Gadget in Chains
Written by: Loneheart
Chapter Thirty-One: Caged Chip
Gadget woke suddenly with a blinding headache. Her first thought was that someone, probably Lawhiney, had hit her over the back of the head and knocked her out. The room was darkened and she was face down on an otherwise empty hospital bed. She got up and nearly collapsed on the floor. Her arms and legs were shaking and felt about as strong as spaghetti.
Dale was gone. So was Lawhiney. For all that Gadget knew they might be half way to Hawaii and planning to start a new life together. No, Lawhiney had put that notion to bed when she made her little speech, ending with her critique of Chip as a future husband. And no one had hit her.
Gadget had been a Rescue Ranger for long enough to recognise the symptoms of physical and mental exhaustion. She also had a good idea of what her body could do and what it couldn't do and she had proved many of the latter ideas wrong in the last day and a half.
How long had she been asleep?
The door opened as if someone had heard her wake. Gadget looked up and saw Lawhiney.
"We couldn't wake you." Lawhiney said. "Dale's in X-ray. He hasn't said anything to anyone about the two of us, or who really clonked him over the head."
"What about - "
"Most of the nurses are busy." Lawhiney raised her eyebrows. "Apparently someone took a tool box and a whole lot of imagination to the thermostat on the boiler system the humans use to heat their hotel. Turned it up way beyond maximum. Now all the winter hibernators are wandering around the hospital like something out of day of the dead."
Gadget giggled. She'd seen that horror movie with Dale. "I hope they aren't hungry. How long was I asleep?"
"Four hours. I've read all the magazines in the waiting room, flirted with the orderly to the point where I think he's about to propose marriage and " Lawhiney looked secretive.
"I don't trust that look. What did you do Lawhiney?"
"Oh please, like I couldn't have batted my eyes at Dale, pleaded my unborn child's case and been half way to another city by now."
Gadget felt her cheeks flush beneath their fine peach fur. Guilt was irrational after everything Lawhiney had done. "I still want to know, Law."
"I went to see my doctor. Doctor Bell. He's a very nice pack rat who looked after me while I was recovering. I wanted to "
Gadget stiffened. "You wanted to THANK him, right, Lawhiney?"
"Oh yes. I did." Lawhiney looked unusually bashful.
Visions of how Lawhiney might of thanked her heroic doctor danced before Gadget's eyes. "Please don't say he still thought I was you!"
"I told him everything. Well, not everything. I left out Geegaw but I told him about the vision I had while I was unconscious. He said that was to be expected, with the concussion and the life I had been leading. He was so good about it. He says he'll be there when my baby is born and make sure I get the proper treatment."
"Oh." Gadget blinked. For the second time, Lawhiney had confounded her or maybe not. There was something dreamy about her expression. "You aren't falling for him, are you? Because your foreseeable future is kind of spoken for."
Lawhiney's face soured. "Aw, heck. The rest of my life is spoken for. I'll be old and grey by the time they let me out. It's not like Geegaw will give me permission to escape."
Gadget hesitated. Would Geegaw have given her permission to escape? For the first time Lawhiney's problem reminded her of her own.
"We may have to share a cell. Assaulting a guard and escaping lawful custody are crimes in their own right, you know."
"Ah, nuts. No one is going to lock you up. On purpose, I mean."
"What time is it?"
"Just past four in the afternoon."
"We have to move quickly. Most lawyers keep regular office hours."
"We're going to a lawyer?"
"I'm not going to make the same mistake twice. We're going to the police but not like lambs to the slaughter. I'm going to hire three of the best lawyers in the city. One each. I don't think Dale will really need one but I'm not taking any chances."
"I mean you're paying for a lawyer for me too?"
"Think yourself lucky you're not getting my old one as a hand-me-down."
Detective Doyle climbed the stairs to his superior's office wearily. Like Gadget, he had been on his feet without sleep since the day before. Unlike her, he had not had the chance to take a nap. He raised a paw to knock on the door.
Doyle's direct superior was an overworked and surly mole by the name of Talpidae, who held the rank of lieutenant in the Street Watch Volunteer Force by virtue of having put in a good ten years of solid detective work more than Doyle. Doyle himself, a five-year veteran of the Sweepers, had every right to expect a promotion in the next couple of years but suspected that was about to change.
"What the heck is this itemised property list of stuff you allowed Hackwrench to remove from the crime scene?"
"Mostly clothing and personal effects, Sir." Doyle chose to take the question literally.
"AN AEROPLANE IS A PERSONAL EFFECT?"
"She is a qualified pilot and one of the registered owners of the aircraft, which we have no reason to think is in any way involved in the crime. How was I supposed to prevent her? She could have gone to a judge and got an order for us to release it."
"I'm surprised you didn't let her prise up the floorboards and take those too!"
"They don't actually have floorboards, sir. Their floor is actually the living wood of the tree their house is carved into."
"Dang it, Doyle! You know very well that a judge wouldn't have ordered us to release that aircraft. Judges are reasonable people. They know better!"
Doyle braced himself and forced his voice to sound as patient and reasonable as possible. He knew this would only make the lieutenant angrier, but at least he couldn't be accused of insubordination.
"In point of fact, I don't know that a judge would have backed us up. The Rangers are a rescue organisation and if a judge had Gadget Hackwrench standing in front of him, giving him her big blue eyes while she told him she needed it to carry on the Ranger's work, then given that that she wasn't a suspect and that the plane isn't evidence, I don't know a judge would have sided with us at all."
"You have discretion! You could have refused her request to take the plane!"
"She could have challenged it and if she'd won it would have made us look weak and stupid."
Lt Talpidae made a sour face and sat down behind his desk, dropping a folder he had been holding onto Doyle's side of it. He said nothing. Doyle had the sickening suspicion that he had just won an argument with his boss and that meant that whatever happened next, his life wasn't about to get easier.
"The boys upstairs want this case in front of a jury by Monday." Talpidae told him. "There's some talk about whether you're the right man to handle it, what with it being high profile and everything."
"What? Well, of all the You know there's no way we can get a conviction that quickly unless we have a confession."
"Maybe you'd be better off without this hot potato in your lap, Doyle. I still haven't had your paperwork on the protection racket we took down last week and the Kelsey girl is still missing."
"The paperwork is at the bottom of that pile in your in tray and the Kelsey girl most probably eloped with a boy who went missing at the same time. If you seriously want me to trace them I could still be working on it next year."
"Not to mention the four other cases you're working. When was the last time you got some sleep?"
"Last night. No, the night before. Look, you know what it'll mean if you replace me. It'll affect my reputation because it'll look like you don't think I can do the job. Plus you've got all the complications that go hand in hand with replacing a detective. The defence will try and make it sound like the investigation was screwed up from the very beginning and you had no choice but to start over."
"How long are you planning to keep at it before heading to bed?"
"I was supposed to sign out at six yesterday. Give me another couple of hours and I'll sign out at six today. Which of us hasn't skipped a night's sleep on the job?"
"No one I want on my team." Lt Talpidae answered.
"You think you can get a confession out of him?"
Doyle considered it. "He's hiding something. More from himself than me, I think. You know how tough it is to get people to talk when they're like that."
Talpidae waved a paw to signal he knew. "Are you saying you can't do it?"
"You also know how they tell you every little detail when they finally do stop hiding whatever it is."
Talpidae put his large, trowel shaped paws together as though at prayer. "Can you do it or not?"
Doyle sighed. "Well, I can get him to tell the truth and I can get him to confess to the attempted murder of Dale Oakmont. I'm just afraid those may be two separate things."
"Are you saying he didn't do it? WE GOT HIM RED HANDED!"
"I keep considering it from another angle, Lieutenant. From what he's already admitted, and he has no reason to lie because it's pretty incriminating from his point of view, he walked in and caught Dale and Gadget Hackwrench in a compromising position. That gives him motive and when Gadget was missing it meant he was the last person to see both of them."
"Hallelujah! A break-though! You got motive and opportunity!"
"Right, but he made that statement before Gadget turned up alive and well. In light of this new development, his statement means there was someone who saw Dale after he did: Gadget Hackwrench."
Talpidae stared at him. "I remember you saying that Gadget WASN'T a suspect and that the plane ISN'T evidence. I didn't say anything because I thought it was just sloppy grammar."
"Chip doesn't want to think about it because he's in love with her but he sees it too, I think."
"And you gave her an aeroplane? Doyle this is a career killer! Everyone's going to crucify us if she sets down in Mexico or someplace else we can't touch her!"
"We're holding Chip for the crime. She offered to come in and give a statement explaining her whereabouts at the time in question. I had no reason to hold her."
"AN AEROPLANE! For crying out loud, Doyle! How likely is she to come in and confess if she did it?"
"She might. We're still holding Chip, remember?"
"You think she cares enough to confess to attempted murder?"
"Honestly? I suspect the only person who could tell you what Gadget Hackwrench feels for Chip Maplewood is Gadget Hackwrench."
"A few moments ago you were pretty sure Chip would confess."
"I still am. He can't bring himself to think of Gadget as a potential murderer, but when he does I think he'll see her as a suspect the way I do. When that happens I think he'll crack pretty quick, to protect her. The only question is whether that confession will be an honest one."
Talpidae rocked back and forwards, his brow furrowed as played out the sequence of events Doyle was conjuring for him. "I guess there's only a few ways this thing can play out. You think you can get a confession then good luck to you. Go get it. If Hackwrench does touch down in foreign parts, we'll need it even more than we do now."
"You'd use it? If Hackwrench fled the city?"
"Pretty girl like that who's already been hit by one scandal this year might have a good honest reason for wanting to avoid the publicity. It wouldn't prove anything either way."
"A suspect at flight doesn't prove anything?"
"If she's at flight then it's on wings you gave her!" Talpidae stabbed a long straight claw in the direction of Doyle's chest.
Doyle grimaced. "You'd do that though? Send Maplewood to jail if Gadget put down in another city?"
"I said it didn't prove anything. No doubt his defence team would make something of it and the jury would consider it."
"I doubt he'd let his defence team mention her name in that context."
"That's his decision."
"It's not justice."
"It's not necessarily a conviction either. For all we know Dale Oakmont will leap up and confess to whacking himself over the noggin as part of some elaborate joke. Until he does though, you carry on as we've agreed. Unless there are any other little surprises you want to spring on me."
Doyle sighed. He'd been putting this off but there was no way to avoid it now. "You've heard about the breakout from Shrankshaw?"
"Of course I've heard. Every law enforcement organisation, guard, volunteer watch group and vigilante within a hundred miles has heard."
"The list of escapees passed across my desk earlier. You should take a look at it."
"I already know it. That vicious Sheila character from the docks, McGee, two long term residents who will probably get homesick and turn themselves in after a couple of days and a Jane Doe. I hear they had a riot that hurt them pretty bad but they should have finished their headcount and worked out who the last one was by now."
"Jane Doe was the only name they had for her. She's the impostor that refused to give any other name for herself except Gadget Hackwrench at the trial a couple of months back."
Talpidae closed his tiny black eyes and groaned. He reached into a draw and withdrew a bottle of painkillers.
"It gets worse. She apparently jury-rigged some kind of hang-glider as part of the escape."
Talpidae took one of the pills. "Some might say that Gadget Hackwrench impression of hers is too close for comfort." He quipped.
"I didn't know about the escape when I met her at the tree-house but I could swear the girl I was talking to was the real Gadget. Not that my opinion counts for anything since I've never met the real Gadget Hackwrench before. That said, I gather from the Rangers I've interviewed that Gadget Hackwrench hasn't been herself since that business at the museum."
"Anyone would be shaken up. It might explain her doing something out of character, like whacking one of her best friends over the head, for instance?"
"I also had difficulty keeping up with her on the stairs. A little odd given that she's still recuperating from a bad accident and was confined to a wheelchair up until yesterday, wouldn't you say?"
Lt Talpidae took his hands from his eyes and looked straight at Doyle with an expression that suggested he better be joking. "Are you suggesting that the real Gadget Hackwrench might still be missing?"
Doyle considered. "It's a possibility and another reason why she might not come in like she promised. A reason that would still allow for Chip to be a murderer."
"But not the possibility that you had in mind?"
"No. It isn't."
"I shudder to ask what possibility you DID have in mind?"
Doyle said nothing for a moment, then: "Nothing. Just a crazy notion that crossed my mind."
"Don't keep me in suspense! I want to know what it is!"
"The story about the escape, the way she wouldn't give any other name but Hackwrench at the trial, the fact that the trial was rushed, almost a show trial if you listen to some people "
"Bunch a bleeding heart do-gooders. That was a perfectly good trial and everyone knows she did it anyway."
"Lieutenant what if we locked up the wrong Gadget Hackwrench?"
Lt Talpidae looked at him sternly. "You better be kidding. And if you're not kidding I don't want to know about it."
"Seriously, what if Chip is protecting Gadget, but Gadget isn't who he thinks she is?"
"Then what you've been telling me boils down to this: you gave a felon who's wanted across the entire country an aeroplane after she tried to kill Dale Oakmont and frame Chip Maplewood for the deed. Plus the real Gadget Hackwrench is on the run somewhere and as soon as she finds a newspaper reporter to talk to we're all going to look very silly. I don't think you want to be telling me that."
Doyle scratched his chin thoughtfully. "No, sir. I guess not. But what if that is what we're dealing with?"
"The impostor couldn't have broken out and then done this? Maybe stuffed the real Gadget in to another trash bag we haven't found yet?"
"No. The timing doesn't work."
"The Rangers would have to be pretty stupid to have an impostor in their house for weeks on end without realising something was up." Talpidae mused. The way he said it made it sound as though that could be a good thing as well as a bad thing.
"I sneaked a peek at Chip's records. He's not bad as a detective but he's not great either. No formal training and working for the Rangers means he's isolated from other detectives, so he's got no one to learn from and no one to bounce ideas off. His big weakness is a blind-spot the exact size and shape of Gadget Hackwrench but he had definitely realised something was up."
"What do you mean?"
"He'd reopened his own investigation into the impersonation of the Rangers. He interviewed a prison guard and one of Gadget's friends the evening before the attack on Oakmont and he had been asking questions at the hospital that treated Gadget before that. He had all the pieces, Lieutenant, he just couldn't bring himself to put them together."
Talpidae considered it. He was unconvinced. "Even so you'd think the people who really knew her would figure it out in the first five seconds."
Doyle scratched his chin, wandering how to put his next point to the lieutenant. "You've seen plenty of people in intensive care, people you work with even. What's the first thing that always strikes you?"
Talpidae shrugged. "How different they look. Older, smaller, whatever, they don't look like themselves."
"The next of kin, you've seen what they go though plenty of times when someone's taken away from them. You must have seen their reaction when they get that special person back occasionally."
Talpidae smiled. He'd seen that a few times too in his time with the Sweepers. "They're besides themselves with joy. They don't care about anything."
"Sometimes they forget to care about things they should care about. I think maybe the Rangers went through that. At first 'Gadget' is in a coma, so it's not like she's going to give herself away by saying or doing the wrong thing if she's the impostor. Then she wakes up and the newspapers have been speculating that she might die or be brain damaged, so it's like a miracle and they aren't about to start asking questions."
"For two, three months?" Lt Talpidae scratched his head. "I can't see it myself."
"Bare in mind that Gadget has been through a terrible accident, suffered a severe blow to the head, the impostor is in prison so there's no reason to think she might not be who they think she is. Plus, all reports say the impostor was pretty good."
"She'd have to be boarding on the supernatural." Lt Talpidae said. His face brightened. "HA! Nice try, Doyle. You almost had me going! I'd forgotten that your fake Gadget was found in the wreckage of the Ranger plane and the impostor we jailed was found in the wreckage of a bar fight that broke out when she tried her hand at table dancing."
Doyle nodded. "If you had to choose between two identical Gadgets then you'd tend to chose the one wearing Gadget's clothes and lying in the wreckage of Gadget's aircraft, rather than the one wearing someone else's clothes who got caught doing something Gadget wouldn't be caught dead doing."
"We jailed the right Gadget! I mean the one who wasn't Gadget."
"I guess. Chip seemed to be working up the nerve to say different, though."
"He'd figured out what was going on between her and his best friend and it was his way of pretending it wasn't happening."
"Maybe." Doyle conceded.
"No maybe, I want to hear you say it, Doyle. We got the right person. We aren't going to look like fools over this." Lt Talpidae grinned in triumph.
"Come on! SAY IT!" Talpidae yelled at him.
Doyle flushed under his fur. He hung his head and but he didn't say anything.
Talpidae scowled and sunk back in his chair. "There's a Rescue Ranger down in those cells and another in the hospital and that's bad enough as it is. We've got a good case against Chip Maplewood and you've got two hours to make it complete with a confession. You sign out at six. Then you're done. Take tomorrow and the weekend off. You wouldn't even be considering this nonsense if you'd had a decent night's sleep."
Doyle slunk out of the office, closing the door behind him. "Two hours." He muttered on his way down the stairs. "In the movies the detective always gets twenty four."
"When did you last eat?" Lawhiney asked. "Because I had Monty's walnut wallaroos for dinner last night and I'm starving."
"Breakfast. Yesterday." Gadget reported. "Oatmeal."
"I want to get something to eat."
"We wait for Dale." Gadget laid down the law.
"I want to hear a few things from him."
Lawhiney giggled. "Dale and Gadget, sitting in a tree, K. I. S "
"You better not finish that if you know what's good for you."
"You know what? You do talk at chipmunk speed! When you're angry anyway."
"You have to if you're going to win arguments with Chip and Dale."
"You had arguments with Chip and Dale?"
Lawhiney sucked her lower lip. "Do you think that helped or hurt my impression?"
"I'm not going to help you refine your act, Lawhiney."
"I quit, remember? I just want to know how close I got. Never figured that you'd be arguing with Chip and Dale. Thought you'd be one big happy family, all smiles and laughter."
"No. I hit Chip over the head with a frying pan once. He bit Dale when one of their play fights turned real and Dale looked like he was winning. We have two to three really loud arguments a week and that's not counting Chip and Dale's usual private matches which are never seem to end."
"They didn't argue much in front of me."
Gadget turned her full attention on her sister. "No?"
"Maybe it was because I was supposed to be recovering from a near fatal accident. Everybody seemed really subdued around me most of the time. Hey, would you like to hear about my welcome home party?"
"Your welcome home party?"
Lawhiney winced. "*Your* welcome home party. I mean - well, I guess they'll throw you one too."
"They better." Gadget growled. Her tone indicated that attendance would be mandatory.
"Coming through!" Yelled a cheerful, familiar voice.
Gadget got off the bed she had been resting on. Lawhiney hid behind the door. When it opened Dale was wheeled in by a young looking packrat in a white coat. Lawhiney closed the door behind him with a smile.
"Did ya miss me?" Dale asked the world at large with a bright and cheery smile.
Gadget's eyes went from Lawhiney to the packrat and back again. If this stranger turned around their secret would be exposed and the situation would be out of her control. Lawhiney had trapped him in the room with them. Were they supposed to whack him over the head too?
The young packrat threw a glance over his shoulder at Lawhiney then turned back to survey Gadget with the kind of keen interest that she had received many times before. When he had finished Gadget's cool blue eyes were waiting for him, looking back with wary suspicion.
"Hi." He said. "You must be Gadget."
Gadget's jaw dropped.
"How come a total stranger can tell the difference between us when my best friends can't?" she wailed in a hurt, childish voice.
The packrat winced while behind him, Lawhiney laughed.
"Ah nuts, Gadget! Are you going to be like this all the time from now on?" Dale threw his hands up in disgust.
"I want to know!"
"Gadget, this is the doctor I told you about, Doctor Bell." Lawhiney explained. "He wanted to meet you, to make sure you weren't a hallucination, I think. So we arranged for him to be the one who took Dale to ultrasound and back again."
"You saw me while I was asleep?"
"You were exhausted and covered in bed sheets to hide you from view." Doctor Bell reassured her. "This is the first time I've really been able to take a look at you."
"You can tell the difference though? We don't look that much alike?"
Doctor Bell frowned. "I can't comment as to how much alike you were before all this happened because I didn't know either of you then, but now? You look more like sisters than twins."
"Sisters." Gadget nodded furiously.
"Miss Hackwrench, I'd like you to know how worried your friends were when they thought it was you who might die. At least one of them was always by your bedside. Dale, Monty, Zipper, they took shifts watching over you, holding your hand and talking to you. When Chip arrived he was beside himself. He'd made himself sick trying to get back in time to say goodbye because he thought you were on your deathbed." Doctor Bell watched her closely, reassuring himself his words were making a difference. "When Lawhiney opened her eyes, everyone was overjoyed. They were so grateful not to lose you I've seen a lot of things working in this hospital and if there's one thing I've learned it's that love and pain blind people, even to something that's staring them in the face."
Gadget hung her head. She felt a little like crying. She also felt queasy but she put that down to not having eaten in over twenty-four hours.
"For what it's worth, I don't think anyone would have cared whether I woke up or not." Lawhiney put in.
"Ah shucks, Lawhiney, that ain't true!" Dale smiled over his shoulder at her. "Or have you forgotten that your old associates put in a special appearance to rub you out in case you squealed on them?"
"What's this?" Gadget asked.
"Oh, big kidnap attempt on Lawhiney here." Doctor Bell said. "Someone tried to strangle her in a lift."
"Seriously?" Gadget's eyes nearly popped.
"Actually, that was Brandon. He was fun for a while. I think he might be the father of my child. At least that's what I said to get him to stop strangling me and to pretend he thought I was you when they broke into the elevator." Lawhiney unburdened her soul. "To tell you the truth, I think he told the others it was a rescue attempt and only tried to kill me because he was jealous. He was in love with me."
Doctor Bell shook his head. "We never suspected a thing. We should have realised exactly what had happened when Gadget's records showed up but we decided it had to be the records that were wrong. Doctor Fisk even thought he was starting to go senile because Lawhiney's body didn't match his memory of treating you, Miss Hackwrench."
"However this happened, it still leaves us a mess to clear up." Gadget said shortly.
"How so?" Dale asked as he eased himself back into bed.
"Chip is in jail for something Lawhiney did, namely clunking you."
Dale allowed himself a huge, evil grin. "Well, we could just leave him there "
Gadget blinked and stared at him. "Just leave him there?"
"Heh, yeah, why not?"
Dale laughed. "Locked up tighter than tuna in a can!"
"With all those other criminals?"
"Ah, Chip's a tough guy. He can take care of himself." Dale smirked. "Besides, it's not like he's never clunked me over the head, even if he didn't do it this time."
"DALE OAKMONT! SHAME ON YOU!" Gadget exploded at him. "Do you have any IDEA what Chip must be going through?"
Dale practically hid under the bed sheets. "Gee, I only meant for a couple of days! Lawhiney could catch a flight back to Hawaii, or somewhere. You could catch up on your sleep. I could have the TV to myself for once "
"The idea does have certain attractions." Doctor Bell put in. "In spite of what Lawhiney has done, she has suffered the most in all this. I don't believe locking her up for years on end would serve any useful purpose. Besides, there's her child to consider."
"I can't believe I'm hearing this!" Gadget exclaimed.
"Come on, admit it, Gadget! It's tempting! After Mister Great Detective left you sitting behind bars for so long?" Lawhiney teased. "I heard he even went to visit you and still couldn't figure it out, so don't tell me he doesn't owe you a little payback."
Gadget glared at all of them. Her face a mask of righteous anger copied, although she didn't realise it, from Bubbles's patented angry mom number nine stare.
Dale stared back at her with big brown eyes that had gotten him out of so much trouble as a cub. The good Doctor seemed to take a sudden and unexpected interest in examining his toenails. Even Lawhiney dutifully assumed the hands behind the back, head lowered pose of a chastised little girl, ready to say sorry for her misdeeds.
Gadget held the expression perfectly. Then she realised where she was copying it from and the memory of Bubbles standing over her with the exact same expression threatened to tip her over into hysterics. Lawhiney sensed the weakness first and dared a little smile. Gadget couldn't hold back the smile that forced itself upon her and finally surrendered to an army of silent giggles.
"Okay." She gave in. "Maybe a little payback. And I'll do my best to keep Lawhiney out of jail. But we do it MY way."
Doyle pulled the chair out from behind the table and sat down in it. The room was darkened to give a feel of intimacy and make the peepholes in the walls less noticeable but the desk lamp on his side of the table was angled into Chip's eyes.
"I'd like to re-cover some old ground with you Mister Maplewood." Doyle began carefully.
"We've already gone over it fifty times or more."
Some junior detective who needed interview practice had been given the job of keeping Chip talking, partly in the hope he would make a mistake, partly just to wear him down. Doyle ground his teeth.
"If you think back carefully, I'm sure it's only twenty times or so Would you like a pot of fresh coffee? I know I would." He needed Chip awake and thinking clearly if he was going to get him to see things his way.
Chip looked at him cynically. "If you're trying to work out how tired I am, then I'll tell you. I haven't slept in something like thirty-six hours. I've gone longer without sleep on rescues, so I'm holding up pretty good. You go ahead and drink your coffee in front of me. I know better than to expect anything more than basic courtesy from a Sweeper who thinks he's dealing with a crook and mostly not even that."
Doyle held up a hand to stem the flow of chipmunk chatter. "Yes or no. Do you want any coffee?"
Chip stopped and then cocked his head on one side, still unable to decide whether Doyle was fooling with him or not.
"Yes." He said finally.
"Then I'll have some brought in." Doyle said, without rising from his chair or giving any signal.
"Is there a particular reason that you're treating me decently, or is this just part of your interview technique."
"I've been to the tree house. I've read your files."
"YOU WHAT?" Chip leapt out of his chair. "You had no right to do that! Those files were confidential! Not to mention property of the Rescue Rangers!"
"And evidence in an attempted murder investigation." Doyle spread his hands wide as though inviting Chip to play into them.
Chip considered his position and sank back into the uncomfortable chair he had been given, his arms crossed. "I hope you left them as well organised as they were when you found them."
"I'm sure that you'll find something out of order. I know from past experience how picky someone can be about their files."
Chip lifted an eyebrow. "You do that to other detectives in the Sweepers?"
Doyle winced. "We kind of share the files here, Mister Maplewood. We have an office clerk who keeps them in good order."
In truth, it had been the office clerk Doyle had been referring to when he said how picky people could get over their files. He tried not to let that show in his face. He didn't want this to turn into a shouting match.
"I don't believe there's anything in my files relevant to this situation. I'd like to know the reason you thought otherwise."
Doyle's jaw dropped. Somewhere along the line, one of the people in this room had lost track of who was interrogating who. He hoped it was Chip, because he knew he was being watched. When he shut his mouth again, his teeth clicked. Still, he kept his voice polite when he replied.
"I'm asking the questions, remember?"
"I didn't ask one." Chip smiled. "I stated an opinion and told you something that I'd like. Both should be useful to someone conducting an interrogation."
"Word games." Doyle said disdainfully. "I don't have to justify how I run an investigation to you, Mister Maplewood. Not while you're under suspicion of attempted murder, not afterwards if you're acquitted. I don't answer to you." I answer to an ill-tempered mole with lower back pain, who might transfer me to juvenile division if I mess this up.
Chip might as well have read his mind. "No, you answer to a hard-nosed overworked boss who probably isn't too happy with you right now. You've got a Rescue Ranger in the hospital, assaulted in his own home, and you've wasted a full day trying to build a case against the only detective in the city with an even chance of solving this case."
"That hard-nosed boss thinks you're guilty. He wants me to get a confession out of you. I told him I'd have it by six."
It was Chip's turn to feel his jaw go slack.
"Six is when I clock out." Doyle twisted the knife a little. Then he was all business, shuffling his own case file and checking his notes. "Now then, I'd like to go over your earlier statement. You said you walked in on Dale and Gadget. You gave me a broad idea what they were doing but I need you to be more specific."
Chip looked dazed
"I need to know everything you can remember about that." Doyle prompted him.
"What, so you can sell the details to the newspapers? What difference does it make who was on top?" Chip shook his head.
"I need to know exactly what you saw to see if it fits with the evidence I have, to confirm that what you've been telling me is reliable, that you're reliable."
"What do you want to know?"
"Since you brought it up, let's start with who was on top."
"And Dale was ?"
"Laying on the floor."
"What state was the room in?"
"If we enter the room and find signs of a struggle and it was neat and tidy when you last saw it, that will tell us something, don't it?"
Chip sighed heavily and dredged up the memory of the worst moment his life. "I didn't really notice at the time. The room was in disarray. Not the whole room, but the part by the door and Gadget's worktable was. Scrap paper was all over the floor and the poster from above her worktable had been ripped down and was on the floor. The rest of the room was tidy though, all the dust sheets were still covering Gadget's inventions."
"Is that unusual?"
"She hadn't touched them since she came back from the hospital. That's unusual for her but she was badly injured."
"So this was her first time back in the workshop? That you're aware of?"
"No. She spent nearly every day in there since she got her crutches, practicing to walk again."
"But she didn't touch her inventions?"
"No. It's not like her, but she's been concentrating on her recovery. We all just wanted her fit and well again."
Doyle recalled with a pang of conscience that he hadn't yet told Chip that Gadget had turned up fit and well. He was saving the news for later. "How did they react when you opened the door?"
"Gadget saw me first. She looked triumphant. Like she'd really achieved something to be proud of."
"Triumphant? That you had seen her? Do you think she was trying to make you jealous?"
Chip looked at Doyle as though the Sweeper detective had just announced he was from another planet. "Gadget? She wasn't like that. I know other girls can be, but Gadget was sweet and honest. She's not a manipulator. She just didn't see me at first. When she did " Chip cursed. "I'll always remember her face "
"Must have been quite a sight." Doyle prompted when it became clear Chip had lapsed into silence. "The girl you love and your best friend, everything scattered around them in disarray, including your plans for the future. I can see why it would fix itself in your memory. "
"Her clothes weren't in disarray." Chip said as though he had just woken up from a nightmare. He looked around him as finding himself in unfamiliar surroundings.
Chip stared off into space as though seeing the scene again. "Her clothes weren't in disarray. They were clean, no oil-stains like she usually has, and the sleeves were rolled up but they weren't scattered or in disarray. I don't think she had more than her top button undone."
"Chip, I understand it's a big deal for you, but what she was wearing isn't relevant right now. I need you to focus on the room around them. Was there anything heavy visible like a tool or one of your weapons? Lying on the floor next to them, perhaps?"
"It is relevant." Chip answered as one who has seen the light. "It's relevant because she was wearing her overalls at the time."
"What?" Doyle didn't get it for a moment. Then he remembered the clothes Gadget had been wearing when he had met her at the tree house. When he got it, he saw why it was so important to Chip. "Oh! One of those lavender jumpsuits that cover everything, right down to her ankles?"
"She was still wearing them. Even the belt was still done up. I'm sure of it."
Doyle sat back and watched Chip enjoy his eureka moment. The chipmunk looked as if someone had just handed his life back to him. In a moment he would remember where he was and why. If he had actually done anything to answer for, that would be the moment he would breakdown.
When the moment passed and Chip met Doyle's eyes again the chipmunk might have been a different person. The pain Doyle had seen in his eyes before, glittering like broken glass, was gone. It had been replaced by a clearness that for the first time made Doyle feel as if he was talking to an equal.
"Kind of hard to misbehave while you're covered from collar to ankle, isn't it?" Doyle asked with a deadpan expression.
"She wasn't misbehaving." Chip said with authority. "I misinterpreted what I saw."
"Maybe we should take another look at everything else you saw, then." Doyle suggested, helpfully. "Tell me exactly what happened, all over again."
"I opened the door to ask Gadget if she had seen Dale. I saw her sitting on him, one leg either side. Her hair was mussed and she looked tired but very happy, then she saw me and her face fell. She looked like she'd been caught doing something wrong, as though she expected me to tell her off or something. I misunderstood, apologised and shut the door."
"What did Dale do?"
"Nothing. He just lay there. I don't think he even knew I was there."
"He didn't react when you spoke? To apologize?"
"No. He might as well have been asleep for all I could tell."
"And the room. Describe it again, this time bearing in mind what you now know."
"There were screwed up balls of paper on the floor from something Gadget had been working on. I could see the desk chair had been pulled back as though she had been interrupted while she was writing or drawing something and hadn't had time put it back under the desk. The poster she had over the desk had been torn down and was next to them."
"Was there anything on the desk?"
"I couldn't see. I was outside the door way, the door was blocking my view."
"Does Gadget have more than one poster up in her workshop?"
"No, she has lots of posters. Workshop tips, the periodic table, that sort of thing."
"Then you must have been able to see the desk, or how would you know which poster it was? You said the poster from over her desk was on the floor."
"I recognized it. It was the one on - " Chip stopped. His eyes went wide.
He gets it! Doyle thought. He gets it and this is the wrong moment because now he'll clam up!
There was no time for subtly or politeness now. He had Chip on the ropes and he had to keep him there if he was going to meet his deadline.
"THINK!" Doyle yelled in Chip's face. "I'm going to get a full tour of that workshop from a couple of specialists, so tell me while it can still do some good!"
"Artificial Resuscitation!" Chip gasped. "Mouth to mouth. CPR. That sort of thing." He finished weakly.
Doyle sat back. This was it, all or nothing now. Chip wasn't faking this, Doyle was fairly sure. Now he'd lay all his cards on the table and either Chip would confess or he would be the star witness at the trial of the century.
The trial of Gadget Hackwrench.
"Chip, listen to me. I need you to put the pieces together now. I've got my ideas but I want to hear it from you. Gadget and Dale weren't making out when you saw them so what were they doing?"
"Gadget was resuscitating Dale, using the poster from above her desk as a guide." Chip deduced. "But that doesn't make sense. All the Rangers have had first response medical training I mean, we don't know as much as a doctor or a nurse, but it's the same training the ambulance crews get. Gadget's used CPR dozens of times, she knows it back to front."
"Is that important?" Doyle asked.
"Yes. I know it's important but I don't know how. I just know it's something that doesn't fit, so that means it's a piece of the puzzle that I haven't found a place for yet." Chip didn't need to explain any further. They were both detectives and on some things they spoke a common language, whatever their differences.
"What does the fact that Gadget was doing CPR on Dale tell us?"
"That Dale had already been injured at that time and that Gadget knew this. Since he didn't have any other injuries on him when we found him in the bag, that means he had the head injury when I saw him with Gadget and that he most likely received it in Gadget's workshop. The fact he is still - " Chip's voice broke but he regained control over it " - that is, he was alive the last time I heard, means that Gadget was either present when he received that wound or she found him immediately afterwards, within a couple of minutes. The fact that she didn't tell anyone what had happened in spite of the fact she talked to two of us afterwards demonstrates a deliberate intention to conceal what had happened. The inference is that Gadget put Dale in the rubbish sack and then asked Monty to throw the trash sack into the human garbage."
Doyle stared into Chip's eyes. Chip stared back and for a long moment neither of them spoke.
"You understand what you're saying?" Doyle asked gently.
"I have to make sure you understand. You're accusing your team mate, Gadget Hackwrench, the person you claim to love, of hurting Dale, your best friend."
"Yes." Chip nodded vigorously. "But she didn't try to kill him. She resuscitated him. He's alive because of her. That means she didn't want him dead."
Doyle scratched his head, pretending to be mystified. In fact, he had thought of several possibilities to answer his next question. "If she didn't want him dead, why do you think she tried to get Monty to throw him in the garbage?"
"I don't know. It would make more sense if she had asked Monty to do something that would have revealed Dale was in the sack. Put him in the sack to hide him from anyone who saw him before she left the tree house, arrange for him to be found afterwards because she wanted him to receive proper medical attention once she was clear."
Doyle made a mental note to ask Monty about this. As far as detection went, it seemed like a leap in the dark, but Chip had known the people concerned for years on a daily basis and it gave him an advantage Doyle couldn't match. "Did Monty say anything to you about what it was when he asked you to take out the trash instead?"
"Okay. So Gadget hurt Dale -"
"We only know that she was afraid she'd be blamed for it." Chip interrupted.
Doyle gave him a hard stare, daring him to be this stupid. Chip stared back at him, resolutely taking the dare.
Doyle lowered his eyes first. "Okay, let's consider that. Did Gadget have a reason to fear being blamed for something that wasn't her fault?"
"She briefly left the Rangers a couple of years ago when one of her inventions malfunctioned and injured our team mate, Zipper. We held her responsible but she couldn't have known what would happen."
Doyle considered it. "You said that the dust sheets were still on all her inventions. That she hadn't touched them since she returned from hospital."
"All the machines I could see from the door were covered. It's true she hadn't touched any of them that I know of, but that was out of character for her and she'd just had the cast removed from her leg that day."
Doyle lowered his eyes and thought it over. "Did she try to cover it up when Zipper was hurt?"
"No. We were all present when that happened. But after everything she's been through, would it be so surprising if she was frightened of losing us again?"
Doyle scowled and put on his best hard-bitten detective look. "I'm not convinced, Maplewood. I don't buy it. You've just nursed her back from a coma, now you're telling me that Gadget believed you'd put her out on the street over an accident. I've been to your tree house. I've seen the warning signs. You wouldn't have been mad at her for getting hurt, you would have been mad at Dale for being somewhere he wasn't supposed to be."
Chip was silent for a time. Doyle was right. Chip knew it and it showed in his face. He opened his mouth to speak and he couldn't.
"While we're on the subject of Gadget's past history, has she ever hit anyone over the head? Maybe when she was startled, perhaps frightened?"
"Asides from when she was working as a Rescue Ranger? A few months ago some one began hassling her in a hardware store. Mistook her for the impostor you jailed. She had to whack him with a spanner to get him to back off."
"Anything else you want to tell me?" Doyle spoke in the tones of a grandmaster pronouncing checkmate.
Chip began pleading Gadget's case in earnest. "When I walked into the hospital room after her accident. She was so scared. She hid under the bed sheets. She thought I was going to be mad at her for crashing the Ranger Plane." Chip spoke tentatively, like someone either letting go of something they wanted to hang on to, or reaching out for something they weren't sure they were allowed to have.
"Did she have reason to be scared of you?"
Chip shook his head, his eyes wide and earnest. "No! Never!"
"But you're telling me she was anyway?"
"I think so. When things went wrong."
Doyle sat back. They were coming to the end now. "So you're telling me that Gadget might have decided to run away, not because she was worried about being locked up but because she was afraid of what you might do to her? Even though she had no cause to worry?"
"That's right." Chip took the bait.
Doyle gave a subtle smile. "I don't think that will fly Mister Maplewood. See, Gadget Hackwrench seems like an awfully smart girl and she's known you for years, so I just can't see how she'd run if she had nothing to be afraid of."
"I never hurt Gadget."
"Did you hurt anyone else?"
"I already told you that Dale and I rough-housed regularly."
"You did." Doyle acknowledged. "So anyway, Gadget ran away."
Chip choked. "Yes."
"But now you're locked up, so there's no reason for her to stay away any more?"
Chip hesitated. He hung his head, something like shame written on his face. "I guess not."
"That would explain why she came back this morning." Doyle dropped his bombshell.
Chip's face went slack.
Doyle waited several minutes. He cast a glance at the human digital watch hanging on the wall and saw that it was getting on to half past five. This was about the time he needed Chip to start telling him what he wanted to hear if he was going to be finished by six. Chip's face was beginning to show emotion again and his eyes were beginning to mist over with tears.
"Guess she doesn't have a problem with you taking the heat for her." Doyle gave him another little push.
"Gadget - Gadget wouldn't do that." Chip's voice cracked.
"I saw her just this morning, at the tree house. Asked her a few questions. Asked her out-right what happened, in fact. She had a perfect opportunity to tell me the whole thing. Explain it was an accident and that she hid Dale until she could get out of the house because she was afraid for her own well-being." Doyle opened a blank page in the legal pad he was using and picked up a pen. He began writing as though he were doing nothing more than doodling to pass the time. "To tell you the truth, I don't think we'd even have arrested her if she told a story like that. Especially if she could back it up by showing me the invention that malfunctioned."
Doyle looked up sharply, catching Chip's eye unexpectedly.
"She didn't." Doyle told him sharply. "I guess that means she must be good at hiding things, wouldn't you say? If someone had asked me while I was talking to her, I would have bet anything she didn't know a thing about Dale being injured or your being in here. Did you suspect anything when she saw you in your study? I know Monty didn't when she asked him to take out the trash."
"No. I had other things on my mind." Chip said weakly.
"Oh yeah, that's right. You did." Doyle began chatting casually as though discussing a day at work with an old friend. "Still, the way she covered things up puts a different complexion on things. Makes them more serious. Don't you worry, though. We'll get her. She promised to come in this afternoon, as a matter of fact. Maybe she will, maybe she won't. If she doesn't we'll put a warrant out for her. Of course then the press will get hold of it but that just means more people will be on the lookout for her. She's easy to recognize, we'll get her."
Doyle continued to write, almost idly, waiting for Chip to speak.
Chip sat there and said nothing.
"Hunt her down, you might say." Doyle added one final straw to break the chipmunk's back.
"You can't really think that Gadget did this." Chip whispered hoarsely.
"I don't see anyone telling me any different." Doyle shrugged. "I don't think she'll hold up under questioning as well as you have. Dare say we'll have a full confession before long and if she runs, well, that's just about as bad as being caught red handed Oh, we'll hang on to you a little longer." Doyle added as an after thought. "Just until we're sure we have things straight, but you should be home by tomorrow."
"You're bluffing. This is a ploy." Chip accused.
Doyle checked the digital watch on the wall again. He turned back to Chip with a shrug. "It happened in her workshop. She's the one who asked Monty to throw out the trash. I figure I've just as much chance of convicting her as you." Doyle looked down at what he was writing again. "Besides, you say you didn't do it."
"No. You're trying to force me into making a confession."
"Why should I? There are only two interpretations of last night's events. One is that you did it and the other is that Gadget did it and is scared of you. So scared she had to flee her own home and only came back when she knew you were going to jail. If that's the case, she clearly doesn't care about you and, to be frank," Doyle stabbed a finger towards Chip's face, "I don't see much evidence that you care about her."
"What do you mean? That's crazy talk!" Chip's eyes were wild, as though the last shreds of his life were coming down about his ears now.
"You've known Gadget for how long? Three years? Fought with your best friend over her, worked with her, lived under the same roof with her but - and here's the funny thing - so far as I can tell everyone who knows her still considers her single mouse. You told me that you had that ring waiting for her finger but tell me, Mister Maplewood, did you ever even ask her out on a date?"
Chip couldn't speak. He shook his head.
"You didn't love her, you just wanted to possess her!" Doyle roared in disgust. "You wouldn't let anyone else have a chance with her, not even your best friend, Dale! You kept her like human with a pet! It was wrong, Chip! Part of you knew it was wrong, too! That's why you could never bring yourself to ask her out on a date."
"That's not true I was leaving town so they could be together."
"You were leaving so you wouldn't have to look at her with someone else!" Doyle shot back.
"Maybe, but that doesn't mean - "
"It means you don't love her, you probably never have and she certainly doesn't love you. The only evidence to suggest otherwise is the evidence that says you attacked Dale in a fit of jealous rage." Doyle held Chip's gaze for half a minute or more. "That's what your version of last night's events means."
Chip looked away. Doyle could practically see the cogs turning trying to make sense of it all.
"It's not true." Chip said when he looked back. "It can't be like that."
"Maybe it's not like that, Chip. Maybe you caught Gadget and Dale enjoying some time together and when you finished licking your wounds you got good and mad. Maybe you went and hit Dale over the head with first blunt instrument you could find so you could have Gadget all to yourself. If that's the case there's no point in me trying to squeeze a confession out of you by saying Gadget's going to take the fall, because you don't love her and you won't put yourself in harm's way for her."
Chip licked his lips.
"So he confessed, huh?"
"By six o'clock. Detective Kent owes me a dinner." Doyle said, wiping his name off the chalkboard the Sweepers used to keep track of who was where.
"I hear that place near the Orient theatre is pretty good." Lt Talpidae chewed on a piece of meat jerky.
"Isn't that the one where the impostor was picked up?" Doyle asked.
"Yeah." The old mole nodded. "Since you were showing an interest in that direction anyway, you might as well have a good reason for going there in your own time. That way it's not a wasted trip, whatever you find."
Doyle turned and lifted an eyebrow at his boss. "It'll have to be on Monday now. You gave me the next few days off, remember?"
"With a confession in hand, I dare say we can hold the fort without you." Lt Talpidae's sarcasm masked a compliment that made Doyle smile, albeit ruefully, on his way to the door.
"Gee, lieutenant, are you sure?"
The mole got the door for him. "Get out-a-here ya bum! You've earned a night's sleep!"
They stood together at the top of the stairs that led down to the precinct lobby for a moment, sharing the silence of old friends while Doyle fastened his trench coat. Talpidae was holding the confession Chip had signed almost mechanically a few minutes earlier and now he examined it again as if he were planning to frame it and hang it on his office wall.
"Think it'll stand up in court?" Talpidae asked.
"Yes. Don't know that it'll stand up to Dale waking up though." Doyle looked sideways at his superior to catch his reaction.
Talpidae was looking sideways too and met Doyle's eye easily. "Maybe he won't wake up and, if he does, who's to say he'll remember anything after a blow to the head like that?"
"Right." Doyle agreed.
"You still think she did it, don't you, son?" Talpidae said gently.
"Did she come in?" Doyle asked the question as an answer.
"Nope, and to tell you the truth I don't think she's likely to. From the feel of things she's had it pretty rough lately, what with her reputation getting dragged through the mud by the impostor and the hijacking and the kidnap attempt. Add to that whatever was going between her and the other Rangers behind closed doors and well, I wouldn't blame her if she didn't. Not one little bit." Talpidae sighed. He sounded a little disappointed.
"You don't think she did it?" Doyle asked flat out.
Talpidae shook his head.
"Why not? Chip says she hit someone with a wrench for bothering her in a store a while back. He also says she nearly lost her job as a Ranger a few years ago when one of her inventions misfired and hurt a team mate. He openly admits she was scared of him blaming her when things went wrong and the crime was committed in her workshop." Doyle stared at him and shook his head in exasperation.
Talpidae lifted one of the large bushy eyebrows that covered his midnight black button eyes. "You're over-tired and you're still keyed up from interviewing Chip. You're off shift now and you're talking to your boss in a public place, not a suspect in the box."
Doyle blushed. "Sorry, lieutenant. Guess I need that time off more than I thought."
"That's why I gave it to you, Doyle. You're getting punch drunk." Talpidae said with a wink. "Don't worry about it. To answer your question, I worked with the Rangers once. Chip's got a temper on him. He's slugged Dale plenty of times and the odds were bound to run out on him sooner or later. Seen him do it myself a couple of times. But Gadget all Gadget wants to do is help people and be left alone in return."
Talpidae looked at Doyle steadily and went on. "Gadget may have changed since then, or it could be that after everything she's been through she just reached her breaking point, but this I know for a fact: The first really true thing Chip Maplewood said to you was that Sweepers and Rescue Rangers work the same territory and both get resources from the City Council. The boys upstairs on the top floor think of the Rangers as competition. I spent most of the morning with them while you were at the tree house."
Doyle listened with increasing horror. In the five years he had been a Sweeper he had never doubted that he was on the right side. Until now. "Boss, do you know what you're saying?"
"We don't know what happened last night. We can only guess. We might think we know, but I've worked this job long enough to know different. I've seen cases that looked rock solid get blindsided by one tiny detail that totally blows them apart. For all we know, Chip did try to kill his best friend, just the way it says right here." Talpidae tapped Doyle on the chest with the confession.
"But nothing. I just told you! The boys upstairs want to see a Ranger go down over this and go down hard. Fair won't come into it. If you have to pick one of them for this, which one would you choose?"
Doyle thought about it. When he could look at Talpidae again he understood, but he didn't like it.
"Like I said," Talpidae drove his point home. "Gadget's been through a lot lately. You didn't force Chip to confess, he was the one who got caught with his best friend's unconscious body in a trash bag. Maybe he did do it and, if he didn't and he signed this, he was making the same choice I just put to you."
"It still stinks. What about Gadget?"
"Forget her." Talpidae advised him. "Chances are she'll be teaching mechanics in another city by Monday. She ain't coming in." With that the old mole turned away and opened the door to the squad room.
Doyle was thinking about what he would do if he were asked to testify when his eyes registered something his brain refused to believe. Turning his head slightly he called over his shoulder. "Boss, I don't think things aren't going to play out the way you planned. Gadget Hackwrench just walked in through our front door."
"Feel like putting in some more overtime, Doyle?" Talpidae asked, frowning.
"Sure, lieutenant." Doyle agreed without hesitating. "I'll stick around, if only to see how much more messed up this can get."
"You feel like you're about to drop off or anything, hand over to Kent or Rosewood." Talpidae told him. "I'm going to let the boys upstairs know what we've got so far."
Doyle felt as if someone riding on his back had jabbed him with a pair of spurs. "Say, just one thing "
Talpidae turned back from the door. "Sure, Doyle. What is it?"
"Give that confession back to me and let's pretend I didn't get around to telling you about it. Until we know where the chips are going to fall, so to speak."
"Cute." Talpidae said as he eyed the papers in his hand. "Okay. It only makes sense to hear what Miss Hackwrench has to say before we get anyone's hopes up about this being simple. Saves us having to tell them it all fell apart later."
Doyle accepted the transcript of Chip's confession with relief. "I'll use interview room three."
"Try and get it over with as quickly as possible." Talpidae's eyes flickered to where Gadget was standing. "One way or the other."
Doyle folded the confession and tucked it into his coat pocket. Then he descended the stairs and walked over to where Gadget was standing. She saw him coming and locked on to him with her those big blue eyes of hers when he was still half way across the lobby. Doyle fixed his best polite smile on his face and held out a paw to shake hands. He hoped the smile was as convincing as it was when he was fresh.
"Miss Hackwrench, nice of you to come in." Doyle opened pleasantly.
Gadget accepted his hand without speaking. She smiled with a calculating glint in her eye. A well dressed white rat who had been standing a little way off moved up to stand by her shoulder and sized up Doyle without being impressed by anything he saw.
Doyle scowled at him. "You mind giving us some space, pal? I don't believe this concerns you."
"Yes." The rat answered smoothly.
"Yes, I'd mind giving you some space, and yes, it does concern me." The rat returned Doyle's cold stare as if he were commissioner of police and Doyle had just challenged him for littering.
"Who are you?" Doyle demanded.
"Alan Trent-Neal, of the law firm Baker, Neal and Fogg. I am this lady's attorney and will be representing her. I will be present for the statement she intends to make and throughout any interview you subsequently conduct."
Doyle rocked back on his feet. This was unexpected. It made perfect sense, of course, and if he had been in Gadget's position no one would have gotten him through the doors of the police station without a lawyer unless they were holding a gun to his head. Still, his appraisal of Gadget that morning hadn't suggested that she was wise enough, experienced enough, or cynical enough to lawyer up this early in the game.
"Okay." Doyle said after a moment. "You're aware that she isn't under arrest, so there's no actual reason for her to have a lawyer."
"You're aware that she has a right legal advice and representation if she wishes it, which she does. If you object to her having a lawyer present to observe that her rights are respected I will advise her to leave which she is, of course, completely entitled to do, freely and at any time."
Unless of course you arrest her, in which case I will make your life unbearable. This last went unspoken because it didn't really need saying. Every lawyer and policeman who had ever worked a day understood it perfectly.
Doyle reapplied his polite smile. "We have an interview room ready, right this way."
The interview room was the same room Doyle had thought of as the "interrogation room" when he was talking to Chip fifteen minutes earlier. He wondered whether Gadget could catch a trace of Chip's scent in the stale air. He doubted it. Not over the stink of old fear that worked it's way deep into the walls. He nodded to the junior detective with the legal pad to begin taking notes and made sure the light wasn't in anybodies eyes. It was too soon for that.
"So, you said you'd like to make a statement." Doyle double-checked himself to make sure he pronounced the word "confession" as "statement".
"I certainly would." Gadget agreed.
Doyle let his smile widen and stretched out his open paws invitingly. "Fire away."
"May I ask a question first?" Gadget enquired sweetly.
It can't be "Where's the bathroom?" or "How long do you think I'll get for this?" Doyle thought. It's too early for any of that, so I just know it's going to be something that ruins my day.
"Go ahead." He said smoothly.
"The hospital did inform you that Dale woke up this afternoon, didn't they?"
Doyle felt his jaw drop. It just got better and better, if the Rangers were as close as people said, Dale would probably deny everything and refuse to press charges and Doyle might as well be playing poker without any cards in his hand. True, he still had Chip's confession in his pocket and attempted murder didn't require the victim to press charges or even testify unless the case required it, but no smart prosecutor would pursue a case where the victim was testifying for the defence.
Regaining his composure as quickly as he could, Doyle forced a polite half-smile on to his face and began fencing.
"Perhaps I should go and see what he has to say before we continue this interview, Miss Hackwrench." He tried to make it sound as if he were letting her off the hook but in reality it was a desperate throw of the dice. If Doyle spoke to Dale and Dale was uncooperative or couldn't remember anything helpful, she would be in the clear. Doyle's one hope of building a case against her was to convince her that a complete confession before Dale spoke to the police was her one shot at clemency.
"But I've come all this way now. Besides, I can tell you exactly what Doyle has to say. You see, I was there when he woke up." Gadget smiled brightly.
Doyle suppressed a groan. "You visited him? The hospital let you see him?"
"Was there a reason they shouldn't have?"
"They let you speak to the victim and primary witness in a case of attempted murder?" Doyle asked again.
"Absolutely. I am a Rescue Ranger after all, not to mention one of Dale's closest friends."
"We generally prefer to be the first ones who speak to a witness when they regain consciousness."
"He woke up while I was at his bedside."
"That's great. Just really, really great." Doyle looked pained. "Of course, we'll have to have speak to him ourselves, so let's just get on with your statement."
"Certainly. You see detective, I'm here to report a very serious crime that seems to have been over-looked in all the recent excitement."
Doyle's hopes rose momentarily. "And that would be?"
"False imprisonment, conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and criminal assault on a Rescue Ranger."
Doyle scratched his head. "That's public spirited of you, Miss Hackwrench, but I don't think you understand how the system works."
"That's why I brought my lawyer."
Doyle tried not to snarl at her lawyer. "You might want to tell your lawyer that Chip was found hauling an unconscious body around in a rubbish sack which gives us a perfect right to arrest him, even if he it turns out he didn't know what was in the bag. Further more we're very much aware of the assault that took place on Dale which is the reason we are all here."
"I wasn't referring to Chip. Or Dale. I mean to say that I was falsely imprisoned and assaulted." Gadget told him demurely.
Doyle gaped at her, taken off guard. Then a twisted understanding came over him and he began to wonder just what had been going on in that tree house between rescue missions. "Ah, okay. Would you feel more comfortable talking to a female officer?"
"Excuse me?" Gadget asked. Her lawyer leaned over and whispered in her ear. Gadget's eyes went wide and her ears drooped as she listened to his explanation. "Uh, no. No, thank you. That won't be necessary. Thankfully, I don't mean assaulted in that way."
Doyle hummed to himself as he considered the implications. No matter what scenario he played out in his mind's eye, he couldn't see where this was going. The only option seemed to be to allow Gadget to lead him there by the hand. "Very well, in your own time then, Miss Hackwrench."
"Several weeks ago the Ranger Skate was stolen while I was visiting a friend. A passer-by approached me and claimed to be a witness. I asked if he would mind giving me a few details and he suggested we sit down in a nearby café-bar so we could go over things in details. Naturally, the owner was running a business and it was only polite that we order drinks. I asked for a coffee. Unbeknownst to me, my so-called witness introduced a foreign substance to my drink and I was drugged. My memory is a little hazy until the following morning when I woke up in a cell at another Street Watch precinct."
Doyle frowned. His first thought had been to ask again if Gadget wanted a female interviewer, his second that she had been lucky not to wind up chained to the wall of some guy's basement. It was only when she mentioned the Street Watch that Doyle wondered why he hadn't heard about the resulting scandal and a nagging doubt suggested he had.
"No." he said.
"Quite true, I assure you."
"Did you tell anyone you were drugged when they interviewed you?" Doyle demanded quickly. Inside he repeated a silent prayer: Please let this be her fault. Please let this be her fault.
"My client was never interviewed or charged in relation to the reason for her original arrest. Nor was she offered the medical attention she so clearly needed." The lawyer headed Doyle off at the pass.
"I see." Doyle said bitterly. And that was trouble right there. Even if the person on the other side of the table was convicted career criminal and the lawyer an ambulance chaser in search of a quick fee, they could still seek compensation from a judge and probably get it.
"I immediately identified myself only to be informed that Gadget Hackwrench was in hospital following an attempted hijacking. No effort was made to check into my claims or disprove them. They were simply ignored. Then I attempted call home, only to be disconnected by a fault on the line and denied any further communication except via my lawyer. The lawyer appointed to me had been a trial attorney for precisely one day and he failed to fully appraise me of the dangers of rushing to trial and of my rights."
Doyle's sinking feeling got worse. His best hope, and it was a slim one, was that Gadget was lying through her teeth because being in prison gave her an alibi for the assault on Dale that would explain even eye witness testimony to the contrary.
Gadget continued. "At trial I was denied the right to call my friends and co-workers as witnesses, whose testimony would have cleared me. I forbidden from repeating my claims to my own identity and gagged to silence me. I was then convicted in less than a day and given a sentence of fifteen years, including three years for failing to give a name other than Gadget Hackwrench."
Doyle swallowed hard. He was trying to see a way out of this that didn't involve the end of his career and possibly the Street Watch as a whole. When he could speak, he asked gently: "Do you have any evidence to back up these remarkable claims?"
"Mister Kafka, my attorney, was awoken from hibernation this morning due to a fault in the heating system of the building where he was being tended to. The sudden rise in temperature fooled his body into thinking it was spring." Gadget explained. "He was kind enough to come to see Mister Trent-Neal with me and has provided us with a notarised statement confirming that I am the person he defended unsuccessfully in court."
Doyle winced. "As unfortunate as a miss-carriage of justice is, I haven't heard anything that suggests there was a conspiracy to interfere with the outcome."
Gadget's lawyer removed an envelope from his briefcase and began speaking. "Mister Kafka also acknowledges his short comings as a trial lawyer. He has stated an intention to re-locate after this has been cleared up and redirect his energies in the field of contract law. More importantly, he describes in detail an interview with the prosecution counsel and the judge presiding at Miss Hackwrench's trial. You, ah, might want to take a few moments to read that."
Kafka's statement ran to four pages. The little dormouse had made little attempt to disguise or excuse his part in what had to be the worst miss-carriage of justice in a century. Neither had he extended such courtesy to anyone else involved. His description of the conversation that had taken place in the judges chambers suggested that Doyle would shortly be handcuffing a prosecutor and a judge, something that their colleagues were unlikely to forgive or forget in a hurry.
Doyle began to think about relocating as well.
"After sentencing I was taken to Shrankshaw Prison where I was almost immediately punched in the jaw by a guard for failing to observe prison etiquette, which I was ignorant of at that time. I was strip searched and placed in a cell with a number of hardened criminals who tied my hair to the top of the cell door. They left me hanging there all night."
Doyle silently considered that Gadget had been pretty lucky. Except for a punch in the kisser and missing a night's sleep, she hadn't suffered anything that would call for therapy, at least, not so far in her story. Doyle hoped she wasn't saving the worst for last - the newspapers would go into hysterics if any of this reached them and Doyle would prefer it if they had to make up the more salacious details.
"On the instructions of the warden, I was confined to the prison's special hospital ward for the criminally insane. She at least realised that I thought I was telling the truth. Eventually Chip, being at least thorough enough to want to interview the person convicted of impersonating the Rangers, came to visit me. I was so heavily medicated and restrained I couldn't make him understand who I was."
Doyle wandered whether did a point against the Rangers count as a point in everyone else's favour.
"Shortly afterwards someone tampered with the doctor's paperwork and arranged for me to receive electroshock therapy." Gadget said after a slight pause.
Doyle stared at her. He hoped and prayed that it would be whoever owned and ran Shrankshaw that got it in the neck for that one. Don't apologize, he counselled himself, don't say anything that could give a lawyer a toehold. Above all don't say - "I'm sorry. That never should have happened to some one like you."
He couldn't stand not saying it. He was past not believing now.
"Afterwards I was reintroduced to the general population, but prevented from writing any letters that could have ended my ordeal. One of the guards had suspended my privileges. I spent several weeks locked in my cell until they found me a job in the laundry. On my first day there I was the target of an angry mob that tried to drown me, then crush me under a steam iron."
Doyle reeled as though punched on the jaw. He couldn't believe it but this some how just kept getting worse. He opened his mouth to apologise again but this time words failed him. Sorry didn't cover it.
"I fought back in self-defence. Unfortunately the water tank that supplied the laundry was broken in the fight and the prison was partially flooded." Gadget blushed slightly.
She's admitting doing wrong, Doyle thought. It'll come back to haunt her, but it won't be me knocking on her door when it does.
"The warden, understandably, confined me to a solitary cell. While I was there one of the other guards approached my cellmate with a knife and struck a bargain with her to kill me. My cellmate had no intention of holding up her end of the bargain and when the guard opened the door we overcame her and escaped."
Uh-oh, thought Doyle.
"In the course of the escape a crane was destroyed. We gained access to the roof with three other prisoners and I improvised a hang-glider from the flag that flew above the human prison Shrankshaw is built under. I separated from them and made my own way back to the city with one minor interruption on the way."
Doyle played with his pen listlessly, as though checking to see if his fingers still worked. After a few moments, he forced himself to play the part of a detached professional. "I'll have to address the other points of your statement in a moment or two. First I have to ask, was that you I met at the Ranger's tree house this morning?"
"Yes, it was."
"Why didn't you mention any of this then?"
"I had only just found out what had happened the night before. I wanted to know more and make sure Dale was okay before handing myself over to you."
"Handing yourself ?" Doyle closed his eyes and rubbed a paw over his forehead. She knew. Of course she knew. That was why she had brought a lawyer. Doyle looked at the smartly dressed rat and wondered what he thought of all this. One way or another he needed to know. "Mister Trent-Neal, were you aware of all this before now?"
Trent-Neal looked at Gadget. She looked blankly back at him until he whispered in her ear, then she gave a brief nod. "I can't discuss the specifics of what my client and I discussed when we met earlier today, but yes. I knew most of this, including the part about the escape."
"Have you advised her-?"
"I've advised her that she will be held responsible for her actions during the time she was in custody, regardless of how she came to be there."
Doyle sighed. "Miss Hackwrench, you understand that escaping lawful custody is a crime, not to mention the issues of criminal damage and assault stemming from the riot and the escape itself."
"Yes. I do."
"You understand that I have to advise you of your rights now and place you under arrest? That I have no other option open to me, regardless of how people outside this room eventually decide to resolve this issue?" Doyle said while staring resolutely at the ceiling, anywhere but Gadget's eyes.
"I do." Gadget said softly.
"Before I do-" anything to postpone the dreadful moment, Doyle thought "-I'd like you to read this statement that was made earlier."
Doyle withdrew Chip's confession from his pocket. He placed it on the table in front of him and pushed across until it was in front of Gadget.
Gadget picked up the statement and unfolded the document. She read it with a frown at first. Then her eyes widened and she began shaking her head. By the time she had finished she was shaking.
"This isn't what happened!" She said with tears in her eyes.
Oh great, Doyle thought. Now I made her cry into the bargain. But I have to go through this, there's no other way. In a practiced, easy tone he asked the question he had to: "How do you know what happened, Miss Hackwrench? According to your story, you weren't in the tree house that night."
"I know what happened! I've spoken to people who were there! I've spoken to DALE for crying out loud!"
Dale. Yes, that was going to be interesting. Doyle was looking forward to having that conversation himself. "Chip's confession is quite comprehensive. I don't think there's any doubt that we could get a conviction with it. As your lawyer will tell you, we don't need Dale's consent to proceed when the charge is attempted murder."
Gadget looked to her knight in shining legal briefs. Trent-Neal ran a cautious eye over the confession with a neutral expression that was too neutral to be anything other than practiced. When he was done he looked up at Doyle.
"It looks thorough." Trent-Neal said casually. "I take it that he made it without the benefit of counsel?"
"Chip knows his rights. He waved counsel because he knows only guilty people need lawyers "
"With respect, Detective, my recent experiences suggest otherwise." Gadget stopped Doyle in his tracks.
Doyle shrank back in his seat. "Right. Right, what I meant was "
"It doesn't matter." Trent-Neal said. "The first thing any competent defender is going to do is try to get it ruled inadmissible due to lack of representation. Had Chip been allowed to sleep when he made this confession?"
Doyle threw up his hands in disgust. "He'd waved counsel and he'd had more sleep than I had!"
Trent-Neal raised an eyebrow. "As you say, Detective. Though I doubt there will be a queue of people wanting to prosecute this with Dale saying different and with Miss Hackwrench providing an alternative suspect."
Doyle crossed his arms. "We'll see what Dale says when we get him on the stand. As for Miss Hackwrench well, I still have a few more questions for her."
The lawyer smiled. "Please, do continue. I can't wait to hear them."
Doyle leaned forward. "Miss Hackwrench, Gadget, you do realise that with this confession there is no question of anyone else being prosecuted in this? That you don't even have to give us an alibi for the night in question?"
Gadget frowned. She found herself forced to say something she wasn't accustomed to saying. "I don't understand."
Doyle spread his hands wide in a desperate appeal. "All I'm saying is nothing in the statement you've given relates to any case that I or, to the best of my knowledge, any other Detective on the Street Watch is currently working on, save in that you say you weren't home at the time of the assault, which we already knew from both Chip and Monty. "
Gadget blinked and seemed to digest this. "But the escape "
"An unrelated matter, one that I am not investigating!" Doyle cut her off before she could shoot him down. "I can't even forward your statement to anyone because, as I said, no one is investigating it. Do you understand?"
Gadget thought about it and nodded.
"Chip's confession clears you of all suspicion in the matter of assaulting Mister Oakmont. You don't need to say a word to clear yourself. Do you understand that?" Doyle made it simple for her.
"I understand." Gadget confirmed.
"So, that said, you're welcome to walk out that door now without signing anything and making anything you just said official."
Gadget looked at her lawyer. "Why would I do that?"
Trent-Neal gave her a cynical smile and explained gently. "I think the detective is working on the assumption that you clunked Dale over the head and the rather far fetched story you've just told him is to establish you were elsewhere at the time and that anyone Dale or anyone else saw misbehaving that night was an evil impostor."
Gadget blinked. "I didn't think it would be this difficult to convince people."
"It can't be helped. Besides, assuming things go according to plan they won't have any choice but to believe you soon."
Doyle felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. Plan? They had a plan? Whatever it was he was certain it wasn't going to improve things from his point of view. Sighing deeply, he counted his options.
He could kick them both down the stairs and say he didn't believe a word of it. Even if everything she had said were true, and he had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach that said it was, there was no reason it should get to court or into the newspapers if they released Chip without charge.
He could arrest Gadget Hackwrench and, if her story was true, return her to Shrankshaw prison with the worst criminals the city had to offer until she could appeal the original conviction, with all the attendant scandal and circus.
He could leave the room, turn in his badge and take up foraging in a farmyard for a living.
"Miss Hackwrench, I have to ask, are you standing by the statement you just made to me and will you repeat it in a court of law?" Doyle asked, unable to break the habits of a policeman.
"Yes. I do and I will."
Doyle groaned. "In that case, I have no alternative but to place you under arrest, pending your return to prison and whatever appeal or re-trail your lawyer sees fit to pursue.
"You have the right to remain silent.
"You have the right to legal representation.
"If you cannot afford legal representation, counsel will be provided for you.
"Do you understand these rights as I have quoted them to you?" Doyle looked Gadget in the eye for the first time since he had accepted her story. She looked pale and frightened, but her voice held steady when she answered.
"Yes, I do."
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