Gadget in Chains
Written by: Loneheart
Chapter Twenty-Six: Opening All The Wrong Doors
"I can't believe you killed Dale Oakmont! I can't believe you killed Dale Oakmont!" Geegaw was hopping up and down in a frenzy.
"Will you stop saying that? You were the one who insisted I stick around to rewrite my confession!"
"Don't remind me!"
Lawhiney looked at Dale's crumpled form on the floor of Gadget's workshop. Something about it made her feel terribly sad, though since she couldn't hear any running feet or shouting outside she had presumably gotten away with it for the time being and Gadget's workshop had plenty of closet space.
"Poor stupid klutz." She eulogised. "Ten minutes later and he would have missed me. He could have had the pick of anything he wanted in here."
""'Poor stupid klutz.'" They should carve that on his tombstone." Geegaw reproached her.
Lawhiney opened her mouth to say that it was probably what Chip would say and stopped because she suddenly realised it would be true. Chip and a great many others probably would say that about Dale when they worked out what had happened. Suddenly she felt sorrier for Dale than she ever felt for anyone (who wasn't her).
"Aw, heck, Geegaw. I didn't want this I swear I didn't. I'd rather have planted a big wet kiss on his lips than laid that monkey-wrench on his head."
Geegaw wrung his hands and railed at himself as much as Lawhiney. "I've shown you and told you what would happen if you didn't change. For weeks I've been telling you! Later, you've always said, I'll change later! Well now there's no more later, Lawhiney, because now you're a murderer!"
"You healed me, you can heal him." She pleaded.
Geegaw looked at her sadly. "No, Lawhiney. I'm your guide, not Dale's. I can't even whisper in his ear. You're the only one who could have done anything to prevent this."
"Tell me what I can do!" Lawhiney begged him.
"Do? I've been telling you what you have to do for weeks! But look what you've DONE!" Geegaw reached out to Dale as though he was about to shake hands and welcome him to the afterlife. "Lying and causing trouble. That's all you're good for, Lawhiney!"
"That's not all I'm good at!" Lawhiney whined.
"No, you're good at one other thing, let's not leave that out!" Geegaw roared.
"Hey!" Lawhiney glared at Geegaw, who in her opinion was neither helping, nor shouldering the share of responsibility that she felt was rightfully his. Ironically, there was a poster on the wall behind him that seemed to graphically illustrate the sort of thing he had hinted was her specialty.
Lawhiney blinked. She didn't remember Gadget having that kind of thing on her walls.
Then she realised what she was looking at.
"You're right, I am good at that!" she piped up cheerfully.
"Well it wasn't a compliment!" Geegaw was amazed. Her tone lacked anything resembling contrition. In fact, it was closer to delighted surprise.
Lawhiney ran at him and for a moment he thought she going to give him a demonstration. He dodged and she ignored him totally in favour of ripping a poster off the wall.
"This is it! This is the solution!" She muttered to herself, trying to make sense of the diagram on the poster. Geegaw looked over her shoulder, trying to make sense of her and it at the same time.
"Resuscitation techniques and electrical shock treatment." Geegaw read out loud. "Electrical shocks in the work place can stop a the heart and lungs. Quick action is essential to prevent brain damage." Geegaw shook his head. "Do you think there's still time?"
"Well, he hasn't shown up to kick your tail for not being a better guide yet."
"I meant to prevent brain damage."
"He was stupid anyway, no-one will notice." Lawhiney's voice had an edge of hysteria in it. "Geegaw, I need you to read the instructions to me while I help Dale. Will you do that? Are you allowed to still help me?"
"It says to put him on his back and tilt his head so his mouth is pointing up. Then open his mouth and check for obstructions like false teeth or chewing gum with your fingers. They suggest using something to prop his jaw open if he has sharp teeth."
"I'll risk it." Lawhiney said and poked her fingers into Dale's mouth. "What next?"
"Check his breathing and pulse."
"We already know he's not breathing. How do I check his pulse?"
"Same place yours is." Geegaw pointed to a spot on Dale's arm and Lawhiney pressed two fingertips against it with an expression of intense concentration.
"I think I actually feel something but it's like a twitching muscle or a nervous tic, not heartbeat. Shouldn't it be going ba-boom, ba-boom, ba-boom?"
"No, that's a human heartbeat, only really big creatures have hearts that slow." Geegaw told her. "Ours are more like raindrops on a glass roof."
"It's very irregular."
"Try and get him breathing again while there's still something there."
"Open his mouth, pinch his nose closed with your fingers of one hand while holding his jaw open with the other, put your mouth to his and exhale strongly down his throat."
Lawhiney followed Geegaw's instructions like an expert. One breath. Two breaths. Three breaths.
"Check his pulse again." Geegaw commanded.
Lawhiney began moving her fingers up and down Dale's arm. She seemed to be having difficulty finding the same spot as before.
"That's it, right there. You had it right the first time." Geegaw pointed.
"I can't feel it." She looked up at Geegaw, her face stricken. "Geegaw, I think it's stopped!"
"Put your ear to his chest and listen."
Lawhiney pulled up Dale's Hawaiian shirt and put her ear to the ruffled fur of his chest. The sudden intimacy of the situation after two months of keeping her distance from everyone around her set off a chain of associations like a string of firecrackers in her head. There was only one way she would be this close to a male normally and her racing hormones didn't help. She wanted to snarl at herself with disgust but forced herself to keep her head in position and listen.
Finally she looked up at Geegaw. "I can't hear anything."
Geegaw took a deep breath. "Okay. Let's start CPR. Kneel by his chest and lock your elbows so your arms are straight. Put one palm on the centre of his chest and the other on top of the first one. Then rock backwards and forwards so that the weight of your upper body is coming down on his chest. You want to keep a rhythm going. I'll beat out time for you."
"Thanks." Lawhiney said through clenched teeth.
Geegaw began tapping one foot in the rhythm of a small heart fighting for life. It was almost like listening to the clockwork of Gadget's inventions. Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock.
Lawhiney was throwing herself backwards and forwards with a rhythm and energy she found disturbing and familiar. The harder she worked at saving someone's life, the more she felt cheep, tacky and worthless. It wasn't right, she told herself, she was doing a good thing and that shouldn't make her feel bad.
"Lawhiney, he's going to need another lungful of air."
Lawhiney barely heard Geegaw. Dale was the one who was dying but she was the one seeing her life flash before her eyes. She opened his mouth, breathed deep and felt something like a guilty secret, or a sin, leave her with the air she gave to Dale. When she sat up and resumed working on his heart, there were tears spilling down her face.
Geegaw watched the tears fall and wondered what price redemption would come at if Dale's death was the cost of repentance. Movement in the corner of the room caught his eye. Was that shadow on the wall something like a chipmunk? Did that shaft of light from the desk lamp have a hint of bright Hawaiian colour dancing in it like a butterfly?
"Lawhiney, it's not working." Geegaw hissed urgently. "I think all you can do is tell him you're sorry before he goes."
Lawhiney sobbed and refused to look at him. She picked her self up from where she was kneeling next to Dale's body and repositioned herself so that her legs straddled him. She interlocked her fingers and raised her paws over her head to bring them down in a hammer blow to Dale's heart.
Geegaw watch Lawhiney fight to undo the harm she had done, fearing that it was too late yet hoping the very fact that she had become the sort of person who would try to save someone who was a threat to her would be enough to upset all previous predictions.
Lawhiney lowered her ear to Dale's chest and listened for a heartbeat. She heard nothing. Dale's chest sounded as empty as her future. She righted herself and hit him again.
In the back of Lawhiney's head a dozen tinny remembered and imagined voices snidely compared this situation to the kind of private moments from her past that she preferred to stay private.
She raised her paws and hit Dale a third time to make the voices go away.
Dale twitched and coughed. At the sound of Dale's first wheeze, Lawhiney made a triumphant noise that even she could not identify. She watched Dale breathe with the rapt joy of a mother watching her baby take it's first breath.
Geegaw sighed with relief.
Then the door to the workshop opened.
Chip stood frozen in disbelief.
He held a rodent sized bottle of milk in one hand that spilt, unnoticed, down his jacket. For one, then two, then three horrible seconds he took in the scene. Disordered workshop. Dishevelled friends. He could not believe it and then she looked up. He saw her and she saw him.
It was her smile that did it, that triumphant look of someone who had gotten just what exactly they had wanted after a long time waiting. The flush on her face and the state of her hair and clothes made it pretty clear that she had worked hard for it too.
Dale sighed from underneath her and his head rocked to one side as though he had fallen asleep.
Gadget cringed. Her expression crumpled into one of dismay, misery, embarrassment, and sympathetic pain.
After that would come the pity, Chip knew. If there was one thing that he would not be able to withstand, one thing that would break him as a male completely, that one thing was her pity.
Gadget hung her head, her hair reached down to the floor, a curtain that hid both Dale's face and hers from the chipmunk in the doorway.
Chip knew he had to say something or do something to break away from this moment or he would never leave it.
"I'm sorry. Please excuse me. I didn't realise I would be interrupting something." The last word wavered as it came out and Chip knew it was time to close the door.
He did so.
"What just happened?" a mystified Lawhiney asked Geegaw.
Geegaw stared after Chip with a slack jaw and astonished eyes. His expression slowly relaxed into an I-could-have-told-you-so look and he waved a finger at the closed door with a cynical grin. "Would you believe that's the clown the greatest detective of all time has chosen to follow in his footsteps?"
Lawhiney blinked. "I don't get it. Why didn't he arrest me? I thought he'd take one look at what I did to Dale and send me right back to hospital."
Geegaw arched an eyebrow at her.
Lawhiney stared blankly back at him with all the innocence Gadget was famous for. Geegaw could have railed at her for being cruel and heartless if she'd been faking it. The problem was that she just genuinely didn't get it. He looked her in the eye and then pointedly at the prone Dale, who still lay under Lawhiney, then back to see if she had caught on.
Lawhiney looked from Geegaw to Dale and back again, then repeated the performance much faster as she realised what Chip had been thinking. She began to go red from the toes up.
"Oh lord, I don't know why I'm so embarrassed." She said. "It's not as if Dale and I were ACTUALLY doing anything." She laughed. "I mean, even if we had been, it's nothing I haven't done in front of - uh, never mind." Lawhiney winced and looked away from Geegaw quickly.
Geegaw glared at her and tried to find a suitably dire pronouncement. A few feet away a real person was probably curled up in a ball of pain, sobbing over a broken heart because of a stupid misunderstanding that should have ended with Lawhiney being hauled off in handcuffs. As the only conscious representative of justice, light and mercy in the room, he ought to be telling her off for finding it funny.
The trouble was, he found it funny too.
"Well, I should have known it wouldn't be long before you stopped looking all innocent and showed your true colours." He growled finally. "I'm afraid to ask but how you would have finished that sentence if you hadn't remembered who you were talking to?"
Lawhiney laughed nervously and toyed with her hair to avoid looking at him.
"Alright then, if that question is too painful to answer, perhaps it might not be too much to ask how Dale is doing?" Geegaw suggested.
"Dale? Oh, Dale is, uh, wait a minute-" Lawhiney put her head to his chest "-alive! Yep, Dale is alive and making all those wheezy breathing noises and digestive gurgles people are supposed to."
"Try opening his eyes. See how close he is to waking up."
Lawhiney lifted an eyelid. "Um. Looks like nobody's home."
"Try the other one."
Lawhiney did and stared in surprise. "His pupils are different sizes."
"That's a concussion. With any luck, it'll wear off by morning." Geegaw tried to be optimistic.
"You think I should leave him here?"
"I think you should put him in the recovery position, then go get him some medical attention before confessing everything to Monty." Geegaw looked at her and remembered what Gadget had looked like when she was small and wanted something but didn't want to ask for it in case Daddy said no. He sighed. "But you're not going to do that, are you?"
Lawhiney shook her head and managed to look a little sorry as she did so.
"Alright, Law. Tell me what you are going to do. I'm past the point where I'll get mad, but I don't think I can take any more surprises."
"I want to hide him out of sight and sneak a few things down to the ranger skate, which I'm going to steal and drive to the docks so I can catch a freighter out of here."
"And you'll pay for the ride with your charm and good looks, no doubt?"
Lawhiney smirked at him. "I don't think you want to know how I was thinking of paying for the ride."
Geegaw stared at her coldly.
"Actually, I was thinking of paying for it with the ranger skate. Once I scrape off the markings it should be worth plenty in the right corners of town. Geegaw, you are just too easy."
Geegaw threw back his head and looked at the ceiling. "Easy. Do you hear that? She calls me easy."
Lawhiney stood up and walked over to the chest where Gadget kept the tarpaulins and bags for her inventions. She stopped half way there and blew a raspberry at her guide.
"A few minutes ago you were begging me to help." He reminded her. "Now you're shining me on. I'm going to remember this the next time you get yourself into a jam. Speaking of which, isn't the ranger skate a little too distinctive to sell on the quiet, even without its markings?"
Lawhiney was trying to find a Dale sized sack from Gadget's store. "Com' on, Geegaw, you're all holy and stuff. How much are you gonna know about the black market?"
"I know that it's not going to be easy to find a reliable fence at short notice at this time of night, unless you already have one."
"Perhaps I could pretend to be Gadget one last time and sell it openly."
"It would be noticed."
"True. How about - ah, this sack is big enough for Dale. How about I just take something that's worth the price of a boat ride."
"Lawhiney, I know you haven't really had time to think about what just happened but Dale could still die, you know, especially if you stuff him into a sack and just forget about him. From the way you were acting back then, I don't think you want that. The right thing to do now is to get him some medical attention."
"I'll leave him somewhere he'll be easily found." Lawhiney promised. "Whoever finds him can take care of it."
"If you're hoping he'll be found what's the point in hiding him?"
Lawhiney hesitated. "I could just leave him laying there. Gadget has a sign up, not that anyone seems to be paying attention to it tonight. He could be here undisturbed for a while."
"In which case, he could die." Geegaw said with the finality of a man who thinks he's just won an argument with a woman.
"Like you said, Dale ought to have medical attention. After I've left, that is." Lawhiney shook out the sack.
Haggs shoved Bubbles to one side and flung the cell door wide open.
The cell seemed even smaller, exposed to the light. It was plainly empty.
"It's not possible." Haggs said. She was speaking more to herself than to Bubbles. She put her paws either side of the doorway as though that was the only thing holding her up. "Is there an air vent she crawled out of? No, it's too small." She leaned further into the cell. "Is she hiding under the sleeping bench?"
Bubbles watched as Haggs bent over to look under the shelf without the slightest thought for anyone standing behind her, or of modesty. Shaking her head, Bubbles turned away politely and found herself nose to nose with Red.
Bubbles blinked rapidly, half expecting Red to disappear again like a phantom. Instead Red hugged her tightly and Bubbles had to reposition the knife quickly, to avoid keeping her deal with Haggs by accident.
"No. No, that's too small. No way could she hide under here." Haggs muttered to herself, still trying to puzzle it out.
Red and Bubbles looked at each other and, as one mouse, each applied their shoulders to Haggs ample behind and shoved with all their might.
Haggs roared, a terrible sound of confusion and rage that seemed even louder in the normally silent corridor. She was upside down, her weight on her shoulders and her back against the edge of the sleeping shelf. Looking up at her assailants she saw both Bubbles and Gadget, partners in crime, framed by the open doorway of the prison cell.
Gadget slammed the cell door and threw her shoulder against it to hold it shut. Bubbles added her weight to it, to buy them time. From inside the cell came the sound of fury and of Haggs righting herself.
The rat threw herself at the door but together they were able to hold it closed against her weight. In a moment, Bubbles knew, Haggs would recover herself and bring her full strength to bare on the door. Bubbles opened her eyes and saw the key still sticking out of the padlock.
"Oh, yeah." Bubbles murmured to herself, remembering that she had put it there just seconds before. She reached out and snapped the lock shut.
"You can't hold me in here forever!" Haggs threatened.
"We can try!" Red returned bravely. Then, in a more desperate tone of voice, she added: "Bubbles, do you have anything we can jam the door with?"
Bubbles spun the key around on her index finger and chuckled. "Oh Red? I think you can stop leaning against the door now."
"Huh? Oh! How did you get that?"
"What, this little key? Why, it was still in the lock."
Haggs' furious eye appeared at the guard's peephole and glared at them both. "McGee! You'll regret crossing me! But it's not too late, you can still make good. Our deal stands, McGee! I'll let you out if you make good on it."
Bubbles gave a short, emotionless laugh. "Funny thing, all I ever planned to do was jump you while Red here was playing possum. I guess you'll have all night to work on your explanation for how Red and me got out of our cells and shut you up in there, but somehow, I don't think that what you come up with is going to be good enough. Goodbye, MARGO."
Bubbles slammed the flap on the viewing slot shut and grinned broadly.
"Bubbles, are you okay?" Red hugged her again which, given the absence of their normal prison uniforms, was unsettling. "I was worried sick when she hauled you off and then after the mob tried to kill me I just forgot all about it and when we talked earlier it was all about me and I didn't even stop to think about what you've been through, but I promise, we're going to sit down and I'm going to make you tell me every little detail "
Bubbles briefly remembered and already missed the one good thing about being in solitary, namely the absence of an insane little motor mouth who was determined to chatter away until they were both ready for canvas overcoats. Kindly, because she had missed Red too and didn't want to spoil the moment, she put her hand over her friend's mouth.
"Red, I think we're going to be too busy escaping to do that."
Red looked guilty and swayed from side to side like a child who had a guilty secret to confess. "I kept telling myself that I wasn't going to escape. That I shouldn't give up my principles just because they made a mistake and put me in here when it wasn't right."
Bubbles held Red at arm's length and looked at her. For a moment she was worried her friend was going to burst into tears. It sounded like Red was looking for approval for something and it took Bubbles a moment to work out what it was.
A wry smile tugged at Bubbles mouth. "You got out of that solitary cell pretty quick though."
Red looked at the door to her cell. "There's something terrible in there."
"Yes," Bubbles agreed, "it's a big, ugly sewer rat by the name of Margo Haggs but she's in there and we're out here and there's nothing to worry about except how we're going to get out of the prison and what will happen if anyone catches us."
"No, that's not what I mean." Red said uneasily. "I saw that rat again, the big male one who dresses in a top hat and cape, like he was a stage magician or something. He started visiting me when I was in the padded cell in the special wing."
Bubbles looked sideways at her. "Was that before or after they started medicating you?"
"After - never mind that now. He was telling me that old ghost story of Darla's and I turned round and the dead girl was behind me. I've never been so scared in all my life."
"Trust that screwball bat to make things worse instead of better." Bubbles muttered grimly.
"I must have broken a world record for breaking out of a prison cell." Red said unhappily. "All it took was for something to scare the wits out of me."
"A smart person would have gotten scared and broken out a long time ago. Say, how did you get out, anyway?"
"Someone had used a bent paper clip to make the handle on the bucket we're supposed to - "
"Yeesh, Red, I know what the bucket is for."
"I unbent it and picked the lock through the slot in the door."
Bubbles smiled. "Gadget Hackwrench would be proud of you."
Red shook her head sadly. "If only you knew, Bubbles."
"Speaking of Gadget Hackwrench - " Bubbles broke off and began to laugh. "Heh, you'll never believe this but your little routine must have finally gotten under Haggs' fur. She's convinced you're the real thing and she wants me to kill you. She's scared you're going to tell everyone how she runs things in here. Thinks you talking about it would hurt her career. Ruin her promotion prospects." Bubbles laughed and soon Red was laughing along with her.
"That's the dumbest reason for trying to kill me, ever. It's even dumber than the guy who wanted to use my body to make chocolate mice! Or the guy who thought I was talking too much."
Bubbles remembered the key and snatched it out of the padlock. "Haggs said this was a skeleton key that could open any door in the prison. I'm going to free the twins!"
"And then what?" Red called after her.
Bubbles looked back at her and grinned. "Then we're getting out of here. Don't you know a jail break when you see one, Red?"
Lawhiney crept through Ranger Headquarters as quietly as well, as a mouse. Of course, since she was a mouse it didn't really give her much of an advantage, or hope of avoiding an awkward conversation with one of Gadget's friends.
She didn't want to leave Dale in Gadget's workshop floor until someone found him but at the same time doing anything else seemed to be impossible. He had already stopped breathing once and if it happened again when no one was there she would be a murderess. She had pulled a sack over him and propped him up against a wall to conceal him from casual eyes while she was still in the tree house.
Silently she opened a door and slipped through into a darkened room. Whatever Chip Maplewood's faults as a detective he was the serious, responsible member of the group and anything of tradable value would probably be kept in his study.
Chip's study was in darkness. The small, well-kept room was furnished with a few choice pieces of quality furniture that looked professionally made. Lawhiney took a brief moment to admire Chip's taste, thinking that it suited the detective perfectly, before she went over to desk and started opening the drawers.
Top right drawer.
Writing paper, stationary, a few pencils and one good fountain pen.
Middle right drawer.
Magnifying glass, camera, film for the camera.
Bottom right drawer.
One bent and creased photograph of a teenage squirrel with dewy eyes - Tammy, Lawhiney remembered - and a sappy message penned on the back that didn't mention Chip by name. Assuming it had been intended for him, he hadn't taken very good care of it. Lawhiney wondered for a moment whether Chip had taken the photograph and, if so, just what he was thinking by encouraging the silly girl.
Under Tammy's photo was a set of four scrapbooks labelled with dates. The Rangers press clippings, Lawhiney realised. Hesitantly, she opened the top book from the back and flipped through the blank pages to see if any stories that were about her had infiltrated Chip's record of the Ranger's triumphs.
The last story in the most recent scrapbook was her own release from hospital, with a quote from Chip asking the press to respect Gadget's privacy until she had recuperated. Before that was a less favourable story about the rangers failure to capture Pierre and Lorrie the mole after Brandon's attempted "kidnap" of "Gadget Hackwrench". Before that was the media's version of the raid on the museum and the crash of the Ranger plane. And before that
Before that came the stories of the heists and confidence tricks Lawhiney had pulled with her gang. The venom in some press ink was strong enough to sting even through Lawhiney's thick skin. In fact, some of it even managed to shock her because it was along side the stories of the good the Rangers were doing and those stories were filled with a lavish, almost salivating praise that the press seemed to have reserved especially for Gadget Hackwrench.
She turned a page.
More stories about the tricks she had pulled.
At the time she had been on the move from one job to the next, too busy to notice the consequences of the things she had done. They were laid out for her here, carefully presented and annotated by Chip's neat, precise handwriting. Here, a story about an orphanage that had been forced to close after she had defrauded the trustees under the headline: "Free to a good home". There, a piece on an office clerk who had been sacked after he trusted her with the keys to a safe. Below that was a notice of a divorce where "Gadget" had been named as a co-respondent. A teenage fundraiser had been held accountable when the funds disappeared with "Gadget" and had been forced to empty her college fund to pay everyone back. The list seemed endless and these were just the consequences that had made it into the papers that Chip could get hold of.
Dimly, Lawhiney began to sense the scale of her wrongdoing.
How could anyone expect her to reform with such a mountain of crime behind her? Even if she just drew a line under her old life and started again, she could live as a saint until the age of one hundred and still not balance the debt she owed to the world. Geegaw, or whoever had assigned him to her case, had surely been mad to give her a second chance.
"I guess there aren't really any second chances in life." She said aloud.
"No, I guess there aren't." Chip's voice came from the darkness in answer.
Lawhiney had never thought he might be sitting in the darkness of his study. It hadn't occurred to her to wonder where he might have gone after seeing her with Dale. In the shadows she could just make him out sitting in a large armchair in the corner of the room. His hat was on the table next to the armchair, along with a reading lamp and an upturned book.
The silence seemed to fill up the darkness between them. Lawhiney's mouth was dry with fear. Had Chip been waiting for her to break in? She was trapped. She was stuck behind the desk. He could certainly reach the door before her.
But Chip's hat was on the table.
If there was one thing Lawhiney was sure of, it was that Chip would be wearing his fedora if he had just sprung a brilliantly conceived trap. There was an upturned book under the hat but Lawhiney was sure he hadn't just been sitting there reading when she first tried the door handle. For one thing, it didn't make sense that he would have turned out the reading lamp instead of simply asking: "Who's there?"
"I think what you were looking for is in the top left drawer." Chip said. His voice was husky.
Hesitatingly, Lawhiney opened the drawer, half expecting to see a pair of handcuffs in there. Instead there was a glossy framed picture of Gadget and a small black jewellery box.
Chip was in love with Gadget.
Lawhiney had worked it out weeks ago but forgotten when became apparent that the Rangers' main form of in home entertainment was seeing who could pretend for the longest that they hadn't noticed, a game that Chip and Gadget were so far the clear leaders in, as far as Lawhiney had been able to gather.
She popped open the jewellery box. Inside it was a diamond ring.
Looked like Gadget had won the Rangers' favourite party game.
"Is it ?" Chip seemed to be having difficulty speaking.
"Oh yeah. Exactly what I was looking for." She smiled and fluttered her eyes at him. "In fact a diamond like this can be used to focus laser beams." She had seen that in a James Bond movie and hoped Chip didn't know anything to the contrary. She snapped the box shut. "It's just what I need for my latest invention. Can I borrow it?"
"Oh Gadget." Chip sounded mortally wounded.
"I'll bring it back when my experiment is finished." Lawhiney lied without pity.
"You don't understand." Chip pleaded.
Lawhiney held up Tammy's photo and added the coup-de-grace. "She's growing into a beautiful young creature. I hope you and she will be very happy together, as happy as Dale and I am."
Chip sat there in stunned silence. He stared at her with his jaw slack and in a terrible instant Lawhiney realised that she had gone much, much too far.
As she replayed the last few seconds in her mind, Lawhiney realised that Chip would have helped her pack, seen her safely to the harbour and bought her tickets on the Ranger's credit if she had just told him the truth about who she was and what he had seen in Gadget's workshop. There was nothing that he wouldn't do for that second chance in life that had been given, so irrationally, to her.
Now it was too late.
She could see him crumple inwards on himself as though his spirit were collapsing and she knew that "only kidding" wouldn't buy him or her the relief and freedom that they needed.
"Well, have to go now." She said in her brightest Gadget voice.
She left Chip to himself in the darkened room, the diamond ring in her pocket, but Geegaw had done his work well enough that she took a moment to feel just a little sorry for the person she had just destroyed.
"Now come on girls. She didn't mean any harm and it's because of her that you're both out now."
"Yeah, what Bubbles said!" Gadget squeaked from her hiding place behind her friend.
The twins were in no mood to take prisoners.
"You should have heard what the warden had to say to us!" The left one hissed.
"I've never been so embarrassed in my entire life." The right twin snapped.
"She's been punished already! Sheila's crowd nearly lynched her." Bubbles pointed out.
"Poor baby. Tell her to come here so I can rub it all better." Right twin held up her paws and mimed wringing somebody's neck.
"Has she any idea what its like to be alone with Haggs in that white room?"
"YES! She horrible!" Gadget yelled from behind Bubbles.
Everyone stared at her.
Gadget looked back at them, her large eyes pleading them not to ask for details.
"Can we just get out of here?" she begged finally.
Bubbles looked at the twins. "So how about it girls? Is she forgiven?"
The twins looked at each other and shared a wicked smile. "Nah, we want to see you give her a spanking first, Bubbles..."
Bubbles glowered. "Do you want to get out of here or not?"
"It's not much but it's home." The left twin observed.
"Still, be nice to take a holiday." The right twin pointed out.
"So it's settled then? We're escaping and no horrible crunchy revenge on Red for landing you in solitary?"
The twins held another brief, silent conference.
"We'll escape first "
"Good!" Bubbles smiled.
" but we'd still like to see you spank her!"
Bubbles slapped a paw over her eyes and wiped downwards like Barney Bear used to in the old cartoons. "It would be easier to escape from this place with my kids in tow than you three."
"So long as we are escaping, do you suppose it would be possible to find where they put our clothes?" Gadget asked plaintively.
"It had better be! You can't hide behind me for the whole night!" Bubbles retorted.
"Little cupboard in a storeroom opposite the search room." One of the twins put in. "I saw it when I was waiting for my turn with Haggs."
"Great. I can't wait to put on a prison uniform again!" Bubbles turned on her heel, leaving a startled and embarrassed Gadget exposed to the twins. She was half way down the corridor before she realised what she had just said and stopped dead in her tracks. "I can't believe I just said that!"
Geegaw's face was too deeply hidden in the shadows of his hooded robe for Lawhiney to read his expression but if his tone was any indication she wasn't missing anything she wanted to see.
"I felt a great disturbance in the force while I was watching to make sure no one discovered Dale and that he didn't suffocate in that plastic rubbish bag you stuffed his helpless body into while he was unconscious. Lawhiney, what have you been doing?"
Lawhiney gulped. She couldn't really see his eyes in those shadows, they weren't glowing it was just her imagination.
"Well, it's like this. You see " the words were automatic. They came naturally like a cough or a hiccup, to buy her time while she thought of an explanation.
Normally if some tattletale was going to run to authority and expose Lawhiney, she would simply discredit them or turn on the charm and ask the listener to make a choice between her and the sneaking, trouble-stirring little gossip who had informed on her. The trouble was, this was Geegaw she was dealing with, the only being she had ever dealt with who could expect to hear about the truth from a more convincing source than her if she lied.
Lahwiney pictured herself asking Geegaw, in a high-pitched and tearful voice, just who he was going to believe, her or the Almighty?
Even Groucho Marx had drawn the line at asking people to choose between believing him or their own eyes.
Geegaw waited. He knew it was important to give her enough time to reach her own decision. He knew, by now, that it would be the wrong decision when it came and then he would be all over her, but he was a good enough guide to know that he had to let her make her own decision before he could do his job.
Lawhiney finished some internal conflict that had stalled her excuses and looked up. Geegaw noticed immediately that the child-like air she usually had when she was trying to talk her way out of trouble was gone.
"Okay, here's how it is. Chip's in love with Gadget. He's been in love for ages and he hasn't said anything to her. Then he walked in while I was giving Dale the kiss of life and he got the wrong idea. He's sitting in his study right now, with the lights all out, not even crying or drinking. I broke in to get something I could swap for a tickets out of this city and I found this." Lawhiney held out the jewellery box and opened it so that Geegaw could see the mouse sized ring inside.
Geegaw pulled back his hood and blinked at her. "Chip's in love with Gadget?"
Lawhiney stared at him. "I thought you knew that? You didn't know that?"
"Does she love him? They've been living under the same roof for years, how far has this gone?" Geegaw stopped as though an ugly thought had tapped him on the shoulder. "Are you telling me that while I was watching Dale, so I could warn you if anyone found him before you got back, you went and stole my daughter's engagement ring so you could flee the country? While she's rotting in jail for YOUR crimes?"
Lawhiney looked him directly in the eyes.
"Yes, Geegaw." She said softly. "That's how it is."
And the hurt and disappointment she saw in Geegaw's eyes was the worst thing she had ever seen.
"Did you do anything else I should know about?" Geegaw yelled at her. "Did you find time to lie to congress or start a war while I was making sure you didn't become a murderess?"
"I can't help it." She said miserably. "Doing wrong comes as naturally as breathing to me. I don't deserve a second chance. I know that now."
"Second chance? You didn't even deserve the first one!" Geegaw berated her.
Lawhiney was unbent by Geegaw's stormy temper. "It's who I am and I can't change. I see the truth of it now. I make no excuses. Not even for Saint Peter."
Geegaw blinked. She had recognised reality for what it was, which was the first step to changing it. She had owned up to her faults, which was the first step to repairing them. He was seeing her at her worst and yet in the middle of it all he could see the bedrock of redemption.
"Go on." He told her as he tried to recall what else his training as a guide had taught him.
"I guess there really isn't anything more to say. I'll understand you probably want to go back and wash your hands of me." Lawhiney looked at him sadly. "I'll miss you. Thank you for seeing something in me that I couldn't see."
Geegaw sighed deeply. "Lawhiney, you have no idea "
"Monty." Lawhiney said.
"Gadget-luv? It's good to see you up and around but shouldn't you be getting some rest? It's been a big day for you." The big Australian mouse spoke with gentle concern. He had appeared at the end of the hallway and conceivably could have been loitering just beyond and heard everything, but he looked tired and distracted and gave no sign of suspicion.
"I was just going to visit Jennifer. I want to tell her the good news and get out of the tree house. I've been going stir-crazy." Lawhiney's Gadget imitation was perfect.
"Isn't it a little late to go visiting, Gadget?"
"Oh no, she works a late shift at a bar, remember? She wouldn't be at home any earlier than this." Lawhiney improvised from memory.
"I suppose Are you sure you're up to it, though?"
"I'll spend the night at her place."
Monty scowled. "This tree house is starting to remind me of the time I took a sea cruise on the Marie Celest. Zipper's turned in early, I can't find Chip or Dale and now you're taking off."
"Chip's in his study. I don't think he wants to be disturbed." Lawhiney said, truthfully. Continuing in the same vain she added: "Monty, I've been going stir-crazy cooped up in this place. I really want to enjoy my freedom while I have it."
"Guess you never really appreciate something until you don't have it any more, ay? All right, then Gadget-luv "
Lawhiney winced. "Will you do something for me, Monty? There's a big heavy rubbish sack in my workshop and I didn't feel up to moving it."
"You want me to chuck it off the branch out back into the human litterbin?"
On a slightly different plane of existence, there was a strangled gasp.
"I think there are still some humans about in the park, the nights haven't started to draw in yet. I'd leave it until just before bed if I were you. I know I'm being lazy but would you mind emptying my wastepaper bin into the sack first?"
"Don't worry your pretty little head, Gadget. It's as good as done. Now, if I can just find Dale before that movie he wanted to see is completely over, perhaps he'll still be speaking to me tomorrow." With a nod of his head, Monty continued what Lawhiney hoped would be a fruitless search.
"What have you done?" Geegaw wailed at her. "How can you stand there and thank me for trying to help one moment and then, with me watching, trick my oldest friend to killing Dale?"
"I did not! Dale will be fine." Lawhiney hissed out of the corner of her mouth, not sure Monty was out of earshot yet.
"You think a fall like that won't kill him? The state he's in?"
"I told Monty to empty the wastepaper bin into the sack! He'll see Dale and look after him. You want Dale to get medical help don't you?"
"What if he forgets?" Geegaw shouted at her.
"Okay, fine! I'll pin a note on the bag telling him to look inside." Lawhiney snapped back. "I have to go back to the workshop for my suitcase anyway!" She began to stomp away and only looked back to call over her shoulder. "In fact, what are you still doing here? Shouldn't you have gone back to cloud city to tell everyone that I'm a hopeless case?"
"Why? So they can cancel the ticker-tape parade?" Geegaw yelled back.
By the time Lawhiney was at the door to Gadget's workshop she was fairly sure she had left Gadget's father behind for good and that if she was going to be haunted from now on, it would have to be by the ghost of Dale. So when she opened the workshop door and Geegaw was standing there, it was all she could do to stop herself from screaming.
"Don't do that." She scowled at him. "In fact, what are you still doing here? Checking up on me? I told you I had to come back here for my suitcase anyway "
Geegaw sighed heavily. "Law, if you wanted to drive me away, I doubt you could come up with something more effective than the work you've done in the last hour. But being your guide isn't about whether I want to be with you, it's about whether you're ready to go it alone."
Lawhiney picked up the pad on which her confession was still written. She flipped the page and wrote on the next page:
Dear Monty -
I'm really Lawhiney, Dale is unconscious in the rubbish sack and my confession is in the envelope on the desk.
Yours truthfully, Lawhiney.
P.S. Your walnut wallaroos are wonderful. Thanks.
Lawhiney tore the page out carelessly and left it sitting on the seat of Gadget's draftsman chair, which she positioned facing the door next to the paper rubbish sack Dale was laying in. She took a moment to peer into the sack and check on Dale. Dale was looking bad but he was breathing and she folded the end of the sack instead of tying it again to make sure things continued that way.
Finally she straightened and looked Geegaw in the eye. "I'd say the moment for me to go it alone has arrived. I've done what I can to make sure Dale's okay and the confession should get Gadget out of jail. Hopefully I'll be long gone by that time."
"What about when you reach that little town where you're going to marry a good mouse and go straight?" Geegaw enquired.
"You'll be welcome to visit. I could probably use a hand, settling in. I haven't stayed in one place for very long since I was a child."
"You are going straight then?"
"I don't know. I don't think I can." Lawhiney was checking the contents of her suitcase in a way that said she was all business.
Geegaw looked at her with a stricken expression. "Lawhiney. You know what will happen to you if you don't go straight. You know what will happen if Roche is orphaned."
"I know what will happen if he's raised in an orphanage." Lawhiney answered flatly.
Geegaw watched her with an expression of mounting horror and disgust. "You know and you don't care? I thought - I could have sworn - that you wanted to be Roche's mother, that you genuinely cared and now it's like you can't wait for them to take him away!" Geegaw accused.
Lawhiney rounded on him. "Roche is MY child! I don't like it when people try to take away something that's mine!"
"And that's all there is to it? You think he's going to be a fashionable accessory to go with your latest outfit, the way your mother treated you?"
Lawhiney's face darkened as if a shadow had fallen across it. "I'd never treat a child the way my mother treated me! No child of mine is going to be dressed up like a doll, rehearsed like a performing animal and used as a conversation piece to show off at coffee mornings."
Geegaw folded his arms. "No, he's going to passed from one soulless institution to the next until he falls off a roof."
Lawhiney looked stricken. "Geegaw, it's not like that. I want to go straight, I just don't think I can and it's only a matter of time before they catch up with me and take Roche away. I want to find someone good to look after him, someone who'll raise him properly and take care of him. You'll help me, won't you? To make sure that they're the right people?"
Geegaw scowled. "No."
Lawhiney opened her mouth to protest but Geegaw cut her off.
"Now listen to me, kiddo. There are a lot of ways you can spin this but whichever side up it lands, it comes down to you dumping Roche on someone else and taking off to repeat all your old mistakes. It won't work, Law, because you're not the person you were before you got your wake up call from Saint Pete. Whatever you told yourself about your crimes before, you see them for what they are now."
"I see myself for what I am now!" Lawhiney held out her hands to him, even though she knew he couldn't take them. "I want to change, I just don't think I can."
Geegaw smiled at her, in spite of everything. "Laurel, seeing yourself for who you really are is the first step to change. You can't get anywhere with your eyes shut."
"I didn't think getting our uniforms back would be so easy. They didn't even lock the cupboard door and you know how easy it is for things to get stolen in this place."
"You sound like you're complaining."
"Will you two keep it down back there? The last thing we need is for someone to hear us."
At the end of a long and dark corridor, from around an anonymous grey corner, there emerged the head of an escaping felon: Gadget Hackwrench. A moment later Bubbles's head emerged directly above Gadget's and was shortly joined by the head of each twin.
"Coast clear." Whispered Gadget.
"Oh good." Said one of the twins. "Because, frankly, I think I'm about to fall over from having to lean past you two to see."
"Uh, who's hand is that?" Gadget asked.
There was an uncomfortable silence.
"Sorry, I put it there to help me balance." Bubbles said after conducting a quick audit of her upper limbs to see what they were doing.
"I am going to be so glad to get out of this place." Gadget said with uncharacteristic slowness.
"The easiest way out of Shrankshaw is through the human prison up above." Bubbles changed the subject rapidly. "The solitary cells are actually the highest part of Shrankshaw but there's no way to access the human prison from here so first we have to go back down and along to the infirmary."
"The medical wing?" Gadget asked nervously as they began to creep along the empty corridor.
"Not the special medical wing, where you were kept. The infirmary is where they patch us up after the fights and give us something to make whatever bellyache the food in here has given us go away."
Gadget paused. It followed that the infirmary would also be where most of the people she had hurt in that fight would have ended up. "Won't that be a little crowded?"
"Huh?" Bubbles looked at her questioningly. "Oh yeah. I forgot that little story you spun. I'm kind of curious to see how bad it really was."
"I don't think you will want to be friends with me when you see how bad it was. Couldn't we go out the way we came in?"
"We sneak through the entire prison, past all the guards, and out the main gate into the sewers? And then we wait for the next barge bringing new arrivals so we can hitch a lift, hmm?" Bubbles arched an eyebrow at Gadget like a sarcastic schoolteacher. "I know it's difficult, but just try to leave the thinking to me."
"Sorry." Gadget said, feeling stupid for perhaps the fourth time in her life.
"That's okay. Now, I'll go first. If I run into a guard I'll try and warn you. If I'm caught, I'll try and distract them so you three can surprise them and rescue me."
Bubbles ran lightly down the corridor and stopped at the next corner, where she stopped to listen. She turned and gestured to them to follow and then she advanced down the next corridor the same way. The little group of escapees repeated this procedure for some time as they made their way through the prison until they reached a pair of double doors under a sign reading "Infirmary".
"Okay," Bubbles told them, "behind the infirmary is the main stairwell which goes to every level of the prison. It's made out of an old human airshaft and it's two feet wide so that just about anything the law abiding authorities choose to pilfer from the humans, without being charged with endangering civilization as we know it, can be lowered to wherever it's needed."
Gadget grimaced. She has almost forgotten that Bubbles had been jailed for endangering the safety of animal society by robbing a human warehouse. Human property was regarded as both an easy target and fair game by most creatures, particularly in places that had not been claimed at territory by another group of animals. Therefore it was often a cause of resentment when the authorities, which could seemingly commandeer anything they wanted, stepped in and jailed an individual for doing the exact same thing.
I'm helping three convicts break out of jail. Gadget thought. What am I thinking?
Then, before she could answer her own question, a second thought came to her: No, they are helping me to break out of jail. Almost by habit, Gadget brought out the moral algebra that she had used in what now seemed to be a previous life, and began to work out the right thing to do.
"Someone's coming!" Bubbles hissed. "Quick, back around the corner."
The trio carried Gadget back into hiding with them.
As the others breathed deeply and peeped nervously round the corner to keep watch, Gadget stood with her back against the cool wall, calmly watching as her ethical equations fell into place.
"It's the Deputy Governor." Bubbles whispered.
Marion Cedar was standing in front of the infirmary doors making notes on her clipboard.
There were three convicts who might stay free and doing wrong for the rest of their lives, Gadget reflected. She was one person, wrongly convicted in a blunder that was sure to be discovered before long.
"Just be patient. She'll finish up and move on any second."
The good she might do in the short time she would gain on the outside was not going to out-weigh the bad the others might do in the lifetime of crime, no matter how she made the figures dance on her imaginary blackboard. The more she rechecked her calculations the more obvious it was that the right thing was to prevent their escape by raising the alarm.
Marion Cedar was standing not twelve inches away and all Gadget had to do was raise her voice. Bubbles and the twins would surely never forgive her. Haggs would undoubtedly find away to avenge herself. But right would be done.
Yet the more she thought about it, the more remote and irrelevant her moral algebra became, like a memory of a past life that no longer had any meaning for her. Gadget sighed and let the Greek letters and arcane mathematical symbols fade from her mind's eye. She didn't care.
Gadget knew what the morally right course of action was but she wasn't going to take it, simply because she didn't want to.
"She's moving on." Bubbles informed them. "We'll just wait until she's out of earshot."
Marion Cedar's footsteps retreated down another corridor. There was a sound of a barred gate being closed and locked before Bubbles spoke.
"Okay, we're clear. We just have to get through the infirmary without waking anybody and out the back into the main staircase. The walls of that staircase are all metal and the shaft runs through every floor of the prison, so the slightest noise could wake up the whole prison." Bubbles walked up to the double doors to peak through one of the round windows. "I hope you exaggerated your fight story, Red, because this will be a lot easier if the infirmary isn't crowded "
Bubbles stared in disbelief. Every bed was occupied and cots had been moved into the gaps between the normal beds to take the overflow of patients. Half the infirmary ward seemed to be in plaster casts and the other half seemed to be in bandages. After a moment she heard movement behind her. For all she knew it could have been a guard but she couldn't tear her eyes way from the scene of devastation to look.
"Will you look at that?" Said one of the twins.
"I am looking. It's incredible." The other replied.
Bubbles looked sideways.
Some of the people in the beds were undoubtedly known to all them, perhaps even friendly with them, yet there was no denying the note of admiration Bubbles heard in the voices of the twins. Bubbles felt some of that admiration herself, that one person had done this because someone had tried to mess with them, yet perhaps for the first time the feeling disturbed her.
These were people lying in those beds.
What kind of world had she chosen for herself, that so much pain could be regarded as an achievement?
She felt a sudden shiver rise up her spine as she remembered that Red was silently standing directly behind her.
Together, all three of the escaping convicts turned to look at Red as if to ask how so much trouble could come in such an innocent and apparently harmless little package. Red smiled nervously and waved the fingers of one paw at them in return.
"Red? Could you come here a moment?" Bubbles asked in a carefully neutral tone of voice.
Red looked at her feet like a small child expecting punishment.
"Come on. Come on over here." Bubbles urged her, gently.
Red edged forward reluctantly until she was standing in front Bubbles and the doors to the infirmary. Bubbles nodded to the nearer window.
"Look through that window." Bubbles ordered her, feeling a little more assertive at seeing how submissive Red was being.
Red went no closer to the door but went up on tiptoes to see from where she was standing.
"You did that?"
Red nodded meekly, as though admitting to upsetting some crockery.
"You little psychopath!" Bubbles hissed as loudly as she dared. "What on Earth is wrong with you? I mean, for crying out loud, how could you? I mean just how?"
"I told you, they hauled me under the steam iron and they were going to lower it on to me so I made one of them burn their arm on the iron so they would let go of me and the people holding on to my legs would pull me out the other side and then I bit a couple of them and climbed up on the iron and knocked off anyone who tried to climb up after me and then things got really bad and I made the iron swing back and forth until it tore open the water tank and the water hit the electrical cable with the faulty insulation "
Red's voice was getting smaller and smaller as she babbled and it truly was the vintage, stream of consciousness, babbling that Bubbles had gotten used to from her strange, naïve cellmate who never seemed to be aware of anything outside her own head. Bubble stared at Red and let the words roll over her without listening to them because she was too busy watching Red's expression. Bubbles saw tears in her friend's eyes. Did psychopaths weep for their victims? Who knew what a psychopath did except for another psychopath?
Bubbles held up a paw to turn back the flow of words. Red stopped talking little by little, not slowing the words or slowing down, but leaving longer and longer pauses between breaths until her last sentence was left abandoned in mid-air.
They stared at each other for a moment.
"I'm sorry." Red apologised simply.
"Okay." Bubbles replied. "We're going to have to go through there now, all of us, and I think you should go first."
"Does that mean you still trust me?"
Bubbles, who had never considered Red to be dangerous before now and was finding that the idea took a little getting used to, looked away in embarrassment. "Sure I trust you right up front, where I can see you."
"But that means you trust me, right? That you wouldn't expect me to suddenly raise the alarm or anything out of last minute moral qualms about breaking the law by escaping to correct a miscarriage of justice?"
Bubbles rolled the last question around in her head and decided that it was a joke, albeit not a very funny one. She responded in kind. "Ah, if we should inadvertently wake anyone up and we suddenly find ourselves at the heart of an enraged mob determined to tear you to pieces, just try not to be surprised if I should happen to yell out: "'Here she is girls, I brought her right to you so you could wreak horrible crunchy revenge to your heart's content!'" It'll just be a cunning ruse on my part to make them think I'm with them instead of you."
"So you'll be able to rescue me and we can still escape?" Red asked, hopefully, over her shoulder.
"Yeah, sure Red. If I can find a bucket to carry the pieces away in " Bubbles pushed her friend gently through the door.
"Dale's breathing is steady at least." Lawhiney said, her tone as clinical as any nurse's.
"Perhaps it's best to leave him out of the bag." Geegaw suggested.
"No, someone might look in before Monty thinks it's time to go to bed." Lawhiney was frowning as she listened to the chipmunk's breathing.
"Well, if I can't talk you out of it "
Lawhiney answered him by pulling the paper sack back up over Dale's face. Then she went to the small round window positioned in the corner of Gadget's workshop, where it could let sunlight shine on her draftsman's drawing board.
"Going to see if the park is deserted?" Geegaw asked. "The park closes at eleven but it's not the sort of place that you can just lock up and humans don't always respect their own rules. Even if they do, there are plenty of communities with a night life that puts the human race to shame."
Geegaw chuckled. "Well, that's only natural. After all, humans are only supposed to be active during the day."
"I can't see properly."
"That would be because it's dark outside."
"It's because the window is too small. I can't get the catch open."
"Gadget probably made it herself." Geegaw explained. "Let me have a look at it."
Geegaw peered at the lock and recognised it immediately as a vintage Gadget design, cobbled together from whatever she had to hand, probably in ten minutes flat. He smiled at Lawhiney. "Let's see. That's a safety pin, wired to some fishing line. She's got one end wrapped around a soda bottle-top that's glued to a beer bottle cap cog. Ah, that's it. She's got an old electric toothbrush motor hooked up to it. Just follow the wires and, here we go, push the button next to her drawing board."
Lawhiney pushed the button and nothing happened.
"Part of her "'I'll-make-it-up-as-I-go-along'" catalogue by the look of it." Geegaw said and poked his head under the desk. "The battery has run out. Guess she was too absent minded to replace it. Well, there must be a spare around here somewhere."
While Geegaw's back was turned, Lawhiney reached out and unpicked the knot that attached the fishing line to the safety pin latch. The safety pin opened with an audible twang, surprising Geegaw enough that he forgot he was under a workbench and stood up, his head passing right through the hard wood as though it were no more than a shadow.
Lawhiney stared at him in amazement.
Geegaw looked at the bench and grimaced by reflex. He couldn't resist the impulse to check the back of his head for blood he knew couldn't possibly be there. Old habits died hard, as he often reminded himself, and some days he suspected that was the only reason he was still walking and talking.
"Ah-ha. Lucky I'm already dead or that would have really hurt." He joked.
Lawhiney suspected that if he'd actually been alive what he had to say would have involved words he had been careful not to teach Gadget when she was growing up. Instead she asked: "If it had been serious enough to actually kill you while you were alive, would that have made it more lucky or less lucky?"
Geegaw stuck his tongue out at her.
Lawhiney arched her eyebrow at him. She was fairly sure that was something he'd picked up from her and it occurred to her, not for the first time, that she was a bad influence on her Guide. She stuck her head out the window as much to hide her expression as to check that the Ranger's neighbours weren't holding a fiesta in the bushes around the tree.
"Looks clear." She said a moment. "Hey, were you checking out my rear?"
Geegaw smiled wryly. "No. Were you checking mine when I had my head under the desk?"
"Ha! You wish!"
"Shall we get moving?" Geegaw gestured to the door.
"You said you were going to be my look out." Lawhiney reminded him. "Shouldn't you check ahead?"
Geegaw rolled his eyes. "Sure, why not? You could use the time to tidy up in here. Dale tipped the whole waste bin over the floor when you whacked him. That way Gadget won't have to come back to a mess after she gets out of the prison cell that's supposed to be for you!" Without looking back to see if Lawhiney would follow his suggestion, Geegaw walked through the closed workshop door.
It was a good ten minutes before Geegaw returned. He found the contents of the litterbin still on the floor and Lawhiney doing her makeup.
"Better not let the rangers see "'Gadget'" like that." He commented. "They'll think she's going out for a night on the tiles."
"How about you do your job as a lookout and no one sees me?" Lawhiney reminded him.
"How about I do my job as a guide and smite you for not turning yourself in?" Geegaw responded.
"Aw, come on Geegaw. Is the coast clear or not?"
"Yeah, it's clear. Monty is watching TV and wondering where Dale could have disappeared to and Chip is in his room looking through his stuff."
Lawhiney shivered. She picked up the suitcase and looked around her. "Feels like I'm leaving home for the first time." She announced.
"Well, you were running away then, too." Geegaw pointed out.
"Come to think about it, that didn't feel at all like this. That felt good and spiteful, you know what I mean? I hoped that all sorts of bad things happened to me and then they would be sorry they didn't treat me right." Lawhiney mused. "It feels more like what I thought leaving home for good would feel like before I started rowing with my folks and decided to run away."
Geegaw smiled at her sadly. "Does it feel like when you left the island?"
"A little, but that felt a little daring because I had to sneak past the guards they had set to watch me. This just feels like leaving." She shrugged.
Geegaw lifted an eyebrow and spoke from the corner of his mouth. "You want I should organise a pursuit, or should I just pretend to be chasing you down myself?"
Lawhiney appreciated the joke. "Nah. Let's just slip out like I planned." She smiled and opened the door.
Perhaps Lawhiney assumed that the last one out would get the door and simply forgot that Geegaw couldn't touch physical objects. Perhaps she had spent so long impersonating Gadget that she was becoming absent minded herself. Whatever the reason, they left Gadget's workshop with the door wide open.
It was just past midnight when Lawhiney stole out the front door, appropriately enough with a battered suitcase that was also stolen.
Geegaw produced a candle from the sleeve of his robe to light her way safely down the small, discrete steps that spiralled round the trunk of the Ranger's tree, so Lawhiney made her escape following a light in the darkness that only she could see. If that too was appropriate, Geegaw's grim demeanour gave no sign of satisfaction at the thought.
"There." He said when they reached the ground. "It is done, to quote one of the old hands upstairs."
"Thank you for helping me Geegaw."
"You're worth it. Don't let yourself forget that, even when it's hard work."
"I'll have you to remind me." Lawhiney smiled at him.
"I'm afraid not." Geegaw shook his head. "You've forgotten what I told you about my supervisors while you were in that bath this evening."
Lawhiney frowned at him in puzzlement.
"There are a lot of people who aren't at all happy with me." Geegaw reminded her. "They don't think I've been doing a very good job on you and, well, I told you that I was just a probationary guide, right?"
Lawhiney looked worried. "Are you in trouble?"
"No more than I've been in before, you could say. You should have heard them when I turned up looking as pale as a wisp of smoke after I healed your leg this afternoon." He shook his head. "They didn't like that at all."
"Surely they won't replace you, I mean, you're MY guide right? I don't want anyone else!"
"They've already done it, kiddo. They hauled me up in front of half a dozen supervisors and told me what they thought of me. I'm off your case and out of the program. Now, don't go getting sentimental." He held up a paw to forestall her protests and, he suspected, tears. "I knew what I was getting into when I took your case - no, wait, I take that back! I never imagined what a nightmare being your guide would be! You've been a real education, Law. Too bad I won't be a guide after tonight because after you I could take on anybody."
"Geegaw, don't go!" Lawhiney was tearing up. "I don't know what to do without you."
"Ah, spare me the waterworks. I've been no good for you anyway, Laurel. Tonight proved that if nothing else."
"You don't have to go!" Lawhiney pouted. "You're here now without their say so!"
Geegaw laughed. "For your information, my pass expires at dawn." He pulled a face. "Expires, now there's a word I hoped not to hear again. Anyway, after tonight I'll be in quite enough hot water without going absent without leave."
"So that's it? You're leaving me?" Lawhiney looked at him as though she were a little girl and Geegaw was suddenly aware of how young she was and that he was leaving her alone in a big, dangerous world where anything could happen.
He tried to smile at her. "Ah, kid, it's not like that "
"The hell it isn't!" She whined. "After all your high talk and promises, all the hard times we've been through, you're walking out on me like any other damn male with itchy feet."
Geegaw recoiled at the words. He tried to tell her that things weren't the way she said they were but his mouth betrayed him, opening and closing silently. Even Geegaw couldn't tell whether it was heaven's way of making sure its agents didn't lie, or whether he was just plain speechless. The only answer to Lawhiney's tears that made sense to him was to reach out and brush those tears away, to hug her and comfort her until everything was all right again, and that was the one answer he couldn't give her.
Finally he turned away and spoke to the sky as if testing to see if he still had a voice. "Well, how about this? First she can't stand the sight of me, now she doesn't want me to go. Isn't that just like a woman?"
Lawhiney's eyes darted about fearfully. "Are they here now? The people who are mad at you?"
"No." Geegaw smiled ruefully to himself. "At least I don't think so. I was just thinking aloud. Law, it's better that I go now. If I hang on to dawn, I might be tempted to stay on a little longer and then there really will be " he pulled another face and let the sentence trail off.
"Hell to pay?" Lawhiney finished the thought for him. "So I really won't see you again?"
"Ah, I'll hang around in the wings as long as I can, in case you have a crisis or something. Knowing you, you probably will otherwise, I'll see you at the pearly gates, ready to help you through with a good kick in the posterior." Geegaw forced a laugh. "You make sure you keep me waiting a good long time, too Law! Just not forever."
Lawhiney had been busy pouting at her feet while Geegaw spoke so it was only when the last word whispered across her like a sigh that she looked up and saw that she was alone.
Margo Haggs raged like she had never raged before. In fact, she was close to insane.
She pounded at the door and clawed at the corners. She hammered at it with the iron bolt that she used as a nightstick. She kicked it and hurt her toe. She roared at it to open, because in her fury her first instinct was bully her way to what she wanted, even when the obstacle was inanimate, and not to call for help from a friend.
Haggs's whole life had been lived under the enormous tension that came from opposite extremes in close proximity. Freedom and imprisonment, order and corruption, arrogance and humiliation; Haggs had not just lived with them. She had been all of those things to fullest extent she could comprehend.
Her childhood in a human research laboratory was partly to blame but so were the long years afterwards, when she had wandered the world without direction or purpose and experience had honed her survival instincts into the brutal weapons they now were. Now those weapons were going off like firecrackers and she was trapped in an enclosed space with them.
She couldn't see what else she was trapped in an enclosed space with because she was, depending on your point of view, just on the right or wrong side of the line between sanity and madness. Had she been actually insane and not merely within kissing distance of it, she could have had an actual conversation with Professor James Ratigan. As it was she could make out snatches of his words and got them tangled and confused with her own thoughts. Sometimes there were moments when she thought she could hear voices, either in her own head, or from someone talking at the end of a corridor much longer and darker than the one outside her cell door.
"You think someone is going to come and let you out but when they find you in here they might as well not bother "
Haggs screamed with frustration.
" and they will find out. You can rely on scum like that to pass on everything they know when they get caught, especially everything about you and the Warden and all her soft liberal judge friends will lap it up because it's what they've always wanted to hear."
"OPEN! OPEN! OPEN!" Haggs yelled at the door as she hit it again and again with her nightstick.
"You'll be one of them the hand of every inmate and guard will be turned against you."
"YOU CAN'T KEEP ME IN HERE. THIS IS MY PRISON, I GO WHERE I WANT!"
Haggs put her feet against the small stone shelf that was meant to be a bed for someone much smaller than her. The cell hadn't been built for someone as big as her and she was strong too, perhaps the strongest person in the entire prison. She put the middle of her back to the door and strained her whole body against the lock.
The lock, the little human made lock, intended for luggage or perhaps a young girl's diary. Probably not even the size of one of their thumbnails, Haggs thought as she felt her spine creak under the pressure.
The thought brought back memories of the men in white coats, their big hands and impossibly towering bodies that seemed doomed to fall at any moment under their enormous weight. The needles, the smells and the cages with their tiny, pathetic, childishly simple little locks that had been just barely out of reach for so long. Haggs remembered the feel of gigantic human fingers, thick as legs but with extra joints, wrapping round her, the vertigo when they picked her up and most of all the taste of blood when she bit down hard.
The taste. The taste was real. The blood was real. She was back in the lab and the thing she was straining at with her whole body was the vice like grip of a human hand as it tried to crush her for having the impudence to hurt it.
There was a loud crack. Haggs couldn't tell if it was the door or her back breaking. Her eyes flew open.
Impossibly, she was nose to nose with another rat, a male she didn't recognise. He was dressed in old-fashioned clothes and reaching out as if to take her face in his paws. His face was one big leer and his eyes were a mirror to her own, full malice and rage.
The door burst outwards, the hinges and the lock failing together. It flew across the hall and crashed to the floor as Haggs landed on her back, hard, without feeling it.
She could still taste blood. She had bitten through her own lip without notice while she was straining at the door. All memory of her flashback to the lab sank swiftly into unconscious darkness as Haggs's mind buried it like a murderer shovelling dirt into a shallow grave. Her fleeting glimpse of Ratigan went along for the ride, courtesy of the mind's powerful urge to defend itself from madness.
The half-light of the corridor flooded the solitary cell, revealing it as empty. Haggs accepted the evidence of her own eyes without thought or question and immediately forgot she had ever seen the rat in the top hat. Her thoughts were jumping around like fleas on a hot stove and the one that was jumping highest was revenge.
Catch Gadget Hackwrench and Bubbles McGee and tear them to shreds. After that, nothing mattered. She would make the twins watch and make sure it was enough to frighten them into saying whatever she told them to say.
She was up and running on all fours before the echoes from the crashing door had died away.
Back to the stories