Gadget in Chains
Written by: Loneheart
Chapter Twenty-Four: Murder and the Modern Mouse
Lawhiney stretched out both legs in the warm water, especially the leg that had, until today, been trapped in a cast. That leg's muscles were noticeably weaker from lack of use than the ones in her other leg. She had been planning to take a warm bath to wash away a month's worth of dead skin flakes and shed fur but a series of muscle cramps had turned a luxury into an essential.
Sighing, she sank deeper into Gadget's bubble bath. The inventor certainly had good taste in bubbles, Lawhiney had to give her that.
The water rose to her bottom lip and she allowed the foam to tickle her nose. Lying there amid the bubbles, in a bathtub that had once been a human's gravy boat, Lawhiney finally allowed herself to lower her guard.
For a very long time she just floated in the comfortable, warm water. She was on the edge of falling asleep and only remained awake because she made a conscious decision that the bathtub would be a dangerous place for a nap. A smile curled her lip. She felt at peace for the first time in over a month, perhaps the first time she could remember.
Slowly her eyes began to droop. She was looking at the taps at the end of the bath with the steam rising between her toes, then she was looking at the inside of her eyelids, then the hazy figure standing at the end of the bath, then at the inside of her eyelids again - Ratigan stood over her with flaming red eyes and brimstone yellow teeth.
Lawhiney recoiled in terror. Her feet kicked madly at him yet slipped conveniently into his claws. She whimpered as her head sank below the water. She could feel his steely finger and thumb holding her formerly broken leg high at the tap end of the bath, stopping her from getting her head above the bath water.
She screamed and choked.
Lawhiney tasted soap in her mouth and felt it sting her eyes. For the briefest instant she thought she was done for, certain to emerge in a dark place where an angry mob and a terrible heat awaited her. The thought made her curl up to protect her unborn baby but at the thought of her child, Lawhiney's temper flashed hotter than any steam iron. She clawed at the grip on her leg. All the fingers of her right hand closed around Ratigan's unnaturally cold and hard index finger. She tore at it and the finger moved with unexpected ease.
An icy cold deluge of water hit Lawhiney somewhere personal that made her squeal loud enough to be heard throughout the house. A moment later the bath foam was pushed upwards like seaweed as though a sea-monster were rising from the deep, with Lawhiney playing the part of the monster. She sat up and found herself tightly gripping the cold, hard but reassuringly real metal of the cold tap.
Lawhiney gasped and tried to blink the soap out of her eyes. The ankle on the leg that she had been stretching had become trapped between the bath taps. She had mistaken the hard metal protrusions on top of the taps for Ratigan's fingers.
Had it been a dream then?
Her eyes still stinging, she peered into the clouds of steam at the end of the bath. The figure was still there!
"Ratigan?" she whispered.
The figure put its hands on its hips and laughed. "No, it's me. Now wipe that soap out of your eyes and get a bathrobe on before the Monty and the others break down the door. They must have heard the shriek you made when that cold water hit your - ha-ha, not that I saw where it hit you, of course."
"Geegaw! You rat!"
"Now that's a fine welcome after I healed your leg. What did I do to deserve such a COLD reception?"
"You turn your back while I get a towel!"
"Seen it all before! I used to change your diapers, remember?"
"You've got me mixed up with Gadget again. Now you turn -"
Pounding at the door.
"It's alright! I'm okay!" Lawhiney said.
The pounding stopped. A suspicious Monty rumbled through the door. "Who is that?"
Lawhiney closed her eyes and sucked air through pursed lips. She had forgotten to do her Gadget voice.
"Golly, Monty, I'm alright. I just slipped in the bath, that's all. It was the lubricant properties of the soap and water emulsion overcoming the frictional co-efficient of the bath tub against my - " Lawhiney was half way through her best Gadget impression when she caught Geegaw's eye and nearly dissolved into laughter "- well, it's not important which part of me, I guess the point is I'm fine and you don't have to worry about a thing."
"Are you sure?" Monty didn't sound convinced.
"Do you think I should tell him I saw a spider or something?"
"Any spider Monty catches spying on Gadget taking a bath better have a good chiropractor. Monty would tie his legs in knots."
"I could have sworn I heard someone else talking in there " The door muffled Monty's puzzlement.
"There's only me, Monty. I really don't know who you think I'd be entertaining in the bathroom, or why I'd be entertaining them in here instead of in some other part of the house." Lawhiney called back in her Gadget voice.
Then a thought occurred to her.
"Can he hear you?" she asked Geegaw in a barely audible hiss.
"No. He can't hear me, worst luck."
"Sounded like another mouse girl." Monty confirmed through the door. "Reminded me of someone. Can't quite place who."
Geegaw laughed. "See, kiddo? If he could hear me, you would have had the worst spanking of your life within five minutes of waking up and been in whatever hellhole Gadget's been sweating in for the last two months not long after. Probably would have made my job with you an uphill battle but I'd have been able to take my own sweet time about it."
"I'm fine and alone, Monty. Really. You don't have to worry about a thing." Lawhiney's Gadget impression was slipping.
"If you say so, Gadget-luv." There was something uncertain in Monty's voice that the door muffled enough for her to miss.
Lawhiney waited a second and then glared at her guide. "And unless your bosses upstairs really are okay with you ogling your charges, you can just turn your back right now."
Geegaw complied with a wry smile that had nothing to do with lust. Behind him Lawhiney made a mousy Venus De Milo as she stood up in the bath. She wrapped herself in a warm, snuggly towel and stepped daintily out of the bath.
"There, all finished. You can turn around now." Lawhiney said after a vigorous towelling that left most of her fur standing on end.
Geegaw did and surveyed her with a cynical eye. "Very lovely. Now, did that snake oil salesman show his ugly tail again, while I was indisposed?"
"No. I don't think so. Actually I thought that you were him when I first saw you standing at the end of the bath there. You scared the hell out of me."
"I doubt it. It would take more than me to scare you."
"I could have drowned. Why didn't you help me?"
"Sorry, kiddo, but I can't touch anything, remember?"
"You didn't have to frighten me like that. You could have knocked or something."
"What part of 'I can't touch anything' confused you? Anyhow, you were asleep when I came in and, I might add, sleeping in the bathtub is a dangerous habit for someone in your spiritual position."
"My foot only got stuck between the taps because I kicked when I thought I saw Ratigan."
"Looked more like you were dreaming to me."
"Dreaming? Geegaw, I just remembered. That rat who showed up at the hospital. He said he had been visiting me in my dreams, regularly. Is that possible?"
"Sure it's possible. I gave you a bad dream; remember? Would have been there to meet you myself, if it hadn't included a tour of the basement."
"What?" Geegaw scowled at her. "Oh, I see. It was the other side's territory you know. I wouldn't have been too welcome there."
"More likely they wouldn't have let you out again." Lawhiney stuck her tongue out at him.
"Hm, well, there was that too." Geegaw admitted ruefully.
"That rat said he had been making me forget dreaming about him I mean forget the dreams he was in. Actually, I'm not sure how to say it."
"It's confusing I know. Yes, he can do that too, with permission. I'm afraid he may give you a rough time from now on."
"Can you protect me from him?"
"I can be there as a chaperone, if you like. Make sure you know it's just a dream. Make sure you know who he is and what's happening. Not much more I can do, I'm afraid."
Lawhiney looked haunted. In point of fact, Geegaw thought, she was haunted but it hadn't showed until now.
"I could have sworn I saw him when I was laying in the bath. Standing by the taps. Then I kicked at him and he grabbed my leg and tried to drown me."
"Lawhiney, I was standing by the door until you slipped under the foam and started choking. You were asleep." Geegaw thought about it. "Hey, he can touch you in dreams. Maybe you did see him."
"Wouldn't you know about it? If he was doing that?"
"Not necessarily. You said he'd been visiting your dreams before but I didn't know that. I only knew that he was supposed to be influencing you and that he hadn't shown up. I took it as a lucky break."
Lawhiney remembered her conversation with the big rat at the hospital and her sudden flash of insight when she had realised that Ratigan had recently spent time in the company of Gadget Hackwrench. Should she tell Geegaw? While once she would have answered the question in terms of what she could get out of him, now she answered it in terms of whether she could live with herself if kept it from him.
"Geegaw " she began.
"Kiddo, I'm not here to play around. I know you played me for a sucker at the hospital. My supervisor made it all too clear after I showed up back at base looking like a badly washed shadow. I'm only back here on probation for a few more hours. They figure that's all it should take."
"To find a replacement?"
"For you to turn yourself in and accept whatever punishment the earthly authorities see fit to bestow on you, hopefully."
Lawhiney hoped otherwise.
"To tell you the truth, I only wanted to come back to tell you I know now that you're never going to do that and, well, I'm sorry it didn't work out. I wish I could have known you for longer."
Lawhiney suddenly wanted to hug him. "I wish I could know you for longer too."
"I blame myself for a lot of your troubles." Geegaw admitted with difficulties. "I should have been there for you."
"You've done more than anyone else has ever done for me." Lawhiney told him, sincerely. "For what it's worth, I hope Gadget is okay."
Geegaw smiled. "My, you've come on in leaps and bounds. Lawhiney, it's not too late. Go to Monty. Explain everything like you were going to after that nightmare. It can still work out."
Lawhiney smiled at him. "If I tell you some news about Gadget that would really want to hear, would you promise to stop pushing me to do that and help me make a clean getaway?"
Geegaw looked at her with a glint in his eye. "Not even then. Asides from anything else, I couldn't hold up my end of the bargain."
"Folks upstairs wouldn't let you, huh?"
"For what it's worth, I wish you could get clean away but it's not as simple as that. What you're running away from is something that lives inside you. Something you see behind your eyes every time you peek in the mirror." Geegaw slumped looking defeated. "I guess I've failed you. But I'll be here for you anyway, because there's nothing else I can do and nowhere else for me to go."
Lawhiney looked at him sadly for a moment. "You're okay Geegaw. And if anyone upstairs says different then they'll have me to reckon with."
Lawhiney was getting used to the idea that there could be someone from the great beyond looking in on her at any moment. She dressed with shyness more fitting to the real Gadget.
Dinner was at six. It consisted of an acorn and cheese salad with fruit afterwards. Chip was late, he entered wearily, fanning himself with his hat and looking like he'd walked across the entire city.
"Where you been at, Chipper?" Monty wondered. "You're at least half an hour late."
"Feels like I've been everywhere." Chip smiled without really answering the question.
"You missed the acorn salad." Dale said. "But there's still plenty of cheese and fruit."
Chip scowled. He loved acorn salad. "You greedy guts."
In truth, Lawhiney had eaten most of it. She had reached the stage where she was having cravings. Dale looked at her soulfully but didn't try to shift the blame and Lawhiney didn't try to admit responsibility. Instead, she tried to change the subject.
"You didn't answer Monty's question, Chip. Where have you been?" She tried to make it sound like she was genuinely interested but she had sat at this table for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day for a month now and things had settled into a routine that she could handle on automatic pilot.
Chip glanced at her and shrugged. "Here and there. After the hospital I had a drink and something to eat with an acquaintance of ours who knows a thing or two about romance between the species."
There was a pregnant silence. Lawhiney was merely silent and pregnant.
Lord, she thought, if he goes down on one knee and proposes to me, I'll have to admit everything. I couldn't walk down the isle wearing white, the dress would spontaneously combust or something, and Gadget couldn't walk down it wearing anything else. Besides, I'd be standing at the alter waiting for Gadget Hackwrench to walk in when they asked if anyone knew a just cause.
"It's funny, you think you know a person but you never really do. What goes on in their head, what they do when they're alone, what they were like before you knew them. Who they really are." Chip looked around the table to see if his friends knew what he was talking about.
Lawhiney sat very still. Was this what Geegaw had meant when he had said the powers that be only expected that he would need another couple of hours? She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Okay. Last chance then. She would take it. She swallowed what was in her mouth, which mostly felt like her heart, and opened her mouth to confess.
Chip continued, ruining the moment. "Anyway, after that I went to check with the pigeon post and they say there's still no reply from Hawaii. I wrote to them to ask whether Lawhiney had escaped from the resort, back when the first reports of someone impersonating Gadget came in. They said they'll send someone out when it comes in. If Lawhiney's missing then I guess we'll know for sure that messed up girl in Shrankshaw is her. If not, I'll start checking missing person reports and try to backtrack her trail."
Lawhiney closed her mouth.
Monty winced and looked sideways at Lawhiney. "Gadget-luv? You knew about someone impersonating you, right?"
Lawhiney frowned as if trying to remember. In fact she had just worked out that her campaign of vengeance and mayhem had been kept a secret from Gadget. She had nearly broken herself running across the country pretending to be someone she had hated and Gadget had never even known. No one had even MENTIONED it to her. Two months ago, that would have made her crazy.
"Sure, I knew." Lawhiney smiled. "I went through the newspaper clippings at my welcome home party. Go on Chipper, you were saying?"
"Afterwards I dropped by to visit Jen - she says she has something of yours by the way. She wouldn't tell me what. Guess it must be something personal." Chip pronounced personal in that special male way that meant feminine.
"I'll be sure to stop by as soon as I'm feeling up to it." Lawhiney lied.
"Anyway, Jen had another visitor while I was there. A big white rat prison guard out of Shrankshaw Prison, one I'd seen when I went up there to try and get some truth out of the impostor the Street Watch caught using your name."
"Oh?" Lawhiney had suddenly lost her appetite. She had become very, very sharply aware that what Geegaw had said earlier about only being with her a few more hours could be taken to mean her time as a free mouse was running out.
Monty looked worried. "I remember Jen from when Geegaw and I were on our adventures. Jen's mother was one of the most beautiful creatures I'd ever laid eyes on. Even turned Geegaw's head for a while and after he lost your mum, Gadget, that was no mean feat. I went looking for the source of the Nile for a few months as I remember it and you and he took some time out for you to go to school in London. She's a good girl, from what I remember, even if her mum was a bit flighty."
"I love your stories, Monty." Lawhiney smiled brightly. She did. Many was the time she had inspired him to tell some long winded improbable tale to get her out of a tight corner and his willingness to retell stories that the real Gadget had actually lived through had allowed her to add considerably to her knowledge of Gadget's life. It was unlikely she could have survived the last month living in the tree house without Monty's shaggy dog stories, in fact.
"I don't see how Jen could be mixed up with my impostor, Chip." Lawhiney cooed.
"I don't mean to suggest Jen is mixed up in anything but meeting this white rat threw me. I felt like I had been following a thread to find my way out of some dark place only to bump into someone following the same thread the other way. She wouldn't admit it but I'm convinced she was playing detective and that she was following a trail of clues from Shrankshaw that had led her to Jen."
Lawhiney put her fork down and quietly dabbed at her lips with her napkin. She was discretely watching everyone else round the table.
"Golly, Chip! It sounds like you've got competition to me. Either that or an admirer!" Dale laughed at his own joke.
Chip hit him over the head automatically, without even looking in his direction.
Bzzzt-whzzzz-zzzEeeet! Zipper suggested from the sink. He only ate leftovers and by mutual agreement stayed off the table.
"Good point, Zipper." Chip agreed.
"Well said." agreed Monty.
"Jen wouldn't have to know a thing. There are plenty of practiced deceivers who think nothing of leading a person on and using them for some end that would turn their blood cold if they knew how they were being used. It could happen to Jen as easily as to any trusting, innocent person." Chip slumped back and folded his arms, scowling. "Still, I'd love to know what made that white rat visit Jen's place like that."
"Are you sure it was something to do with the impostor?" Monty rumbled, his forehead deeply furrowed in thought.
"Yeah, I'm pretty sure." Chip said.
Lawhiney's vision was blurring and her hearing was beginning to fade in and out. She looked like a politely listening and quietly attentive mouse girl but inside she felt her reason crack and madness begin to leek in. Perhaps if she went to hell, she would live through this conversation for all eternity.
"Do you suppose the impostor got the guard to visit Jen?" Dale was scratching his head.
"Why would the impostor do that if Jen was just an unwitting pawn, Dale? No, there's something deeper here. I've got a feeling it's something so obvious we're overlooking it. It'll probably come to me in the morning. Right now, I'm too tired to think straight." Chip finished the apple slice he was eating and threw his napkin onto the table as though admitting defeat.
"Better hope that white rat doesn't solve the case before you, Chip." Dale teased. "After all, she can question the impostor any time she wants."
Chip shot him a look. "If she can find out who that impostor is, well and good. It just means we can all get back to our normal lives a little sooner. I'm not racing anybody."
With that, Chip left the table in disgust, privately reflecting that Dale was probably right and that the white rat probably would solve the mystery of the impostor's identity before he could. She had certainly acted like she had known something when she left the bar, earlier that night.
"Excuse me." Lawhiney said in a slightly unsteady voice that didn't sound a think like Gadget. "I don't feel well."
"That just leaves you and me to clear up, Dale. Let's be having you." Monty said as she fled the room.
Lawhiney shut herself in Gadget's bedroom and screamed into a pillow until Geegaw appeared out of thin air.
"Well?" he asked.
"No, everything is so far from well, I probably couldn't even see well with aid of a telescope!" Lawhiney snapped back at him. "How in heaven's name did I forget that Gadget could blow the lid off this thing anytime she wants? She's had a prison guard visit Jennifer! She was probably there to ask Jen all sorts of intimate questions about Gadget that only Jen could know the answers to and by now she's probably back at the prison making sure Gadget gets her shoulders massaged by the Warden while the Mayor writes a grovelling apology in his best handwriting!"
"I've been telling you all along this wouldn't work out, kiddo." Geegaw shook his head but had a fond smile at the thought of his daughter, safe and sound.
"Why on earth didn't she do it in the first five minutes? She could have had Chip identify her at the police station or in the courtroom. She could have written a letter to Monty asking him to get her out."
"I don't know the answers to any of that. I'm only allowed to look in on her occasionally and I can't talk to her unless she has grave need of me. It would have to be life or death - worse than that, even." Geegaw waved a finger to emphasise the point. "The chances are you're probably never going to know the answers to any of the questions you've asked. The world isn't run for the purpose of satisfying your idle curiosity, young lady. The only thing that matters now is what you do next."
Lawhiney looked at him for a moment. "Thank you, Geegaw. You're right, as always."
Geegaw looked at her with surprise, hope and a little mistrust.
"I have to make a break for it." Lawhiney didn't disappoint him.
Geegaw's expression soured. "Swell. That's just swell. Go ahead, why don't you? Abandon every step forward that you've made in the last two months. Turn your back on the second chance you were given by God's grace. Do you know how rare second chances are? How few are given out, especially to someone at the stage you were at? I didn't get one. Not even Gadget's mother got one. But go ahead; spend your second life the way you spent your first one. Within a few months you'll get your figure back and you'll be bored with changing nappies. You might even find a good-looking chump to leave holding the baby. When the time comes, the opposition will probably hold a welcome rally for you down below."
Lawhiney wanted to scream and throw something at him but pretending to be Gadget every waking moment for a month had taught her self restraint if nothing else. Instead she found herself listening to the part of her heart that liked Geegaw and was sorry to disappoint him. "I'm sorry, Geegaw. I can't turn my back on freedom any more than I can turn my back on life by taking a walk down cat alley. Try and understand. If you can't understand, try and forgive." She hesitated. "You have made a difference to who I am, Geegaw. A month ago I wouldn't have kept my promise to you to write a letter confessing everything before slipping out the door."
She watched him carefully, like a little girl who had argued with her parents and now wanted to be forgiven.
Geegaw watched her back, as he was supposed to, looking for a sign that she was insincere. He couldn't find any.
"You mean it?" he tested.
"You know that if that Prison Officer really is back at the prison arranging Gadget's release, chances are they have a telephone there. They could be calling the Sweepers right now."
"I know, Geegaw."
"There could be police on the way over right now."
"Yes, I know."
"Every second probably counts."
Lawhiney folded her arms. "Are you trying to talk me out of it?"
"No!" Geegaw held up his open paws. "No, wouldn't dream of it."
"Good, because I don't have time to argue. Especially not if I'm going to have time to pack a few essentials." Lawhiney dragged Gadget's overnight bag out from its hiding place.
After she had added items from the underwear drawer, the medicine cabinet in Gadget's bathroom and the bedside table, she wrapped the bag in a towel and made her way to Gadget's workshop, where she knew there was privacy and a desk with paper and ink.
Geegaw watched her every step of the way in genuine wonder. It was like watching a mayfly emerge from its cocoon just as the sunset crept over the horizon. Lawhiney was keeping a promise even though it put her freedom in danger.
She pulled up a draftsman's chair made out of five toothpicks and a bottle cap and smiled at the thought of Chip's face when he read the letter she was about to write. She decided, impulsively, to make the letter as filthy as possible to ensure his embarrassment whenever he had to produce it as evidence. A wicked grin danced upon her face as she took up her pen, only to have her first ever encounter with writer's block.
"What's wrong." Geegaw asked with his eyes narrowed.
"I don't know what to confess first." Lawhiney admitted, sheepishly.
"Just pick something and go from there but make sure it doesn't read like Gadget who's confessing." Geegaw advised.
"Don't worry, I promise it won't sound a thing like Gadget." Lawhiney smiled in a way that should have set off every warning bell in Geegaw's head.
Geegaw shook his head as Lawhiney hunched over the paper and giggled.
"What's so funny?" he asked a few minutes later.
"Nothing, I'm just thinking of that stupid detective's face when he reads what I'm writing." Lawhiney was grinning like a maniac.
"It's not funny. This could ruin him." Geegaw scolded her.
"Well, he's not such a good detective anyway. He should stick to rescuing people."
"Granted. But that's no reason to take delight in his downfall."
"I'm not taking delight in his downfall because he's not a good enough detective to catch me. I'm taking delight in it because he would take delight in mine." Lawhiney answered.
"You're not out of the woods yet, kiddo."
"The consequences for me, if he catches me out, are a lot worse than the consequences for him, if I catch him out." Lawhiney reminded him. "So I think I'm entitled to be a little pleased with myself for outwitting him."
Geegaw's eyes narrowed. "That's not what you're smiling about. It's the wrong kind of smile, there's no relief in it. That's Lawhiney's mischief smile! I may not have known you long, but it's been long enough to know that look. You're causing trouble for someone."
Lawhiney peeped at him from over the top of the sheet of paper she had been writing on, her eyes bright with laughter.
"Let me see that sheet of paper." Geegaw demanded. "I want to know what you've done!"
Lawhiney held it out to him and watched closely as he tried to take it. The fascinating thing was that no matter how closely she watched she couldn't see the exact point where his hand passed through the paper. It was as if someone was playing a film and a couple of frames, the exact frames where Geegaw's hand would have made contact with the paper, had been cut out.
Geegaw glared at his hand in frustration. "Very funny. You'd play that joke on someone who had lost a hand or an arm, too, wouldn't you?"
Lawhiney looked at him reproachfully. "My record is bad enough without you inventing sins to go on it."
"Show me the paper." Geegaw ordered her.
Lawhiney flipped the sheet over and held it up for him to read, her other paw covering her eyes in mock fear at his reaction.
Geegaw read the paper in mounting disbelief. He couldn't believe that in the middle of the precarious position she was in, Lawhiney had taken time out to play a practical joke. He read the letter through a second time, to make sure he hadn't misunderstood. Then he looked at her with his eyes narrow and his lips pursed.
"You start out asking for understanding and forgiveness. Unlikely, particularly given what follows, but a good start." Geegaw commented. "You then go on to give your real name and place of birth. Honesty, again, good."
"I would say it was more a desire to mortify my Mother for revenge but I guess I need to score all the points I can, if I want to impress your bouncer."
Geegaw ground his teeth. "You are not writing this letter for the purposes of petty revenge on your parents or anyone else. You are supposed to be writing it for the good of your immortal soul, which is grave danger. Although now that I think of it, your mother does have it coming, so you can leave that part in."
Lawhiney's jaw dropped. Geegaw's tone implied actual personal experience of her mother, which seemed impossible, although Geegaw and her mother would have been about the same age. She shelved the thought for later.
"You then mention the incident on Hawaii, so that there's no doubt about there being more than one Gadget double. Again, good, but what's this bit about passionately entwining your tongue with Chip's? Did that actually happen?"
Lawhiney nodded. In fact, it had. While Gadget was desperately trying to signal Chip for rescue, with some success, Lawhiney had distracted him by planting one of her most effective smooches on the unsuspecting chipmunk.
"Hm. Not sure you had to mention it here. What's this about the two of you having a deeply spiritual connection that transcends the boundaries of species and social norms?"
"Perfectly true. I'm his nemesis."
"I thought Dale was his nemesis. Speaking of which, after you itemise how you lied and conned your way across the country - a little short on detail in that part, by the way - what's this part about Chip and Dale? Right before you say you now realise that your hatred of Gadget was entirely misconceived and wrongheaded, which is a nice touch by the way."
"It should be clear further on."
"I don't see that you needed to mention their constant public arguing, let alone compare them to an old, bickering, married couple." Geegaw observed as he continued reading the letter. "I see you've explained how Gadget and you got swapped by your people quite nicely."
Lawhiney smiled sweetly. "I haven't mentioned you, Saint Peter, or Ratigan anywhere. I hope that's alright."
"Fine, fine. It's okay to be discreet about that sort of thing." Geegaw continued reading. "You say that you were afraid of jail and continued the deception without expecting it to go so far. That has the ring of truth about it. Then you say that your heart was breaking and that you couldn't go on with it any more because-" Geegaw reached the last paragraph and flushed deeply.
Wow, Lawhiney thought, I wouldn't have thought a ghost would have enough blood in him to go that colour!
Geegaw glared at her, his whiskers vibrating in fury. "You can't leave this behind! I won't let you!"
Lawhiney hid a teasing grin behind the confession she had written. "What's the matter Gee-gee? I wrote a confession, just like I promised. Everything in it's true, or mostly true. And I haven't actually said anything that's an outright lie, I've just phrased it in a way that will make Chip blush a little when he produces the letter in evidence."
Geegaw put his paws on his hips and looked at her in wonder. "Maybe you don't understand what you've written, Lawhiney. What you're implying in that letter could destroy someone!"
"In your day, maybe, but the world's moved on since the dark ages." Lawhiney poked fun.
"Lawhiney, if you want to leave this room with my blessing, let alone my aid, you'll tear that up and write a straight confession!"
"Interesting choice of words " Lawhiney mused. "Would you really aid me?"
"For all you know, I can take back the power I used to heal your leg and leave you to crawl out of here." Geegaw bluffed.
Lawhiney noticeably failed to quail but considered what he had said carefully. "Alright." She said. "I'll rewrite the confession, but only on one condition."
"You're in no position to make conditions." Geegaw warned, twiddling his fingers like a pantomime magician.
"You said that you could take back the healing power you used on my leg FOR ALL I KNEW." Lawhiney pointed out, unimpressed. "If you could actually do it you would have just said you could do it, without the proviso. I don't think you're allowed to tell me an outright lie but if you can do what you said, or I'm wrong about you having to tell the truth, then just flat out tell me that you can do it without any loopholes or add-ons and I'll have to do what you tell me, won't I?" Lawhiney looked down at him, haughtily.
"What's the condition?" he asked.
"I'll rewrite the confession in exchange for something." She looked down for a moment, her face shadowed. "I won't ask you to aid me. I think you might get into trouble for that. I won't even ask you to get official approval for me running away, assuming you could get it. But I do want you to give me your personal blessing to make a break for it."
Geegaw thought for a moment, then nodded. "Alright, Law. Write it out again and you'll have my blessing. I'll even check to make sure the coast is clear."
"Thanks, Geegaw! You're an honest crook."
"My boss would only half agree." Geegaw replied wryly. "Now get on with it. Time's a-wasting."
Lawhiney balled up her first confession and tossed it into the wastepaper basket as though she was keeping score. She busily penned a second draft while Geegaw read carefully over her shoulder.
Then the door crashed open.
Lawhiney and Geegaw goggled at the chipmunk standing boldly in the doorway with one paw on his hip and the other pointing a finger into the air, as though inspiration had waited until after he had kicked open the door to strike.
"I have it!" Proclaimed a proud and happy voice.
Lawhiney sounded more surprised than she had ever sounded in her entire life.
Dale folded his arms and looked at her as though daring her to question or challenge him. "Yes, that's right. I've worked it out. I hold the solution in the palm of my paw!" He looked at the palm of his paw which he was holding out and which was conspicuously empty. "Well, not literally, of course, because I'm not holding anything, but the solution is so obvious now that it might as well be a handy sized object like an acorn or a sugar-coated cereal puff that I could just pick up and do whatever I want with." Dale chomped the air a couple of times as something distracted him. "Speaking of which, I'm hungry. You haven't got any of those little space age food pellets in here, have you?"
Lawhiney blinked at him for a moment and then her eyes narrowed as his dramatics made sense. "You've been watching another classic trek marathon, haven't you?"
"Yes, and it was a trek episode that gave me the answer I was looking for."
"There's a dispenser built into the wall." Lawhiney nodded towards it, ready to fight or flee as the occasion arose.
"Gadget loved that show." Geegaw shook his head sadly. "There's an episode where the hero gets split into two identical copies of himself. A good and evil version."
Lawhiney winced. "Isn't Chip always telling you that too much Star Trek is bad for your imagination?" She warmed up to twisting Dale around her little finger.
"I don't know why he says that. My imagination always works great after watching Star Trek." Dale was filling his mouth with the food pellets from the dispenser. Since Lawhiney hated them, they had probably been there for two months.
Lawhiney's lips twitched. Out of the corner of her mouth she muttered: "No, I don't care how forgiving he is, I will NOT be caught by DALE."
"Mff-wha-as-ah-humf?" Dale said round a mouthful of pellets.
"I asked what great mystery you had solved, oh great detective." The voice could have been Gadget's but the sarcasm was all Lawhiney's.
"Oh, I solved the problem of how to finish the Case of the Criminal Copy!"
Lawhiney blinked. "Go on."
"See, Friendly Enterprises, the company that prints the Red Badger of Courage comic books, cancelled the series right before the second part of the Case of the Criminal Copy was due to go to the printers. But I was watching Star Trek and suddenly it hit me that I could make up my own ending. All I need is some paper, some ink and then to become a great comic book artist."
Dale looked up. Gadget was staring slack-jawed at his brilliance. He beamed. If he had been psychic he would have seen that there were two pairs of jaws on the floor.
Geegaw and Lawhiney slowly looked sideways at each other. After a moment, Geegaw gave a nervous chuckle and tried to cajole his charge into seeing the funny side. "I know that little fella has a big heart but I gotta tell ya, if I wasn't dead, I'd have had a heart attack."
Lawhiney's face was scrunched up like a balled up piece of scrap paper. Her ears pointed towards Dale like horns and her eyebrows made a flat, fury-darkened line across her gaze. When she spoke, her voice was like rough silk.
"Don't I have a sign up on my workshop door that says you're not allowed in?"
"Uh, well. I didn't think you'd mind since it was in a good cause." Dale seemed suddenly shy.
"Does it say anything about good causes on the sign?"
"Uh, no "
"Does it say - specifically - that I'm referring to you, DALE, when I say keep out?" Lawhiney proved that had she been born more or, perhaps, less honest, she would have made a fine trail lawyer.
"Uh, well " For a moment it looked like Dale was going to have to go out and check. "Yes." He ventured. "But darn it, Gadget, I only came in for a piece of paper and a pen!"
"He'll hit me again!"
"I might hit you if you don't!" Lawhiney sounded nothing like Gadget.
Dale blinked at her. Gadget was almost yelling in his face now.
"What?" Lawhiney demanded. "What is it?"
Very slowly but not so slowly that there could be any mistake about what he was doing, Dale leaned forwards just enough to be nose-to-nose with her and gently sniffed.
Lawhiney realised what he was doing and her eyes went wide. She had let her guard down and gone too far, dropping all pretence that she was who she claimed to be. With the realisation that she had been an idiot came the embarrassment and self-hate that always came with such unpleasant self-knowledge. The hate she found easy enough to redirect at Dale. The embarrassment was just another reason to hate him more.
Dale twitched an embarrassed smile at her. "Isn't that the perfume you wore when you and Chip pretended to be a super-spies?"
Lawhiney's jaw dropped a second time. It wasn't so much that for the second time she had expected Dale to be the one to unmask her, only for him to say something trivial, it was more that Monty had retold that story for her. Lawhiney knew it was Dale that Gadget had played that game with, not Chip, and was amazed Dale could come up with such a clever trap for her on the fly, especially without giving any outward sign of suspicion. She was so surprised she had to look at him a second time before she could believe he had actually said it.
"Jeepers, Dale! It was you I played Irma Killjoy for, not Chip! What's wrong with you? Are you feeling alright?" She shook her hair at him and batted her big blue eyes.
Dale forced a nervous laugh and looked away. "I'm fine I guess. It's just, say, how come you're wearing perfume. You usually don't unless you're going out somewhere. Are you going out, Gadget?"
Lawhiney smiled benignly at him but didn't miss the emphasis Dale had placed on Gadget's name. He was trying to fool her so he could go and talk to Chip or Monty.
"I'm just wearing it because it's the first night out of my cast, Dale. I wanted to feel special. But since I have my mobility back I might go and visit Jen later." Lawhiney suddenly caught sight of the overnight bag, still where she had left it, just behind the door. It even had nightclothes poking out of the top and all Dale had to do was turn around to see it.
Dale looked worried. "Isn't it a little late to go out?"
"Dale, you're so sweet to worry about me." She kissed him on the cheek and stood back to survey how much damage her attack had achieved. Dale's eyes were half closed and he had a dopey grin. He hadn't flinched which would have been a sure giveaway that he knew for certain she wasn't Gadget. "You don't have to. I'll have Jen to look after me and I can always stay at her place if it's too late to come back here."
"Why don't we all go out on the town with you if it's a special occasion?" Dale suggested.
Was he still suspicious or had that kiss been too much encouragement? Lawhiney couldn't tell but had to play it as it lay.
"I've been cooped up with you four guys for over a month now and I want to enjoy some girl talk. I want to talk about -" Lawhiney's eyes glazed for a moment as she remembered what the real Gadget was like "- which brand of engine oil smells better and how to get the vibration from a 5v direct current electric motor to that VERY special frequency. You guys just wouldn't know what I was talking about." Lawhiney only barely knew what she was talking about. She was dredging most of it up from her memories of Gadget's diary.
Dale shook his head, probably wondering if Jen would know what she was talking about. "You know, Chip's right. Watching Star Trek does make my imagination do crazy things."
"Why don't you put it to work on your new comic book project? That will keep it out of trouble." Lawhiney suggested. With any luck it would also keep him quiet about any suspicions he had for a good long time.
"That's a great idea! Does that mean I can borrow some paper and ink?" Dale's tail wagged with a cub's enthusiasm and at that moment Lawhiney would have found it difficult to refuse him anything. She followed his shining eyes and saw that she was still holding the pen she had been using to write her confession.
"Sure, Dale." Lawhiney handed him the pen.
"Zowie! Thanks Gadget!" Dale reached past her towards the sheet of paper she had been writing on.
Lawhiney's paw slammed down on it so fast Dale jumped back in surprise. "Ah-ha. I'm going to need a lot of paper for what I'm working on right now."
"Uh, sure Gadget." Dale looked confused by her sudden change of direction but didn't argue.
"I mean, I have something to finish up. Give me a moment to sign it and slip it in an envelope, then I'll get you some paper you can use. In the meantime, you just stand there by the door and DON'T TOUCH ANYTHING." Because I don't know a thing about Gadget's inventions and they all look like they might explode and kill everybody, Lawhiney added silently in the privacy of her own head.
Dale stood next to the open door with his head lowered and his paws behind his back, like a good cub should.
Lawhiney sniffed and nodded like a schoolteacher, then turned back to her confession. Thankfully, the ink had not smudged when she slammed her paw down on it. She signed it with a flourish, thinking that it was probably the first honest thing worthy of any note she had ever written, and stepped back to let Geegaw inspect her work. It was a document filled with crime, greed, envy and malice, yet she felt proud of it and expected to be highly praised.
Geegaw looked over her handiwork as Lawhiney addressed an envelope to Chip and added the strict injunction that it was only to opened if she wasn't back by morning. They thought she was Gadget, she reminded herself. The same story she had used on Dale ought to work on everyone else, she reasoned, there was no need to go inventing new ones.
"Looks pretty good." Geegaw admitted. "Clear, concise, leaves no room for doubt. Little short on the remorse but you don't go making excuses either."
Lawhiney folded the letter and slipped it into the envelope, which she sealed. Feeling much safer, she called over her shoulder to Dale. "I'll get you that paper, you wanted. How many sheets do you think you'll need?"
"It's okay." Dale called back. "I just need something to make rough notes on so I don't forget. There was some here in the trash bin that'll do."
"Uh-oh." Geegaw said under what passed for his breath.
Dale was standing over the wastepaper basket with Lawhiney's first confession already un-crumpled in his hand. His lips moved silently as a slight frown formed. He turned with an incredulous look on his face. "You're Lawhiney?"
Gadget's favourite adjustable wrench swung down in a short arc that ended at Dale's forehead as hard as Lawhiney could swing it.
Everything went black.
Back to the stories