were you fearless?"
"I liked to think so." Geegaw admitted.
Lawhiney looked carefully at him. It was as close to an admission of guilt as, come to think of it, it was as close to an admission of guilt as she herself could ever have come. She remembered the day before, when she had caught herself thinking that his face - or was it his expression - reminded her of her own. Was he becoming more like her as time went on, or had they chosen a guide for her who had experience of what all this looked like from her side of things?
"You're getting better with the crutch." Geegaw complimented her.
"End of the next week, I can say goodbye to the cast. I'm gonna walk right out of that hospital." She promised, her mind busy.
The next morning was Lawhiney's fourth on crutches and the third after she had found Gadget's diary. She was three days away from getting the splint on her tail removed and looking forward to it. She was also getting good with the crutches now. She had blisters on the palms of her hands but she had used a pin to let the fluid out and they were fast becoming calloused pads of thick skin. She could walk from ten in the morning until twelve and then from three to six in the evening. Using the crutches was always tiring, though, and through it all Geegaw was keeping on the pressure.
He was subtle about it, using the dripping water approach to wear her down when she was at her most vulnerable. Whenever she was worried or tired, he'd be there by her ear or elbow with another reason to repent and confess. The reason was always hidden behind a wise or consoling word that she wanted to hear and if she wanted the benefit of one she had to accept the other. He might have managed to slip it past without her noticing but she was good too and she was wise to him.
"What's on your mind, Laurel?" He asked.
"Laurel's history. Call me Lawhiney." She grumbled as she made a turn before she ran out of workshop. Lawhiney was always careful to remember that however much he tried to be her friend, Geegaw had an agenda of his own - to save his daughter. He'd been sent to make her confess and repent, regardless of any consequences that might befall her as a result. If he could make her like him and feel good about himself at the same time that was a bonus.
"Why do you prefer a name that means The Whine?" he asked.
"Laurel was the name my mother gave me because it was fashionable and she wanted me to be a fashion accessory. Lawhiney was a name I had to get for myself. I might not have been so happy if I had known what it meant at the time but I went through the tribe's tests of womanhood to get it. They weren't easy."
Geegaw frowned. "They showed me a little of that when I agreed to take on your case. You had to dance for the tribe mice, recite the laws of the tribe, make a flower petal robe for the chief to give to a warrior of the tribe and climb to the edge of an active volcano to make your vows of womanhood."
"In the old days they used to mean a real volcano. Sometimes the girl didn't come back and the priests said the volcano had been angered because the girl wasn't pure. I suppose it beat admitting they fried someone's daughter because just got the lava forecast wrong." Lawhiney smiled cynically, as if to suggest that was all anyone could expect of a priest.
"You didn't know it was going to be a fake volcano. They blindfolded you and led you there in secret. You felt edge of the crater under your feet and the heat coming up in front of you. You thought you were in real danger until they took the blindfold off." He didn't say she had been brave but his tone was gilt edged with respect.
"And then after I said my vows the human hotel manager switched the volcano on and they all ran away saying I wasn't pure and I just stood there in amazement wondering how a fibreglass volcano could know what I'd been up to!" Lawhiney shared a laugh with her spirit guide.
"The tribe mice were frightened because they had never seen the volcano erupt before. They hadn't known it could and all they knew about volcanoes were the horror stories their parents had told them." Geegaw filled in for her. "You thought they were stupid and foolish, but by the time you had worked out what was going on it was too late to run from the boiling marshmallow."
Lawhiney grinned at the memory. "I surfed down the mountain on a piece of fudge and told them the volcano would stop in a moment. At first they didn't believe me but when it did I was a hero. They had a tradition that a pure mouse-maid was able to turn back the anger of the volcano god and save the tribe."
"You weren't turning back anything. You'd seen the schedule for turning the volcano on and off pinned up on a palm tree when you were standing up there." Geegaw said firmly.
"Yeah, well, I thought " she paused awkwardly.
"That the last mouse-maid to pull it off probably saw it the same way I did and that the priests had been doing it for generations, so now it was just MY TURN, OKAY?"
Geegaw looked at her with clear blue eyes that seemed to see right into her heart. "Okay. Fine. I can see how you might think that. I might even have been the sort of person to think the same way myself, once upon a time."
Lawhiney forced herself to carry on walking. A tear rolled down her nose, which Geegaw pretended not to see. "Did your little crew of outlaws call you Lawhiney, or Laurel?" He asked after a moment.
"Law?" Geegaw laughed. "Was that as in Her Word is Law, or as in She's a Law Unto Herself?"
"Oh, don't take on. Can I call you Law?"
"If it will stop you calling me "Laurel"." Lawhiney got back to her walking practice. She had no intention of giving into Geegaw about anything but she didn't want to annoy him if she could avoid it. He was, after all, the only person in Ranger HQ she could not avoid. Whether she was taking a shower or curled up in bed, her Spiritual Guide could drop in on her whenever he chose - unlike the Rescue Rangers.
The Rangers knew something was wrong with "Gadget", they just hadn't worked out what yet, so Lawhiney had taken to sheltering in Gadget's bedroom or hiding away in Gadget's workshop on the pretext that she either was, or was tired from, practicing with the crutches. It was now the only way to avoid conversations with the Rangers.
Avoiding conversations with the Rangers was now Lawhiney's chief occupation. Monty had told her he had never known her to act the way she did now but he'd added that perhaps it had been time for a change. Chip had backed out of saying something romantic by saying he didn't remember her ever being quiet like this before. Dale had flat out said to her face that she sure was different since the crash and, all the time she was had to check over her shoulder to see if she was alone or whether Zipper was there, watching her silently from the corner of the room. When she did talk with them she mostly listened attentively or flattered them and all her answers were vague.
Gadget marched up to the main guard post at the entrance to her cellblock. She was so sure of herself and walked with such confidence that an inmate head and shoulders taller than Gadget stepped smartly out of her way.
The guards saw her coming from a distance and quickly abandoned and forgot their conversation in favour of straightening up and taking a firm hold of their nightsticks. Gadget saw them but didn't slow until she was just beyond the maximum range of their clubs. Then she stopped dead and stood calmly in front of them, her arms relaxed and her empty paws hanging by her side.
"What do you want?" The shrew guard in the booth asked.
"I'd like to write a letter, please, Ms Shrewshank. I've come to you for paper and ink and the other things I'll need."
"You get a weekly ration so you can stay in touch with your friends and relatives on the outside." Ms Shrewshank acknowledged. "I wasn't aware you had relatives."
"I want to write to a friend and my time without privileges is up."
Ms Shrewshank frowned. "Are you sure? I think you've miss-counted. I thought you had longer." Before Gadget could say anything incriminating, Ms Shrewshank looked at a list on a clipboard. "No, I can't see you on the list. Very well then Red."
Ms Shrewshank took some prison notepaper from below the counter in her booth and passed it to Gadget, along with a pen and a small square of card for her to press on.
"No envelope or stamp?"
"Bring me the finished letter and I give you an envelope to write the address on. I put the stamp on when I've read it through to make sure there's nothing in breach of prison regulations in the letter. Do you know the prison regulations about correspondence?"
"No. I don't." Gadget admitted. "Do you have copy I can borrow?"
"A copy of what?"
"The prison regulations. Or just the ones concerning correspondence."
"Certainly not!" Ms Shrewshank looked shocked. "They cost money, you know."
"We did used to have a copy of the complete regulations chained to the desk here." One of the other guards put in. "Until someone filed through the chain and stole it."
"People will steal anything in this place." Ms Shrewshank agreed.
"It would be easier to obey the rules if I knew what they all were." Gadget pointed out but she had learned enough by now to expect little joy in return.
"You find them out as you go along. Ask your cellmate. She's supposed to be looking after you, isn't she? She should know the rules of by heart by now." Ms Shrewshank dismissed her.
"Thank you, Ms Shrewshank. I'll do that." Gadget narrowed her eyes for a moment before turning smartly on her heel and marching away again, freedom clutched tightly in her hand.
It had become accepted custom for Lawhiney to read some of Gadget's diary to Geegaw every night before bed. She told him it was because she wanted to learn enough about Gadget to continue her ruse until she could escape. Geegaw claimed to allow it only because it would serve as an example to her of how to lead a better life. They both had ulterior motives.
Lawhiney read the diary to Geegaw before bed in order to smooth over any little troubles between them during the day and to forestall any arguments that might lead to another nightmare, such as the one that had left her in a heap on the floor, ready to blubber a confession to the first person she saw.
Geegaw allowed it because now he was earthbound his supply of news about Gadget had dried up and he was secretly desperate to hear anything at all about her. To be in the land of the living again, surrounded by his daughter's things and yet unable to see her or know what was happening to her, was the closest he had come to hell.
"Today we discovered that Fat Cat had stolen a animatronic cartoon dog called Pluto from an amusement park and used it to hire several stray dogs as muscle for his turf war with another feline crime boss. It was an interesting device, the animatronic dog, I mean, not the ploy of stealing it and using it as a cat's paw, which is quiet an interesting phrase given the situation though. I wonder if Fat Cat was aware of the irony. Still, the dog was fascinating because most animatronics have a heavy base and lots of moving parts that make them complicated and expensive. Whoever had designed this one had used a simple fibreglass frame made of separate pieces linked by a single kind of universal joint with Teflon coated bearings. Are you sure you want me to read all four pages of the description of an animatronic cartoon character?"
Geegaw waved his hand in confirmation. "You were the one who wanted to learn something from her diary. Now you can learn how an animatronic dog works."
"When I get to the fold out double page of schematics, do you want me to describe it or just hold it up and show it to you?"
"Nah, you can skip them, kid. Just carry on from where you left off."
"But it's all boring technical details. Your daughter's whole life is nothing but boring technical details!"
"That's a life you were so envious of you tried to claim it for yourself."
"It wasn't envy, it was hate, okay? I could never envy anything this boring."
"Uh-uh, you hated her because you were envious. You still envy her because she's famous and popular."
"What other reason have you got?" Geegaw invited her. If she was angry enough to forget that Monty, Zipper and the 'munks might overhear her shouting at thin air, she was angry enough to talk.
Lawhiney rolled her eyes "Ooooh! I hate her for having a diary that reads like stereo instructions. Why can't she have a diary that's worth stealing?"
Geegaw laughed. "Well, okay, but if you find all this technical stuff about elastic band crossbows and animatronic dogs so unimportant and boring, why make such a big thing out of being like someone who's life is filled with this kind of thing?"
Lawhiney looked at him over the pages of the diary. After a moment she answered quietly and truthfully. "They used to say I looked like my mother. Then when I went out on my own they said I looked like whatever movie star I was imitating that month and I was dumb enough to take it as a compliment. When I finally got some sense and got away from the cities I was going to make my own look. Carve out a corner the world for my very own. Then your daughter turned up and no one said she looked like me. They all said that I looked like her. "
"So that's why you started to hate her?"
"No, you don't get it. You asked why I made a big deal out of looking like her. I DON'T LOOK LIKE HER. SHE LOOKS LIKE ME."
"You put on the blue jumpsuit and used her name!"
"She came to Hawaii and stole my look before I stole hers!" Lawhiney was almost tearful now. "I always had this face."
Geegaw considered this. True, he had been thinking things through from his daughter's point of view. Until that moment when Gadget and Lawhiney met, Lawhiney must have believed she was one of a kind. To her Gadget was the interloper, Gadget the stranger, who had come to the island from far away and ruined Lawhiney's life.
"You were the one who came up with the plan to swap places." Geegaw challenged her.
"Gadget was the one who agreed to it!"
Geegaw was momentarily stumped, confronted by the image of his daughter as a co-conspirator rather than a victim. "Well, you knew you were facing some dangerous tests the next day but you didn't warn Gadget about the danger!"
"I knew she could handle it! I was going to be a queen before I met her and afterwards I wasn't even allowed to speak to anyone or look people in the eye!"
"You tried to bury an entire tribe in molten marshmallow!"
Lawhiney stared at him. Then she burst out laughing. "Oh come on, how serious is that?"
Geegaw gulped in disbelief.
"I mean seriously, burying a bunch of people in hot marshmallow. That's not even a sin, is it?" She noticed his expression and stopped laughing. "Seriously? They're even holding that against me?"
"Lawhiney, that's one of the big ones. I mean do you know how serious that could have been?"
"It's more funny than anything else. I mean, it's marshmallow; everyone would have been okay. A little sticky maybe, that's all." Lawhiney had begun to look worried.
Geegaw sat on the end of her bed without making the slightest dent or impression on the covers, just as he had when she was in the hospital. Had that really been only a week ago? It seemed like a year or more.
"Marshmallow isn't dangerous." Lawhiney pleaded. "Chief Hubba-Bubba got that big in the first place by raiding the hotel stock until he couldn't get through the mouse-hole in the back of their storeroom."
"Lawhiney, how dangerous it is depends on how hot it is and how hot it is depends on who, you for instance, has done what to the innards of that fake volcano. If you had succeeded in drenching that village you very likely would have burned someone, maybe lots of people, to death."
Lawhiney stared at him. He had made an impact.
"I didn't mean to!"
Geegaw rolled his eyes.
Geegaw's strategy wasn't entirely wrongheaded. The more Lawhiney read of Gadget's diary, the more she came to see her arch-nemesis differently. Lawhiney had always figured Gadget for a truly sharp player who had achieved everything Lawhiney herself had always aimed for and probably by the same means. Had she met Gadget under other circumstances she might have admired her but, in Lawhiney's eyes, Gadget had gone out of her way to ruin Lawhiney's Hawaiian scheme for reasons Lawhiney could only guess to be casual malice, jealousy towards a rival, or perhaps the manic egotism of a person who genuinely thought she was some kind of modern day saint.
No doubt Gadget's diary told the Hawaiian story a different way though Lawhiney could only guess how different since the other volumes of Gadget's "Mental Telemetry" were safely locked away in the big, arcane looking chest Gadget kept in the corner of her bedroom.
The person Lawhiney met in the diary she did have was an impossibly bright social misfit, who spent her entire life locked away in an ivory tower and only ever peeped at the outside world through rose-tinted windows. The fame, the admiration of everyone around her, the love of so many willing males, it was all hers to command and it had just landed in her lap like a lottery win.
Lawhiney had told herself that a thing like that ought to add to her hate for Gadget but it didn't. The more she got to know the real Gadget the harder it was to hate. The same was true of the other Rescue Rangers. It was difficult to fear and hate people who were suddenly right in front of you and not just acting normally but treating you kindly on a daily basis.
Zipper was bright, cheerful and expressive and, if you let him start, would chatter until your ears fell off. At first Lawhiney had dealt with this by nodding and trying not to let on she didn't have a clue what he was saying but after a week in the tree she was sure she could understand him as well as Chip, if perhaps not as well as Monty.
Monty's stories were dull and he didn't always notice when Lawhiney feigned choking to death in order to avoid hearing any more of them but he was sympathetic to nearly every other ache and pain she had. He also knew when to back off and give her enough room. That made him a one of a kind in Lawhiney's experience.
Dale was everything she had thought he was all that time ago when she had stolen the Ranger Plane out from under him. When he wasn't doing something that made her want to yell at him, he was doing something that made her want to laugh, which hurt her stitches, which made her want to yell at him again.
Chip was slightly obnoxious, occasionally pompous and always egotistical. He hid these qualities pretty well most of the time, especially around her, but Lawhiney could spot them because they were as much part of her as they were part of him. Not that she would admit it, any more than he would. That was something else they had in common. If things had been different perhaps Lawhiney would have considered Chip to be a decent match but not even the dent a month in hospital and a week in Ranger HQ had put in her social life was enough to make her consider romancing him under these circumstances.
"What I don't understand is why you didn't just scribble out a note, you know something like: Help! Chip, I'm in jail and by the way that's not who you think it is warming her feet under the dinner table!"
Bubbles was lying on her back staring up at the graffiti on the cell ceiling. In theory Red could lie on the same bunk during the day, staring at the same graffiti as Bubbles was staring at now, doing whatever she pleased while Bubbles was at work. Staring at the scratchily drawn picture of several hard muscled mice, Bubbles somehow knew that her cellmate had done nothing of the kind.
"I told you. I wanted to wait for you to get back in from work before I started writing so you could tell me about the regulations regarding prisoner's correspondence. As far as I can see, this is the last chance I have to be legitimately free this side of the spring thaw and I don't want to blow it because the prison has some rule about no split infinitives or using IZE spellings instead of ISE spellings where possible."
Bubbles tried to keep her laughter as silent. When she could speak she said as steadily as possible: "Red, they don't have those kind of rules about prisoner's letters. Do you really think they care that we might use bad grammar?"
"Somehow I didn't think so." Red murmured. "But you know what I mean. This letter's important to me and I don't want it bouncing because of some pointless regulation that I never heard of."
Bubbles sighed. "The rules are, no discussing anything that might be grounds for a complaint against the prison authorities by you or some other inmate at some future point in time. That one's because it might, quote: affect the proceedings of an enquiry or a trial resulting from said complaint. Or to put it another way, don't go spreading horrid stories about how nasty Officer Haggs punched you in the face when you first arrived because she might not get invited to any more garden parties at the governor's residence. And then she'd have to come down here and punch you again."
"Don't complain. Got it."
"Next rule: No smutty stuff."
Bubbles frowned for a moment. "Hey, Red, you do know what I mean by smutty stuff, right? I mean different people have different opinions, the line is drawn in a different place each person, etcetera and so on."
Red was oddly quiet, for Red that is.
"Uh, sure." She said eventually.
"I mean sometimes you come across as really innocent and I mean really, really innocent. Like you're somebody's maiden aunt in waiting or something, ya know what I mean?"
"Sure you do, Red. Everyone's got an aunt like that. The size of most rodent families, you're lucky if you don't have two."
"I don't have any. As far as I know, I'm an orphan."
Bubbles winced and rolled her eyes. "Well, that ain't so bad. I can't tell you the grief my mother gave me after I was convicted for the first time and I told her I wasn't working as a secretary."
"My mother was eaten when I was about four or five. At least, we think she was eaten. I only really see her face in dreams now."
Bubbles winced again. Her rule was three strikes and she was out of any conversation. Less than that was lacked confidence. More and you were asking for someone to bust you in the chops.
"Five. That's a rough time to lose a mom."
"I know a lot of orphans."
Bubbles let that one hang for a moment, wondering whether it counted as strike three. Then she realised it could be taken another way. "Orphanage, huh? Hope it was one of the good ones. From what I've seen, you deserve that."
Bubbles tried not to think about the alternative. She had said that she knew a lot of orphans. She hadn't said that she met most of them in prison and that very few of them had gone to the good orphanages. She'd heard the stories and sometimes she'd heard the tears. Some of the orphans she knew regarded prison as a home away from home - some even preferred it to home.
"My father raised me."
"That was good of him. Some guys just aren't interested in kids. Don't want the bother I guess. I mean it's nice that he didn't dump you with some relative who didn't want you or put you into some place that says orphanage above the door so people don't actually call it a school for crooks."
"They tried to take me away from him. Six months after Mom disappeared and they decided she'd been eaten, some people showed up at the door. They'd been to visit a couple of times before and mostly they'd helped out. One of them was rich, I remember that, and another one was someone official with a lot of papers."
"Dad told them it was my birthday. He persuaded them to come back after my party. I didn't know what he was talking about but I liked the idea of a party so much that I didn't say anything. After they left I asked why he had told them it was my birthday. It never occurred to me that he had lied. It just wasn't that sort of thing that I thought parents could do. He told me that because the helpful people wanted me to take me to a nice place for little girls whose mothers had been eaten he wanted to give me my birthday early so he could share it with me. Then he told me that for a special birthday treat I could sit on his lap and fly in his aeroplane with him."
Bubbles laughed openly this time. "Where did you land?"
"I don't remember but when I ate breakfast it felt more like lunch the next day and we ate on top of the W in the Hollywood sign." Red's voice actually sighed with pleasure at the treasured memory.
"You had a picnic?"
"They used to have a restaurant there. With tables and the paper umbrellas that humans put in cocktail drinks. And the weather was sunny."
"What did you eat?"
"Cheese omelette on a cucumber slice."
Bubbles heard her stomach growl. "They don't serve that in here."
"Not even for Gadget Hackwrench."
Bubbles smiled. Was that an admission or an apology? "Now She is going to make somebody a great maiden aunt."
"What do you mean by that?" There was an arch in Red's voice.
"Wha- Nothing, nothing at all. I just don't think she's the marrying kind, that's all."
"Oh. What kind do you think she is?"
"Oh, she's definitely spinster material."
"WHAT!?" Red seemed genuinely outraged.
"Oh, I don't mean you, Red. I'm sure you'll find someone - well, not in here but someday, after you get out, may it be soon. "
"That's nice, Bubbles, but I still want to know how come you think Gadget Hackwrench is spinster material."
Bubbles rolled her eyes. "Gee, I don't know. She's what, twenty-five and the newspapers have never linked her with anyone romantically."
"So what? She's not a super-star; she's an inventor and a Rescue Ranger. Strictly speaking the papers shouldn't go anywhere near someone's personal life, unless they're a public figure which rescue rangers are not, any more than a fire-fighter or a member of the street-watch. It's hardly front page news if a girl goes out on a date, after all!"
Red sounded embarrassed and defensive. For the life of her Bubbles couldn't imagine why. Best just to concede the point and let it go.
"Ah, you're right Red. For all we know she's hooked up with all of the other Rangers, including the fly."
There was a startled yelp from the lower bunk and an angry pair of eyes rose over the edge to stare at Bubbles with wounded indignation.
"Bubbles! How could you say that? I thought you were my friend!"
"Huh? Oh, yeah. Relax, Red. I am your friend, I'm just not Her friend." Bubbles left no doubt who she was referring to.
Red looked momentarily heartbroken. "Oh. I see. I thought maybe I was mistaken but, I guess if that's how you feel about it "
"Feel about? Aw, hey, Red! It's getting crowded in this cell! I feel like I'm sharing with three people in here. You, me and Gadget Hackwrench!"
Red looked glanced sideways at her. "Uh, no. It's just you and me."
"Red!" Bubbles drew the name out long and low. "Look, I know Hackwrench is someone special to you but has it ever occurred to you that she might not feel the same way about you? She's got this whole great life. Her career, being a hero, she's smart and beautiful and if she's not famous then she's close. I mean have you ever wondered how she'd treat you if she met you in the street?"
"Uh?" Red looked lost. "No, it never really crossed my mind."
"If Hackwrench walked into someone like you in the street, what would she do? Really, what do you think she'd do?"
"I don't know." Red admitted. "She'd say: Hey, you're just like me, I guess."
"You think that's what she'd see? Someone just like her? She'd see someone who can't get through life without clinging on to someone more successful, somebody looking at her with needy eyes. A parasite. A person with no friends, no job, no life, no-"
Bubbles stopped herself before she said the word: Family. She hadn't meant to push it so hard and now she'd probably ruined a friendship. She should have taken Red's remark about knowing lots of orphans as the third strike and abandoned the conversation.
Hard eyed, Bubbles stared at the picture above her bunk. She expected to hear pained silence or quiet sobbing from her cellmate. Instead she felt a gentle tug on her elbow.
"Bubbles, you're wrong about something. I do have friends. Even in here. I have you and you're a good friend. I know you're just trying to help me see the world clearly."
Bubbles looked at her wearily. "You're not mad at me?"
"No. No, I'm not angry but I want to know: Is that how you really see me? A parasite without a life of my own?"
"Sometimes. It's just most people are so busy trying to lead their own lives, I guess when people see someone trying so hard to lead someone else's life there's an automatic assumption that person must be messed up."
"What about Gadget? Is that really how you see her?"
"Huh?" Bubbles looked blank.
"Remote, distant. Looking down on everybody, even when she's on the ground." To a pilot the distinction was important.
"Yeah, that's about it. Sees everyone as some poor creature to be rescued, or doesn't notice them at all."
Red winced at that. "Perhaps. Do you really think she's that unfeeling?"
"Ah, maybe not unfeeling. She is a Rescue Ranger, after all, but I can't see her caring about the likes of us. After all, as far as she's concerned we're bad guys and all bad guys are scum. They wouldn't cross a pavement or lift a finger to rescue a crook, an ex-crook or anyone who looked like thinking of becoming a crook. If you're not a hero or a potential rescue she just wouldn't have time for you."
"I guess you're right there." Red admitted.
"She'd look right though you."
Red frowned as a difficult thought took shape. "I've never seen Gadget Hackwrench the way you see her but I'm starting to feel like she's been looking straight through me my entire life. I promise you this though, Bubbles. When I get out of here that's going to change. I see myself in a different way now. I'm not going to be the person I was before."
"You mean it? You won't pretend to be Gadget Hackwrench any more? Because you know, you don't have to wait until you get out-" Bubbles broke off at the sight of Red shaking her head.
"Oh, I'll always think I'm Gadget Hackwrench. I think you're going to have to live with that. But Gadget Hackwrench definitely isn't going to be overlooking the real me any more. Not once I get out of here."
Bubbles arched an eyebrow. "Oh no, not any more. I was forgetting how being in here improves your social standing."
They shared a dry chuckle.
"Say, Red." Bubbles put in. "I don't want to be spoil sport but I don't think it's such a good idea you trying to get the Rangers attention. Now or ever, in here or on the outside and, while we're at it, you just reminded me of rule three."
"Rule three?" Red blinked vacantly.
"Yeah, you know, what we were talking about? Me helping you write your letter? Not that I think you should write to the Rangers but you should definitely write to someone. A person with a connection on the outside doesn't have such a tough time when they get out of a place like this. Anyhow, if rule one is no talking bad about the guards and rule two is no raunchy stuff, rule three would be don't ever write anything threatening down in a letter. In fact you have to be careful not to write anything that could be twisted around to sound like a threat."
"No threats, or anything that sounds like it could be a threat. Got it."
Bubbles watched Red closely. She hoped her friend got it. The way Red had spoken with utter certainty when she said that Gadget Hackwrench would have to pay her some attention when she got out of prison sent a chill up Bubble's back.
"I've decided that I'm going to pay another visit to that mouse-girl that got fifteen years for impersonating you, Gadget." Chip dropped the monkey wrench into the Lawhiney's plans as though announcing that the weather forecast was for rain again.
Lawhiney looked at him from across the breakfast table. Gadget, it seemed, always sat opposite both chipmunks, with Monty and Zipper at the head and foot of the table respectively. Lawhiney knew enough formal etiquette to know that couples were supposed to sit facing each other and the chipmunks seemed to know what the seating arrangements implied too, since they were always trying to edge each other off to one side. The end result seemed to be that the space opposite her was split evenly between them every mealtime.
Lawhiney opened her mouth to just flat out ask Chip, as Gadget, not to visit the prison where her double was being held and realised something that stopped her dead. Milk and breakfast cereal ran down her chin.
Chip was wearing his hat at the table. He even had the brim pulled down so that the shadow concealed his eyes. Not only in the house, which he seldom did unless he was working but at the table, during a meal, which he never did because apparently it was bad manners. Lawhiney knew this from listening to Dale's teasing on previous occasions.
He was working.
Chip was working a case, right here in their kitchen.
More specifically, Chip Maplewood, leader of the Rescue Rangers was working on HER case and if she squinted into the shade under the brim of his hat carefully enough to make out his eyes she would see a suspect reflected in them.
Part of her brain shrieked it. The thought was so loud; it was a wonder that Monty and Dale didn't find themselves thinking it right along with her without knowing why.
As if that wasn't enough for one breakfast, Lawhiney suddenly saw Geegaw standing behind Chip and looking down as though the detective's secret thoughts were pinned to the back of his hat just so Geegaw could read them. Her Guide had faded in without Lawhiney noticing the exact point when he became visible. Before she could drag her mind back to pretending to be Gadget, Geegaw caught her eye and gave a faint, grim nod.
"He knows." Lawhiney hissed in the relative safety of Gadget's workshop. "How could he know? How could he know? Everything was going so smoothly."
"How could he know?" Geegaw repeated. "Listen princess, from day one the big question has been how could he NOT know! If you thought you could keep stringing him along until little Roche was ready to leave home and start a family of his own, the only one you've been fooling around here is yourself."
"But what tipped him off? What gave me away? Why doesn't he just slap on the handcuffs and haul me off prison to swap for the real Gadget?"
"As to the first question: I don't know. I don't imagine either of us will ever know, unless we somehow find ourselves in a position to ask him when he feels like telling. Could be your scent. Maybe he can just make it out enough of it though that engine oil you've been dabbing behind your ears to tell the difference. Or perhaps it's the fact that you haven't touched one of Gadget's inventions since the day you came back. They cleaned up your workshop and you never made a peep. Maybe that was it. Or perhaps it's the fact that the place is still cleared up when you've been here a full five days. Perhaps he started to get suspicious when you didn't flirt with Sparky, Gadget's old boyfriend, at the welcome home party. It doesn't really matter which particular slip it was, assuming it wasn't all of them together. All that matters is that he's on to you and now it's only a matter of time."
Geegaw's words came fast and hard and gave Lawhiney no time to think for herself. She found herself rushed into just accepting them as truth. "I was so close. A week until I could walk. I would have left behind a letter explaining everything, Geegaw, I swear it."
"Maybe that's true and maybe not. As to your second question, that's a better one. Why doesn't he just throw you behind bars and start taking bets on how far they can throw the key? Perhaps knowing is the wrong word for it. His heart knows you're an impostor but Chip doesn't live in his heart, he lives in his head. I've seen his kind before; rational to the bone, all about reason and logic and evidence and proof and all those other things detectives love so much."
Lawhiney was shaking her head, tears falling in denial but Geegaw didn't let up. His hard eyes held hers without flinching.
"Chip's just like everyone else in the world." Geegaw told her. "He thinks the world on the outside of his head runs the same way as the world inside his head. Kind of goes to what you were saying about how you see the world differently from the Rangers; people always see the world on their own terms and to a rational person that means seeing it as a rational place."
"I have to do something. It's going to be another week before I can walk, let alone escape!" Lawhiney sobbed.
"Do something? You should have done something the moment you could talk. You should have explained who you were, told the truth, asked for forgiveness. With a baby on the way, a confession you didn't have to make and a display of contrition, the Rangers might have done no more than ship you back to Hawaii. Now you've dug yourself in too deep and there's no way out of this for you except jail. You can't expect anyone to believe your conscience got the better of you after a week of sleeping in Gadget's bed."
Lawhiney closed her eyes and reached deep into herself to draw on reserves she had never known she had. She took two deep, slow breaths and the tears stopped falling. She spoke: "Tell me what you want me to do."
"Go to Monty. Talk to him in private. Start by reminding him about Hawaii. Tell him who you really are, Lawhiney, and tell him that you're ready to go to prison and pay for your mistakes. Just ask him to help you go quietly and discretely without upsetting too many people."
Lawhiney shook her head so hard she practically reeled. "All you care about is getting your daughter out of trouble!"
"You don't have the faintest idea what or who I care about! You've read Gadget's diary, not mine!"
"You only became my Guide to help her!"
"Oh really? Is that what you think?" Geegaw glowered at her. "Well I've got a shock for you, sweetheart, because that's not how it works! I didn't choose you for anything - I was chosen for you!"
"What? I don't believe it!
"It's true! In fact, they pulled me out of training just to look out for you. I didn't even want this job. Truth is, I argued against it. You were the last person I wanted to help after the history I've had with your - but that doesn't matter because from what I've heard the guy who set this up thinks I'm the only one that stands even a faint chance of keeping your hairy little hind-end out of the brimstone!"
"The only one?" Lawhiney stared at him, dumbfounded, for two seconds. Then, when she finally realised how dismal her prospects were, she was wracked with hysterical laughter.
"Fine, laugh it up, fuzz ball. We'll see how funny you think it is when Chip gets back from the big house with Gadget in tow and a big stick with your name on it."
"How did they think that you being Gadget's father would help me to repent? Was I supposed to come over all guilty just because I had a constant reminder of someone I'd wronged hanging around? Not that I need a constant reminder. She's all around me every moment of the day. I only have to look in the mirror!"
Geegaw looked sharply away in embarrassment and growled. "I don't think being Gadget's father came into it at all. Not when it comes to helping you, oh no. I think they have another reason for wanting me to take your case. What you might call an ulterior motive."
"Oh, I don't know what they want for sure; for me to make a choice between being Gadget's father and being a Guide, maybe. I don't know that I can make that choice the way they want me to. It might be that when the time comes I'll have to leave you, Lawhiney, because I can't stay with their program."
Lawhiney stared at him. It took her a little while to digest what she'd just heard. When she did one thing became clear. Once again she was being told that she wasn't as important as she thought. She shook her head to clear it and something else that Geegaw had said came back to her. "You weren't out of training? What am I a practice run or something?"
"Huh, what's that?" Geegaw looked a puzzled and then a little guilty. "Oh, I see. No, it's not quite like that. This is no practice run, Law, it's the real thing for both of us. Sort of what you might call a final exam. Either we both graduate with honours or we crash and, well, you get the idea."
Lawhiney blinked. "Both? I don't understand."
Geegaw sighed heavily. "Being a Guide isn't some jolly game where you get to stand over someone's shoulder looking all mysterious and ethereal and point out their mistakes from a safe distance. It's not like being a social worker, or a probation officer either. It can be an act of giving because you see someone in need and you want to help, or it can be more like an act of contrition where you try to make up for something you've done wrong. In my case, it's the latter."
"Oh great - I got a defective Spirit Guide!"
"Not defective. It's not even that strange. Think about it, by definition a Guide is someone who shows you through a strange place that you don't know. You don't know it because you've never been there but they know it because they've been there plenty of times and they know where the path gets slippery next to a sheer drop and where all the good places to stop and rest are and why that fork in the path that looks like a nice shadowed trail is a bad idea 'cause it leads to some place you don't want to go that you might not be able to come back from."
Lawhiney glared at him, her eyes bloodshot, sullen and darkly ringed. "You better never try to take the moral high ground with me again, Mister. Not after admitting that!"
Geegaw allowed himself to look chagrined. "Taking the moral high ground is never a good idea with you, kiddo. It's too crowded. I might get stepped on."
Lawhiney found herself wanting to laugh and cry at the same time. She settled for poking out her tongue at him.
"You think they'll add to my time downstairs for that?"
"How long? An hour? Five minutes?"
Geegaw slumped down heavily in her vacant wheelchair. The wheels didn't budge, even though the chair's break was off.
"I don't know." He said. "Five minutes onto forever won't seem like much, I guess. Personally I'd let you off with a tap across the nose from my finger, or a good tug on the tail, but I'm not the one who keeps the score." He looked at her sorrowfully. "Heck, Law, I've got no real reason to care what happens to you except to impress my boss. I've got plenty of reason to wish you ill, more reason than you know or can guess, reasons that have got nothing to do with Gadget, but " He looked at her sadly. "In spite of everything I'd still let you walk away, raise your kid and then distract Saint Pete to let you squeak through the pearly gates when your time came, if it was in my power."
"You mean that?"
"Sure, kiddo. You aren't easy to get along with, let alone like, but I wouldn't see you suffer if I could help it and I can forgive you for being the way you are. Especially since what you've done hasn't brought you anything but hardship and harm."
Lawhiney thought about it. "Hardship and harm." She repeated. "Can't argue with that. As long as the world thinks I'm her, I have everything I could want. I could probably knock over a bank just by walking in with some story about needing to pay a kidnap ransom and asking the manager to give me everything in the vault. There's a small army of admirers out there willing to worship me in any way I ask but I'm sitting here and I feel like I've lost everything."
She looked at Geegaw sadly. "I don't have anything that's really mine and all the things I did that were sweet at the time, they're like seeds that I planted that either never took root or that grew into something nasty I had to run away from."
"Doing wrong is like that." Geegaw told her.
The pair sat in silence and watched each other until the silence between them seemed wider than the room itself. Neither wanted to break the wordless standoff. They both knew there was only one way it could be broken.
Eventually, Geegaw said: "Are you ready to go and talk to Monty yet?"
And Lawhiney whispered: "Please? Not quite yet?
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