Gadget in Chains
Written by: Loneheart
Chapter Thirty-Two: Gadget Betrayed
"Well, what do you want to do now?" Doyle asked his boss.
Talpidae popped another painkiller. Doyle doubted it would be enough. They were in Talpidae's office again to talk over the current crisis, which so very worse than the crisis they had been facing an hour ago.
"You realise the worst thing about her story?" Talpidae grouched.
"WORST THING?" Doyle yelled. "I just arrested Gadget Hackwrench for breaking out of prison!" Doyle slapped his forehead with his open palm and waved as though gesturing towards an open vista that contained nothing but nightmare scenarios. "Is there a part of this mess you can point to as worse than any other?"
"Yes and if you think about it, you'll spot it too." Talpidae told him flatly.
Doyle sank down into the chair in front of Talpidae's desk. It didn't take long for him to get it.
"Nothing in her statement clears Chip." He said tiredly.
"That's right. It says she wasn't in the residence, makes it sound like the impostor who was could be a suspect, but nothing in her statement clears Chip or invalidates anything he said in that confession he gave you."
Doyle began running his fingers through his hair. He needed a shower badly and he couldn't remember the last time he had eaten. "I should have just kicked her down the stairs and told her I didn't believe a word of it."
"Wouldn't have worked in the long run. She would have just gone to the newspapers." Talpidae said. "Now listen, detective. I've got to take this to the boys upstairs and I mean all of it. It's over my pay grade and it's definitely over yours."
"What will they do?"
"How should I know? If I knew what to do myself, I wouldn't need to take it to them." Talpidae ran a hand over his eyes. "Look, Doyle. Go home. I mean for real this time. Get some sleep. I'm not formally taking you off the case, not yet, but I think I'd be doing you a favour if I did."
Doyle nodded, understanding exactly what his superior meant. "Are you giving it to one of the others?"
Talpidae thought about it for a moment then shook his head. "No. That wouldn't be right either. I'll take it. That way no one's going to think that you messed up and I won't be playing games with someone else's career. I should be big enough to handle any heat we get for how this goes down."
Doyle looked at his boss with a touch of pity and a lot of respect. Out loud all he said was: "Sooner you than me, Lieutenant."
"Go home, Doyle. While I still like you."
While Doyle was dropping the whole ugly mess in Lieutenant Talpidae's lap, the young detective who had taken notes during their interview took Gadget to be processed like any other felon.
Fingerprints were useless to the Sweepers, since only humans and koala bears had them. Instead they took paw-prints from both the hands and, since most small animals didn't trouble themselves to wear shoes, Gadget's feet. They had done this once before, of course, and soon they would dig out the records and know for certain everything she had told them was true.
After they let her wash her hands and feet they took her to the custody sergeant, who looked at her in surprise and bewilderment until the young detective whispered a few words to explain the situation. Gadget took the opportunity to study her surroundings.
A drywall gap is the space between the inside of a building's outer walls and the outside of it's inner walls and exists to prevent moisture soaking through the outside of the building into the nice warm, dry interior. This particular Sweeper precinct was built into a drywall gap of a large, old human building. At the point where the drywall met the ground two rows of cinderblocks, each with two rectangular holes running through them, had been arranged so that the holes could serve as a cells. That left about five inches between the cells on the left and the cells on the right for a strip of linoleum for the guards to walk down.
Thick bars cut from coat hanger wire closed off the front each cell and a metal plate sealed the back to prevent tunnelling through the walls. A human could have bent or torn out those bars with one hand, perhaps only two fingers but to Gadget they were half as thick as her wrist and as solid as iron or steel.
The only light came from a string of fairy lights hung over the hallway that ran between the cells. It was pale and insubstantial, made everything it touched seem greyer than it already was and left most of the cells in shadow. Just looking at it Gadget found she was missing sunlight already.
The custody sergeant approached her. She was a brown mouse of about the same age as Gadget, and her ears and tail were held low unhappily.
"I need you to turn out your pockets and put all your property on the desk, Miss Hackwrench." She said in a restrained voice.
Gadget lowered her eyes and began turning the pockets of her jump suit inside out to show they were empty. She had been expecting this and hadn't wanted the added burden of worrying about whether she would get her things back.
To her surprise she found they weren't empty. It was astonishing how many things a person could accumulate in a single morning and afternoon. There were three nuts and bolts from the Ranger-car that she hadn't been able to find holes for in the dark. There was the front door key for her old home where she had stored the belongings that Doyle had allowed her to remove from the tree house. There was her lawyer's business card.
"Is that everything?" The sergeant asked in a clipped professional tone.
Gadget patted down her jumpsuit to be sure. "Yes, that's all."
The sergeant handed her a list itemising the contents of her pockets. "Sign here."
Gadget took the pen and hoped she wasn't signing her life away.
"Pen, please." The sergeant held out her hand.
Did she think she was going to steal the pen? Gadget felt affronted for a moment, then realised she had been halfway to absent-mindedly putting it in her own pocket. It had been an automatic gesture, yet under these circumstances it sent a hot flush of guilt through her.
She returned the pen then stood with her feet together and her hands behind her back, waiting for the sergeant to open the steel wire door of the pet cage grill that stood between the desk and the cells as an added layer of security.
Instead the sergeant walked away from her.
Gadget didn't realise at first. She carried on looking at the doorway to the cells.
"This way, Miss Hackwrench." The sergeant told her.
Gadget blinked in confusion. "You aren't going to put me in the cells?"
The sergeant's face assumed a pained expression.
"Yes. We're going to put you in a cell after I search you. Through here." The sergeant pointed to a very ordinary looking door that Gadget had ignored in her study of her surroundings.
"Uh " Gadget said. Then forced herself to put one foot in front of the other until she was standing in the little room on the other side of the door.
The sergeant shut the door gently, yet Gadget flinched at the sound of it closing. She was ashamed of herself but couldn't slow her breathing or her rushing heartbeat.
"Would you prefer me to call you Miss Hackwrench, or Gadget?" The sergeant asked, kindly.
"If what the detective told me is true, you've been through this before." The mouse gave her what was supposed to be an encouraging smile.
"It wasn't a pleasant experience." Gadget returned with a frozen expression.
The brown mouse looked down, hiding any reaction.
"Can I ask how far this search is going to go?" Gadget practically pleaded.
The sergeant winced. "Just as far as I think it has to." Then, suddenly, she was all business. "Put your hands against the wall and place your feet wide apart, Gadget."
Gadget hesitated then slowly moved to obey. She assumed the position, the same position she had been in when Haggs had searched their cell the night before her escape. She remembered the big rat's paws on her, tearing at her clothing. She closed her eyes and tried to disconnect herself from what was happening.
The mouse's paws were surprisingly gentle. They started at Gadget's shoulders by her neck and worked their way up to her wrists, then down again on the outside of her arms, pressing the fabric of Gadget's jumpsuit firmly against her skin.
Professional, Gadget thought, this is the way it's supposed to be done. Still, when the paws reached her chest she wanted to snarl and had to set her face into a hard, tight mask to hold it in.
The sergeant moved down to Gadget's waist, checking all the way around her belt.
"I'm going to have to confiscate the belt." She told Gadget as though breaking bad news. "Keep your paws on the wall for now and we'll get to it later."
Gadget swallowed and wondered what else they would get to later.
The hands moved on. Gadget tried not to flinch when they touched the inside of her thighs.
"Okay. You can stand away from the wall now."
"Take off the belt and give it to me."
Gadget's hands fumbled with the belt for an instant, then passed it to the mouse, meeting her eye unexpectedly. She had sympathetic brown eyes that matched her fur and for a moment Gadget thought that perhaps they were done.
Then the sergeant took the belt and turned away so Gadget couldn't see her face when she said: "Take off your clothes leave them folded neatly on the stool over there."
Gadget felt tears sting her eyes and berated herself as she struggled out of her jumpsuit. Come on, she thought, you've been through this! You should be used to it by now!
Soon she was standing in her underwear in front of a total stranger and, knowing that wasn't enough, she found herself forced to turn her back for the little privacy that gave her. When she had added the last item to the pile she stood there, shivering.
"Yes?" Gadget quavered.
"I need the goggles too."
Gadget's hand went to her head in surprise. She took off the flight goggles she had worn while flying the Ranger-wing and placed them on top of the pile.
She felt rather than heard the mouse move up behind her and braced herself for what came next. She didn't relax until she heard the faint rustle of clothing and realised that her clothes were being searched thoroughly. She briefly thanked heaven that she had found the time to change her underwear.
"Okay, Gadget. I need you to put your paws against the wall again, like you did just now. Can you do that for me?" Despite the gentle tone and polite phrasing there was no doubt that it was an order.
Gadget forced her arms and legs to obey and hoped she could hold it together a little longer. She was startled when the brown mouse began to run a comb through her hair.
"Almost done." The sergeant reported after half a minute. "Okay, I just need to look you over and then you can put your clothes back on."
Gadget almost collapsed with relief.
"I know, I'm glad it's nearly over too." The mouse said unexpectedly.
"Not as glad as I am!" Gadget promised her.
The sergeant didn't take it amiss. She lifted Gadget's hair to check there was nothing taped to the back of her neck and then dropped it.
"Turn around now." She ordered.
Gadget pulled a face and did as she was told. The brown mouse looked her up and down with a thoughtful expression.
"Okay, Gadget. I just need you to lift up your arms and slowly turn around and then we're done."
Thank heavens for that, Gadget thought as she complied.
"Get dressed and I'll escort you to your cell. I don't imagine you'll be here very long, so try not to go stir crazy on me, okay?"
"Thank you." Gadget said sincerely without for a moment thinking how strange it was to thank someone for putting her through this.
The sergeant didn't reply and began rolling up Gadget's belt. She put it in a bag with the flight goggles while Gadget dressed.
Gadget nodded. Her pants felt loose and her hair was hanging differently without the goggles but apart from that she felt fine.
"Okay, let's go. You'll have a cell to yourself, since you're a potential target for aggression from other inmates. I dare say someone will be down to sort this out in a couple of hours or so, but it's gone seven now and the people they need to speak to might have gone home for the night. If they can't get hold of them they may keep you until the morning, in which case dinner is at eight thirty and lights out is an hour later."
The sergeant opened the door and led Gadget through to the cells. The doors closed behind her with a sound of finality that blew away the sergeant's optimism like dried autumn leaves in a gale.
Back in his office, far above the cold grey cell Gadget was sitting in, Lieutenant Talpidae was writing lists and making calls. His first list was a list of things to do before he went home and at the bottom of it was clearing out his desk for his successor. The second list was of people to contact with the bad news and at the top of it was his wife. He sent an errand-boy they mostly used to send out for sandwiches with a note explaining that he was going to have to put in a night at the office, again, and moved on to the second name.
Talpidae's boss was a squirrel named Oscar Sherwood who was closer to Doyle's age than Talpidae's own. Unlike Talpidae, who saw being a Sweeper as a job and promotion as a reward for doing the job well, Sherwood was an ambitious career type who saw promotion as the reason for doing anything. He regularly went home at seven or later, so Talpidae wasn't surprised when the intercom call to Sherwood's office was answered immediately.
"What's the good news, Lieutenant?" The squirrel's voice boomed with practiced confidence.
Talpidae sighed deeply. His boss always started with the hard questions. "Well," he began slowly, "Dale Oakmont woke up this afternoon."
There was a slight pause. "Does that mean we can count on his testimony at the trial?"
"I think he'll testify, yes. But I don't think it will help our case any."
Sherwood hummed and cleared his throat on the other end of the line. "After a serious head injury it's only to be expected that his memory might be unreliable, but under the circumstances I'm sure any one of our competent detectives, properly supervised, can put together a case that doesn't need require the victim to take the stand."
"It's putting together a case that would survive his testimony that's troubling me." Talpidae said grimly and listened to the slight pause on the other end of the line.
"Why? What's he told us?"
"Nothing officially yet, but I thought you might want to hear informally what he's likely to say before we send anyone to the hospital to take a statement."
Hearing something informally meant he hadn't heard it at all as far as anyone else was concerned. There was another slight pause then Sherwood answered in a guarded tone of voice. "Understood. Go ahead, Talpidae."
"According to Gadget Hackwrench, who came in to make a statement as she promised Detective Doyle she would do, Dale Oakmont woke up this afternoon while she was at his bedside. Apparently the hospital was pretty busy and nobody there minded a potential suspect just walking for a visit. Dale is going to say that he was hit by someone impersonating Gadget."
Long pause. "Where is Miss Hackwrench now?"
Talpidae dry swallowed and winced. Always with the hard questions! Would it kill him to make small talk? "Right now, Miss Hackwrench is in a holding cell."
"For trying to put Oakmont out of the way?"
"No. For escaping lawful custody, inciting a riot, criminal damage to prison property, common assault and assault on a guard."
"What? One of our jailers?"
"No. One at Shrankshaw where she claims she was wrongfully sent over three months ago - by us!"
"WHAT?! Talpidae, are you kidding me?"
There was a very long pause.
"You still there, Captain?"
"Yes. Yes, I'm still here. Just give me a minute." There was some rustling of paper. "Is there any chance she, uh, you know being disingenuous?"
"You know, disingenuous! It means, well, it means less than completely honest."
"I'm more worried that she's being entirely too honest." Talpidae scowled.
"Well, if she'd clunked Dale over the head, a few days in jail playing the innocent victim of a miscarriage of justice might sound a little tempting."
"We thought of that." Why did the people upstairs always assume that no one else had a brain, Talpidae wondered?
"I've got someone down in filing looking for the paw prints we took from the Jane Doe we convicted to see if they match up."
Slight pause. "Do you think they will?"
"Yes. They don't always; it's not like fingerprints with humans. Someone does a little hard work, grows a few calluses, it changes their print. We almost never get a decent print from a crime scene because people don't use their whole paws to touch something as much as you might think and when they do, their skin isn't oily and sweaty like a human's, so the marks aren't as easy to pick up. But we always get a good impression when we take someone's prints in the precinct and ones we took when she was convicted are only three months old."
"If they don't, would she be unable to prove her story is true?"
Talpidae could practically hear Sherwood looking up the address of an easily influenced print expert. "I doubt it. She gave an account of a conversation with the prison warden and she has a statement from the defence lawyer who worked the impostor's trial. Ah, you might want to hear more about that statement "
"Let me have it." Sherwood said. It sounded like he was taking notes at the other end. Talpidae wouldn't have been in the least bit surprised if he was. In fact, it wouldn't have been a bad idea to take some of his own - too late now, the mole scowled.
"Shall I read it to you or just give you the summary?"
Talpidae pulled a copy of Kafka's sworn statement out of the folder in front of him and cast a weary eye over it. "The lawyer says he's a useless bum who got Gadget Hackwrench convicted for impersonating herself and probably couldn't argue his way out of phone booth, but that he needed help to mess things up this badly." He summarised. "There's a blow-by-blow account of how the judge and prosecutor took him aside before the trail even started. Told him he was hand-picked to get the desired result and that he better not make any waves if he knew what was good for him."
Long pause. Talpidae could picture Sherwood rubbing a paw against his forehead. "Great. So, he implicates them?"
"How far? Did he wreck these guys careers or are they looking at time themselves?"
Talpidae glanced at the statement again then put it face down on his desk, in disgust. "If the quote from the judge stands up in court then it could be time. Plus it will raise questions about how far this goes and who else knew."
"Don't say that!" Sherwood sounded alarmed. "Don't talk about trouble we don't have yet. You might bring it on. If the wrong kind of person hears that kind of talk, why, it could start a witch-hunt! The last thing we need is the defenders and the prosecutors and the judges all mad at us at the same time."
Talpidae nodded to himself. It was the kind of reaction he had expected. "I know what you mean, boss. Look, I don't want to heap more bad news on you but there's something else you've got to know. Doyle was able to get a confession out of Chip Maplewood. Now, there's a chance that Maplewood just confessed to protect Gadget, or whoever he thought was Gadget, but nothing in Miss Hackwrench's statement clears Chip."
Slight pause. "Can we do a deal? Tell them we'll ignore the case against him if they keep quiet about all of this?"
Talpidae shook his head even though his superior couldn't see it. "Not since Dale Oakmont woke up. We'll have nothing to trade with if he sides with them. Plus, if he says the impostor did this then Chip can spin things in the papers so that it looks we convicted a regular heroine and allowed a dangerous criminal to nearly kill a Rescue Ranger in his own home."
"If he remembers what happened, you mean!"
"He doesn't need to remember. Gadget was with him when he woke up. You can bet their stories are going to tie up perfectly. The moment Dale woke up and Gadget gave us her story about being mistaken for the impostor, all we really had on Chip was making a false confession. We've got a lot more on Hackwrench but let's face it - we can't use it without exposing our own mistakes." Talpidae checked his two lists. He hoped Sherwood would get the picture pretty soon, because there were too many other people he had to speak to for this conversation to go on all night.
There was really only one thing Sherwood could do at this point and the old mole had been in the Street Watch too long to have any doubts about what it was. Soon Sherwood would be calling his boss, Chief Gainsborough, who would call Commissionaire Talloweye. Assuming Commissionaire Talloweye didn't pop out his claws and eat Gainsborough right there on the spot, becoming Talpidae's next customer, the ginger tom would then tell the City Conclave the whole thing before they read about it over in the newspapers.
A lot of very important people would be missing their sleep tonight.
"I'm going to have to call the Chief about this." Sherwood announced.
"Really?" Talpidae raised his eyebrows as he tried to fake surprise. "Well, if you feel that's best."
"Yes, I really do." There was no telling whether Sherwood was being sarcastic or not.
Talpidae took his gamble. Everything up to now had been building to this gambit and either Sherwood would shut him down entirely or give him free reign to do what needed to be done. "I thought it would be a good idea to call a few people myself. I know a Lieutenant at the precinct that mistook Gadget Hackwrench for a hardened criminal, for instance. They might appreciate a heads up, at least that way they'll know what the Chief is talking about when he calls and it may save us some hard feelings down the line."
There was another pause at the other end of the line. Talpidae didn't like that. It meant his boss was thinking about it. "Captain, are you there? I said - "
"I head what you said, drat it!" Sherwood's patience snapped like a pencil. "Call your friend if you want to! Heck, call your mother and tell her the whole story if you think it will help! Just don't leave your desk until I call you back!" The squirrel, having made his first and only fatal mistake, slammed a paw down on the intercom switch ending the conversation.
Talpidae picked up a pencil and drew a line through item one on each of his lists. Then he sat back in his office chair and grinned a grin that was all sharp white teeth.
Gertrude Phelps had given up on the card table in the janitor's closet and was trying to do her paperwork at the guard's reception desk, next to the clock and the time cards the guards used to punch in every shift. She had a headache and a problem.
As near as she could tell, she'd blown the overtime budget for the rest of the year - which ended in April for reasons best known to accountants.
Now her staff of thirty was down six people, two claiming injuries (three if you counted Margo Haggs who certainly wasn't faking) and the rest having quit after the worst riot in Shrankshaw's history.
On top of that the prison inspectors were coming tomorrow to see if the prison should remain open or be closed down entirely and its inmates shipped out to wherever would take them.
She hadn't slept in nearly forty-eight hours.
Then the phone rang.
Talpidae was right about a lot of important people not sleeping that night, though he had no way of knowing how many. He did call his friend at the precinct Gadget had first been taken to, who had just started a night shift. His pal listened to the whole story without commenting, save for a dirty chuckle. Someone who had handled Gadget's case had made themselves unpopular.
The lieutenant worked his way down the list, calling friends and strangers alike, until finally he drew a line through the last name on his list. He allowed himself a smile before he returned to his second list. He re-read it and drew a line through three items that were no longer possible, either because he had been unable to reach the right people or because he had learned something new during his calls.
When he had finished he stood up and went to the door - as far from his desk as he dared with his boss due to call him at any moment. Opening the door he called out, "Louie! You got what I asked for yet?"
"Sure, Lieutenant!" A small weasel answered with a wave.
"Bring them here! I got work to do!"
Louie brought his Lieutenant a pair of brown manila folders and handed them over without a qualm.
"There ya go, boss." He smiled ingratiatingly.
"Did you sign these out?" The Lieutenant asked as he glanced at the titles on the folders.
"Sure." Louie's smile grew wider.
"While I'm thinking about it, did you find those other case files you signed out? You know the ones." Talpidae kept his tone light and tried not to feel like a rat instead of a mole.
Louie's smile faltered and failed like the lights in a power cut. "Oh! Oh, those? I could have sworn I put them back already. Did I forget to book them back in? Maybe I just put them back when the clerk was on a break to save the trouble of telling him."
"He can't seem to find them. Perhaps you put them back in the wrong place?"
"Oh gee, did I? I'm sorry, Lieutenant. I'll go look for them." Louie was back-pedalling, trying to escape.
"No hurry." Talpidae smiled benignly (but there was an evil look in his eye). "Just so long as you didn't lose any more files. Okay, Louie?"
"Don't worry boss, I got it covered!" Louie's promises wouldn't have convinced his own mother as he scuttled away with a guilty look on his face.
Talpidae closed the door and checked the manila folders to make sure they were the right ones. Yep. Chip's arrest record from last night and Gadget's arrest record from tonight. His friend at the other precinct had promised to have an errand boy bring the records of Gadget's original arrest over to him before morning.
Talpidae took the contents out of the folders out and put them in two new folders that were unlabeled. Then he took a set of blank forms, scribbled illegibly in all the fields as if a drunk with broken fingers had filled them in and then spilled as much ink on the finished result as seemed reasonably possible. He left them to dry on the radiator while he amended the labels on the folders to read "G. MacKuirerick" instead of "G. Hackwrench" and "C. Naptenbod" instead of "C. Maplewood".
"Amazing what a slip of a pen here and there will do." Talpidae said to himself.
Then, because only a complete idiot would paint himself into a corner he couldn't back out of, Talpidae took the real paperwork for Chip and Gadget's arrest and put it in a large scrapbook of newspaper clippings that he kept in his desk drawer instead of destroying it. Now all the paperwork to show that Chip and Gadget had ever been arrested at this precinct was, for all intents and purposes, lost. If necessary, Talpidae could deny that they had ever been arrested. Not that he would, because that too would be painting himself into a corner. The phrase was "assisting with enquiries", which was vague enough to mean anything.
The phone rang.
Talpidae sat down in his chair, took a deep breath and picked up on the third ring.
"Talpidae? Is that you?" Sherwood's voice was high-pitched and slightly shaky on the other end of the phone.
"Yes, this is Lieutenant Talpidae speaking. Is that you Captain Sherwood?"
"Yes, of course it's me! Listen, that call you were going to make -"
"All taken care of." Talpidae cut him off. He kept his tone of voice steady and reassuring precisely because he knew that nothing he was going to say to his superior in the course of this conversation would be reassuring.
"You made it!?" Sherwood yelled into his phone. "You already called him?"
"Sure, I called him right after you. Just like I said I was going to." The old mole said quietly.
"And you got through to him? He hadn't gone home?"
"He works nightshift." Talpidae explained.
Long pause. "Did you call anyone else?"
"Everyone I thought might be able to help, Captain, but I'm afraid I didn't get very far. I couldn't get through to some people and others just weren't in a position to help."
Talpidae heard a slight noise on the other end of the line that might have been a muffled profanity.
"How many people did you call?" Sherwood whined.
"I don't know. Four or five." Talpidae said carefully. "The warden at the prison is coming over to identify Gadget Hackwrench as the prisoner who broke out. If the warden can't or won't identify her, well " he let the sentence tail off so that Captain Sherwood could hang his hopes on it.
"We could what, exactly? Call Gadget Hackwrench a liar?"
"I thought maybe profess confusion at the contradictory evidence, say we don't have sufficient reason to hold her and kick her out the front door. She's spending a night in the cells right now so maybe she won't be so keen to tell the world about this come morning." Inwardly, Talpidae didn't imagine for a moment that things would work out this way.
Asking Warden Phelps to come over and identify Gadget had just been a pretext to get her in the building. Most of the charges against Gadget stemmed from Gadget's stay in prison and therefore the Warden could make them go away once Talpidae had explained the situation.
"I like it." Sherwood said. "But things may have moved on from there. There is another way to play this."
Talpidae blinked. Here it comes, he thought. "What would that be, sir?"
"You know how some people are wondering if maybe volunteer groups like the Rangers are a bit old fashioned? That maybe they aren't what the city really needs these days? Now that it has more modern organizations like the Sweepers, for instance."
Sherwood's voice was light and casual, and every bit as false and rehearsed as Talpidae's puzzled reply. "I don't really recall, Captain. Possibly I heard something like that but didn't give it much thought at the time."
"Of course, you're very busy. We all are. But the thinking at the senior levels seems to be that volunteer groups like the rangers are an unnecessary drain on the city council's resources, wouldn't you agree?" Sherwood was talking in his most understanding, agreeable tone.
Talpidae smiled cynically to himself. Is he asking me to agree that is the thinking at the top level, or to agree that thinking the Rangers are a drain on resources is correct? The answer was both, of course. It was a short step from agreeing to the first part to the second part being taken as an established fact. False modesty saved the day. "I'm sorry, Captain, but I'm afraid that the people at the top don't have much time to share their thoughts with an old Lieutenant who's just marking time to retirement. I'll have to take your word for it on how they feel."
"Oh, don't underrate yourself. They know you're one of their best, Talpidae. If it wasn't so, they wouldn't trust you to handle this situation with the Rangers." Sherwood applied his best motivational tools. "And when it's over, they'll remember your name. You've been a Lieutenant for how long now?"
"Eight years, sir." Talpidae felt his fur rise. He had given up on promotion but part of him still wanted it and he hated Sherwood for making him remember what that felt like.
"You must be about due." Sherwood promised without promising.
"What does all this have to do with our current situation?" Talpidae asked, his annoyance finally showing through.
"Talpidae, the reason you're one of the best people we have on the Street Watch is that you understand the important things. You can just separate them out from the minute-to-minute trivia that we all have to deal with and most people can't do that. Now, I've always thought that one of the big things, one of the important things, about the law is that it treats everyone the same." Sherwood chuckled as though the idea was somehow funny. "You, me, the ordinary working fella, even hardened criminals who spend more time inside prison than out."
Talpidae struggled to see his superior's point. "So, you're telling me you want this handled by the book?"
"Of course, always, but first answer me this: What would happen to some ordinary person who we never heard of who got caught with an unconscious body in a sack? And then, what if that person's girlfriend came in with some sob story about having gotten a raw deal from us in the past and, in the process, blabbed that she had committed two or three serious crimes?"
Talpidae hated to admit it, but he could see Captain Sherwood's point.
"We'd throw the book at them." He conceded.
"Exactly. Now, about this wrongful conviction thing, it may be that the girl has reason to feel she was treated unfairly, but that's a matter for her lawyer and a judge. If they say it was a mistake that's fine but it's not for us to tell them they got it wrong.
"After all," Sherwood added pointedly, "who's to say they did?"
Talpidae had naively assumed the top brass would want to keep this out of the courts and the public eye. He felt the world turn unexpectedly under him - in the wrong direction. "Captain Sherwood, I really don't think there's any chance the mouse in our cells is going to be identified as anyone other than Gadget Hackwrench." He said patiently.
"I know that, I know. But has anyone ever checked where Gadget Hackwrench WAS at the time of all these crimes? How do we know she didn't do them?"
Talpidae was breath-taken at overwhelming stupidity of the suggestion. "Sir, Gadget was in custody at the time of the museum robbery and was in Shrankshaw while someone else was in hospital and convalescing at the Ranger's HQ. Plus, most of the crimes were committed halfway across the country on dates at least close to ones where Miss Hackwrench was known to be in the city. I think it's pretty fairly well established that there was a double of Gadget Hackwrench running around with criminal intent."
"Work with me here, Lieutenant. The fact that Gadget has a double doesn't rule out the possibility she had a paw in the crimes. At the very least we have to believe the impostor was in the Ranger HQ for, what, two months? Two months and not one of the Rangers spotted anything suspicious. That's what we're being asked to believe. Don't you find that in the least bit suspicious?" Sherwood suggestion was insidious. Talpidae found himself considering it even as he fantasized about calling his superior a moron. Perhaps throwing Sherwood a bone would be enough.
"It certainly suggests that Maplewood isn't the detective he thinks he is." The mole suggested.
Sherwood laughed. "We aren't talking simple incompetence here, we're talking complicity. They knew and they didn't say anything."
"And left Gadget Hackwrench sitting in JAIL?" Talpidae roared.
"They couldn't say anything without incriminating themselves!"
Talpidae was standing now. He couldn't remember exactly when he had gotten out of his chair. He wanted to pace around his office but the short phone cable tethered him. He ran a big, shovel sized paw through his thinning hair and took a few deep breaths to calm down. "Look, sir, all I'm saying is that even if what you're saying is true we will have a hard time convincing a jury of something that sounds like, well, a conspiracy theory!"
"Are you saying you won't investigate the possibility?" Sherwood's tone was edged with menace.
"As a member of the Street Watch we have a duty to investigate any reasonable possibility, Captain Sherwood. Of course we'll look into it " I just don't think we'll have to look very hard before we can rule it out, Talpidae thought.
"That's all I ask. Just that you bring the other Rangers in tomorrow for questioning and spend a few hours exploring all the possibilities with them." Sherwood sounded like he was backing down, or getting ready to make a deal with someone.
What sort of deal, Talpidae wondered? Then it came to him. "How many hours do you think that would take, Captain?"
"Oh, I dare say you could get done by, say, four in the afternoon."
Four in the afternoon was when the afternoon editions of most newspapers hit the streets. Talpidae sank back into his chair, wearily.
"Are you still there, lieutenant?" Sherwood's concern was touching.
No, I'm not here! I'm curled up under my desk having a heart attack! When they find me everyone will know you caused it! That was what Talpidae wanted to scream into the phone, but inconveniencing Gadget's friends for a few hours, even if it was so Sherwood's slime-ball friends could kick-start a smear campaign in the press, was a small price to pay for the time he needed to resolve this mess.
What he said out loud was: "Yes. I'm sure we could do that, Captain."
"Good. And Talpidae ?" Talpidae could imagine Sherwood was grinning like he'd just won the star prize in the lottery.
"If the Rangers weren't accomplices to this that means that the impostor must have had some very specialized inside knowledge. Would you agree?"
Talpidae couldn't see away out of it. It was a conclusion he had already reached. "Yes, I would."
Sherwood's voice dripped victory. "I can't think of a better person to have provided that inside knowledge than Gadget Hackwrench."
Gadget was sitting on the bed in her cell, missing Bubbles. She had known there was a good chance of being arrested and jailed again if she walked through the precinct's front door but she had spent a good sized chunk of her life working for a system that she now believed to be broken. Like any good mechanic, she wanted to fix something if it was broken.
Lights-out had been ten minutes ago and the butterflies in her stomach still hadn't settled down. She couldn't blame it on the food, which had been healthy if plain and, after nearly forty-eight hours without anything to eat, greatly appreciated. She was scared.
The first time Gadget had seen the inside of a cell she had merely been confused and bewildered. By the time she had reached trial she was angry. Angry, but convinced this would all get straightened out and put right by someone. It hadn't been until Shrankshaw that the fear kicked in.
Now she was a sadder, wiser mouse.
If this were to be put right, she would have to be the one to do it. She had a plan and a lawyer and the truth on her side but on the inside of a cell she couldn't stop thinking about the things she didn't have, like her freedom and her friends.
"Hello again, Red."
Gadget sat up in the half-light. The voice had come from nearby her cell. It was familiar, yet Gadget couldn't place it until she looked and saw Warden Phelps standing outside her cell.
"Warden? For a moment, I thought -"
"That it was a friend? No. The others haven't been recaptured. I doubt you would have been if you hadn't chosen to give yourself up." Gertrude Phelps looked as though she had been run ragged. "Normally I'd applaud such an action," she went on, "but I'm beginning to suspect you might have caused everyone less trouble if you had kept your mouth shut and just gone back to your old life."
The custody officer who had searched Gadget earlier brought a folding chair out to the warden so she could sit down, smiled and nodded to politely to Gadget, and then left so they could have some privacy. The warden didn't thank her. She simply sat down as gracefully as possible.
"I couldn't do that." Gadget said. "If I'd kept quiet, people wouldn't know there was a problem with the system and if they don't know, they won't fix it. Besides, I'd have only been sent back to you when Dale woke up and remembered that someone who looked like me clonked him on the head with my favourite wrench."
"Everyone here seems to think that Chip did that." The warden frowned, remembering the strong-headed, opinionated chipmunk that had visited her prison.
"He didn't. It was my double." Gadget grinned to herself. "My evil twin."
"An evil twin. That's so corny, even the convicts don't use it any more." The warden shook her head in disbelief.
Gadget shrugged. "So my life is corny. I live in a tree house with four guys and we fly around in a bleach bottle aeroplane, saving the world from the bad guys. Evil twins come with the territory."
Warden Phelps swallowed this with visible difficulty. "I've been speaking to Lieutenant Talpidae."
"Who?" Gadget shook her head, absentmindedly.
"You don't know him?"
"I'm reasonably sure I've never heard of him. Of course, I say reasonably sure, but I'm notoriously absentminded and I'm always forgetting people's names. Though people don't always give you their names when you're dealing with them, do they?" Gadget prattled carelessly, her attention staring hard at her memory and trying to intimidate it into working properly.
"Apparently he's dealing with your case now." Phelps told her.
"I dealt with a Detective Doyle." Gadget said thoughtfully.
"Talpidae seems to be his superior. I think he's taken over. From what he tells me, you're very likely to find yourself back in my care by morning." The warden said severely.
"Seriously? They're going to send me back even though they know that I was telling the truth now?" Gadget got of her bunk. She had known it was a possibility, but she had hoped otherwise.
"You confessed to several serious offences." The warden pointed out. "For what it's worth, now that I know you are who you say you are, I'm horrified, but I can't see a way out of it."
"But the original conviction was bogus! Surely I'm entitled to a new trial!" Gadget's voice rose in distress.
"Yes, you certainly are." Phelps agreed. "But until you get it, the book says you should be in prison."
Gadget looked at her steadily. "I'm not asking for special treatment."
The warden took on a more sympathetic posture. "For what it's worth, I don't see how your conviction can stand. As soon as this gets before a judge, the prosecutor will probably say that they aren't contesting the case and you'll be free."
Gadget sighed and slumped back down onto her bunk. "I don't suppose that anyone's said how long that will be."
"No, they haven't and please don't ask me because I don't know either." Warden Phelps shook her head. "Look, I'm sorry, but I can't hold out false hope to you. You started a prison riot, broke out of Shrankshaw in the company of four dangerous criminals, and nearly killed Margo Haggs. Even when they dismiss the original charges against you, they're almost certainly going to convict you of something else."
"I didn't have a choice!" Gadget yelped.
"I don't know I agree with that." Phelps assumed her best school ma'am posture. "You could have written to your friends, or had your lawyer go to them."
"My lawyer was in hibernation until spring!"
Gertrude Phelps looked abashed. "Oh yes, I remember now." A puzzled look crossed her face. "I hear you're very well represented now."
Gadget began fidgeting. She balled her paws except for her index fingers, which she tried to make meet when she moved her paws towards each other, all without looking at them.
"He, uh, woke up." She said after a short silence.
"So breaking out didn't do you any good at all then, did it?" Gertrude Phelps demanded.
"Well he would have slept through to spring, if something hadn't gone wrong with the heating system." Gadget said defensively.
"But something did go wrong with it, so you would have been out as soon as - well, as soon as you were out of solitary and your lawyer had arranged a new trial." Phelps said triumphantly.
"If I hadn't broken out, something might not have gone wrong with the heating system." Gadget smiled weakly.
"What - Oh! I see!" The warden's voice took on a note of understanding. And disapproval. "I take it you left that out of your confession?"
Gadget laughed feebly. "I decline to answer on the grounds I might tend to incriminate myself."
"Spoken like a professional criminal!" The warden accused.
"Thank you." Gadget said before thinking. Then she clapped a hand over her mouth.
The warden stared at her in quiet fury. "I'm not sure that jail isn't the place for you, young lady. Perhaps we might teach you to put your inventive talents to better use."
Gadget jumped up from her bunk again and went over to the bars so she could be closer to her visitor.
"I was putting them to good use! I've been using them to rescue people my whole adult life! Seriously, Warden, do you see me becoming a better person as the result of going back to Shrankshaw? You know that people don't come out more innocent than when they went in." Gadget was pleading now. At some point she had accepted the warden as an authority figure and that meant her approval meant something Gadget.
"You might have come out innocent, if you hadn't caused chaos with this foolish escape attempt of yours!" The warden berated her.
Gadget couldn't quite meet the older mouse's eyes. "I think technically you would have to have caught me in the act for it to be an attempt." She pointed out.
"The fact the attempt succeeded is nothing to be proud of! Look at you! You're back in a cell!" The warden raised her voice.
"I gave myself up. Don't you see," Gadget begged with large blue eyes "I have to make the system work and I couldn't do it from inside Shrankshaw."
Gertrude tapped on the bars of Gadget's cell. "You think that you've got a better chance from inside there?"
Gadget lowered her eyes again. "I've done everything I can."
Phelps shook her head sadly. "Some of the things you've done would have been better left undone. Would three weeks in solitary have killed you?"
And this time Gadget could look the warden directly in the eyes. "Yes, warden. I know for a fact that it would have."
Half an hour later Gertrude Phelps walked out of the custody suite, her shoulders bowed and her head bowed in thought. Lieutenant Talpidae came down to meet her with a sheath of papers in his hand.
"How'd it go?" he asked immediately.
"It was educational." Warden Phelps answered. "You haven't spoken to her yourself?"
"No. I watched from outside the interview room when she made her statement to one of our detectives." Talpidae fell into step alongside her. Since the cells were at the bottom of the building it was a short climb to the precinct lobby or a long one back to his office. Talpidae was hoping he could persuade the warden to go the extra distance.
"What did she say in her statement?" The warden seemed apprehensive.
Talpidae baited his hook. "Well, I believe I have a copy in my office. It's unconventional but I don't see any problem in letting you take a look at it."
"Would you? I have a lot to worry about and it would take a weight off my mind." The warden looked almost pathetically grateful.
Talpidae looked sideways at her and wondered just what Gadget had said during their little tête-à-tête. Smiling, he opened a door for the warden. "Well, when we take a look at it together I'm sure we'll find Miss Hackwrench gave your prison four stars."
"Somehow I very much doubt that, Lieutenant." The warden replied tersely and they walked the rest of the way to the Lieutenant's office in silence.
Once they were there, Talpidae made a show of sorting through the papers on his desk until he felt forced to admit that he had been holding Gadget's statement in his paw the whole time. Warden Phelps pulled a face, thinking of all the steps they had just walked up.
"It's not a big deal. I was hoping we could talk things over informally and my office is fairly private." Talpidae said as he offered her the statement and a chair.
Gertrude Phelps sat down to read the statement. Although she knew Gadget was an intolerable chatterbox, both from reputation and experience, it seemed that Gadget had been brief in confessing her sins. Not that she had many sins to confess to, the warden allowed, but the statement was so short, so succinct, that it almost sounded as if someone else had made it.
"Did she have a lawyer with her?" Warden Phelps asked.
"Yes. Her statement was very business like. They confirmed they had discussed it before coming in." Talpidae could guess her thoughts.
"You think her lawyer coached her? That probably accounts for it." Phelps mused.
Talpidae felt the hairs rise on the back of his neck. "You can confirm that the person in our cells is the same one you had at Shrankshaw?"
Phelps laughed tiredly. "Well, of course she is. She said things that only Red, excuse me, I mean Hackwrench could know." A look of pained sympathy crossed her face. "Poor girl. I can't imagine going through one tenth of what she's been through and now it looks like she's going to have to go through it all again. This time without any hope of rescue."
Talpidae decided it was time to take a gamble. "Actually, I was hoping we might do something about that."
Phelps's eyes widened in surprise. "Just what did you have in mind?"
The old mole chuckled gently. "I take it we can both agree that locking up Gadget Hackwrench again doesn't serve the interests of justice. I say justice, not the law and certainly not my bosses who would be only to happy to see all the Ranger's locked if they can make it happen and still look like good guys doing it."
The mouse's jaw dropped. "What? But why?"
Talpidae poured himself a drink and another one Warden Phelps. "It seems my superiors feel the Ranger's are not a benefit to the community, that they are an unnecessary drain on city resources that we ourselves could better use. Probably use on getting bigger offices for my superiors, if you want to know my opinion."
Warden Phelps accepted the drink and slumped in the chair. "Well, I take it from that this conversation is completely off the record."
"Totally. I'll deny it if you bring it up in front of company."
"For some time now I've felt like my job is to burry other people's mistakes. Mistakes of the Correctional Department, the courts, the Street Watch, whatever outfit is peddling law and order - I've had a couple from the Rangers that come to mind, now that I think of it. Even so, I think the Ranger's try harder than most and they do save people on a regular basis, regardless of what species they are or what the danger is." The warden warmed to her subject. "I met Chip a few weeks ago when he visited Gadget in prison and he totally failed to recognise her. I thought he was narrow minded and opinionated at the time, but I never dreamed he'd fail to recognise one of his own team-mates."
"It's worse than that." Talpidae let her in on the joke. "Apparently Chip is in love with Gadget."
The warden gawked at him. "And he couldn't recognize her from a distance of six inches?!"
"Love is blind. And apparently also pretty stupid." Talpidae poured himself another drink.
Gertrude Phelps held her glass out for a refill and they sat in silence for a moment or two. Then her curiosity propelled her to ask: "Does she know?"
"She hasn't said, we haven't mentioned it." Talpidae answered without looking up.
"If she does, she'll never forgive him." The warden prophesied.
"I can't see him forgiving himself, for that matter. He's confessed to attacking Dale but I think he made a false confession to protect Gadget, who was the only other suspect. Of course, if Gadget was with you until midnight last night, that lets her out and he's confessed to protect someone else." Talpidae filled her in.
"Her evil twin." The warden noticed Talpidae looking at her strangely. "That's what she calls the impostor." She frowned. "Perhaps I wasn't completely misguided in sending her to the psychiatrist."
"She said she received electroshock treatments." Talpidae's tone was decidedly accusatory.
"As did I and my deputy while we were trying to disconnect her from the machine!" The warden declared. "I never thought I'd be grateful for that, but it looks like a stroke of luck now!"
"How did that come about?" Talpidae asked, slipping into interrogation mode.
Warden Phelps took another mouthful of whatever Talpidae had poured in her glass. "Someone interfered with the paperwork and while I had my suspicions before, I have certainties now. Whatever faults Doctor Schadenfreude might have, he certainly doesn't approve of such treatments and would never think of using them on anyone at Shrankshaw."
"Why would someone do that? Try to get Gadget Hackwrench electrocuted?"
"She wasn't Gadget Hackwrench then. Just a crazy, troublesome inmate who acted like someone we thought she wasn't and who managed to get on the wrong side of one of our prison officers." Phelps said.
"Margo Haggs. She gets great results and we've never had any solid grounds for action against her but we've long suspected that she was showing us one face and quite another to the inmates. Someone's been bringing in contraband for a long time and we're sure it's a guard. The only time we found evidence to incriminate someone it was a young guard who had gotten on the wrong side of Margo, but she hadn't been there when the problem started." The warden stared at the Lieutenant's framed citations for a moment, deep in thought. "Margo has always said that if I tightened the search routines the way she wanted, the problem would go away."
The lieutenant tactfully didn't ask how Margo wanted the searches tightened. Instead he asked how Gadget had found herself on Margo's bad side.
"I don't know exactly. Something she said when they first met caused her to be singled out, I think, but the real trouble started when Miss Hackwrench voluntarily handed over a lock pick during the search and my deputy prevented Margo from taking her off for a more detailed examination." The warden remembered Marion Cedar telling her about it well.
Talpidae winced at the thought. "So basically there was an ongoing quarrel between you, your deputy and this Margo Haggs and Miss Hackwrench got caught in the cross-fire."
Warden Phelps nodded. "It didn't help that she befriended Bubbles McGee. McGee was a hardened criminal, convicted for robbery likely to attract human investigation at about the same time as Miss Hackwrench's bad luck. Miss Hackwrench passed us information via her psychiatrist that Haggs was brutalising McGee to find out where her cut of the proceeds were, presumably so that she could retrieve it for herself or turn it in for a reward."
"You think that escalated things?" Talpidae knew the question was redundant as he asked it.
"Definitely. It was after that Margo started working in our psychiatric wing and Miss Hackwrench got her hair frizzed." The warden said decisively. "About the only thing that happened to her that I can't blame on Margo was the riot."
"The one Miss Hackwrench started?"
Warden Phelps gave a short laugh. "Right now, I would say she finished it. From what she told me, Haggs carted off McGee to solitary so she could squeeze her for information in private then spread the rumour that Hackwrench had informed on McGee as a cover. Hackwrench claims that a mob was going to tear her limb from limb and that she was merely defending herself. Apparently taking out half the prison was just side-effect."
Talpidae smiled. "I take it you don't really want her back, then?"
The warden grimaced. "To tell you the truth part of me would love to see her in a medieval dungeon for what she's done to my prison but, no, I'd rather she went anywhere but Shrankshaw."
For the first time, Talpidae began to think he had misjudged. "You really think she belongs behind bars then?"
"No, certainly not. It doesn't serve anyone's interests to see her back behind bars now the truth is known. It would bring the whole system into disrepute. But I don't see an alternative, either."
"I think I do." Talpidae told her. "Most of the charges against her would normally be dealt with internally, yes?"
The warden mulled it over. "A visiting justice would pass a sentence based on the recommendation of senior officers and myself for lesser offences but something as serious as a riot would normally be a matter for the courts."
"But the severity of the charges, they're based on your assessment of the situation as the Warden of Shrankshaw." Talpidae pressed.
"Yes. Yes, perhaps I could make them go away. We have Miss Hackwrench's statement that she was defending herself and we failed to protect her. The guard who was supervising the laundry quit on the spot and I only have the other word of the other prisoners that Gadget incited the riot." Warden Phelps sniffed and looked at Talpidae. "I could simply drop those charges. I might have difficulty explaining it to my superiors, but I could do it."
Talpidae nodded and waved a finger at her. "The question is though, will you do it?"
Warden Phelps thought about it and nodded. "Yes. She's more use to society outside prison than inside it and she's only going to get worse the longer we have her. I've seen her type before. Quick learners who learn too quickly for their own good."
Talpidae leaned forward in his own chair. "What about the escape?"
"Haven't got as much freedom there." Warden Phelps said distractedly. "But now that she's told me her reasons for breaking out I don't see what else she could have done. She claims that Haggs found out that she really was Gadget Hackwrench and decided she knew too much to live."
"You're telling me that one of your guards found out that your inmate was really Gadget and decided to kill her and cover it up rather than tell anyone?" Talpidae stood in amazement.
Warden Phelps looked as though she deeply regretted saying anything. She narrowed her eyes and paid close attention to her glass as she took another sip.
"Yes." She admitted carefully after a moment. "I know it doesn't do us much credit but as I said earlier, while we've had our suspicions about Margo we've never been able to prove anything."
"Will Gadget testify to that?" Talpidae asked.
"She would, I'm sure. But under the circumstances any competent lawyer would rip her testimony to shreds." Warden Phelps pointed out.
"Where is Margo Haggs now?" Talpidae demanded.
"Ironically, I understand she's at the same hospital that Miss Hackwrench's previous lawyer and her injured friend are being treated at." Warden Phelps began massaging her brow. "Her injuries weren't serious, a concussion and heavy bruising to the entire front of her body. We thought she had broken every bone in her body at first but she seems to lead a charmed life."
Talpidae sat back down and finished his drink while he thought things over. After a moment he became aware that Gertrude Phelps was watching him closely. "I'm trying to think of a way out of this for everyone. If you have any bright ideas, I wouldn't mind hearing them."
Phelps shrugged. "If it's bright ideas you want then by all accounts you have the brightest mind in the city locked in your basement."
Talpidae glanced at the clock. "It's past one in the morning now. If she has any sense she's asleep, lucky girl."
"Tell me about it. Thanks to her antics in the laundry yesterday, I haven't slept in going on forty-eight hours." The warden replied tersely.
Talpidae nodded. "There's no rest for the wicked. I doubt I'll see my bed until sometime late tomorrow and Doyle, the detective who took Gadget's statement, had worked two days straight when I sent him home."
The warden laughed and finished her drink. "I'll talk all night if you think we can find a way out of this, but I doubt we'll come up with anything when we're this tired. It doesn't seem fair when I think of Gadget curled up in her cell down there."
Talpidae smiled. "We could always go down and wake her up. After all, I'm told she's the brightest mind in the city."
The next morning Gadget woke in her cell and felt a moment of disorientation before remembering the events of the last two days. She wished she could have had one night in her own bed before turning herself in but reminded herself that it wouldn't have been fair to Chip.
Breakfast was brought to the prisoners in their cells and Gadget tried to pretend that it was breakfast in bed, but the oatmeal sat uncomfortably on her stomach when she remembered her own first days in captivity and thought of what Chip might be going through. Let alone what he still had coming.
After breakfast the inmates were taken to the showers in groups of four.
Gadget washed with a casualness that surprised her fellow prisoners.
Still, it felt good to be clean again. She hadn't washed since the morning after Haggs had taken Bubbles away, when the other inmates had stolen her clothes.
Back in her cell, Gadget quickly became reacquainted with the boredom of waiting for nothing to happen. The minutes dragged like fingernails against a chalkboard. When three guards arrived without notice to take her back to Shrankshaw, it was almost a relief.
It seemed in spite of everything, the hard work of her apologetic lawyer who said he was being stonewalled by the prosecutors, the long talk she had had with Warden Phelps the night before and the many plans she had made, the wheels of justice still had a firm hold on her and were dragging her back into their merciless machinery.
Gadget was cuffed, leg-ironed and led out of the precinct through the back door like a shameful secret that had to be kept hidden from the prying eyes of the public. The storm drains were still dangerously swollen from the rain of the night before so instead of being led to a sewer boat like last time, Gadget was hustled into a hidden compartment in the underside of a Correctional Department bus where she sat with two guards. She felt hot and suffocated as they listened to the sounds of human feet shuffling inches above their heads.
The bus made good time to the human prison and it drew to a halt directly over a drain cover that served as another secret entrance to the hidden world below. Very quickly Gadget found herself trudging down a wet, dark tunnel that ended in an anonymous grey room that seemed large and empty. Standing in the middle of the room was Warden Phelps.
Next to her was Marion Cedar, her deputy.
"Miss Hackwrench." Warden Phelps said without meeting her eye in a cold, professional voice.
"Warden." Gadget replied coolly.
The warden turned to the two guards who had brought Gadget back to Shrankshaw. "I can see you've had a long hot journey. We can handle this from here."
The guards exchanged glances then left hurriedly. One of them cast a sympathetic look in Gadget's direction as she went.
"Are you going to un-cuff me?" Gadget asked.
"You will address me as Warden, or Ma'am, and only when I speak to you first." The warden rebuked her. "Our security procedures have been tightened up since your last induction, two-four-six-oh-one. You will not be treated differently from any other inmate during your stay here. However, since you are the first inmate to enter the prison since the Correctional Department instituted these changes and since you a single inmate rather than part of a group induction, Ms Cedar and myself will be dealing with your induction. Or should I say re-induction."
Gadget's shoulders slumped. "I - I understand, Warden. Can we please just get this over with?"
"No hurry." The warden returned, as though they had all day. "We'll start by booking in the possessions you had with you when you were arrested. I'll need you to confirm each one of them is yours and then we're supposed to move on to the more intimate parts of your induction."
Gadget soon found herself shivering again. She began to wonder what sort of person she would be by the time this was all over. Would she recognise herself? Could she blame Chip if he did not?
Then she was struggling back into a prison uniform and following the warden through the twisting, turning corridors and tunnels of the prison. The inmates she passed nudged each other and whispered. They stared and pointed. There she is. That's her. She nearly destroyed the prison but they brought her back anyway.
She could see fear in their eyes.
Fear of her.
Gadget shivered again. When she was finally free and had time to look back at this, would she be someone she liked?
They were standing in a familiar corridor.
"This is the way to solitary." Gadget said. "Ma'am." She added hastily.
"You are being returned to solitary to complete the three week sentence I gave you after the riot. You will be allowed visits from your lawyer only." The warden replied. "What did you expect? That I'd give you another chance to destroy the prison?" She arched an eyebrow. "Maybe let you near the heating system this time?"
Gadget walked the rest of the way to her cell in silence, her head bowed.
"We're going to improve the locks, but until we do there will be a guard outside your cell day and night. That's in case you decide to pull another disappearing trick on us." The warden added. "The guard will have orders not to speak to you. Do not attempt to engage them in conversation or I may just add a day to your sentence."
The warden might have been making a private joke but Gadget felt her toes and fingers tingle a little. She could potentially be in here a very long time.
The door from the cell Haggs had broken out of still lay on its side in the solitary block.
"We'll be putting you in this cell for the rest of your stay." Marion Cedar said as she opened a door.
Gadget stared at the cell, then at the deputy warden. It could have been coincidence, but the cell the chipmunk had chosen was the cell Bubbles had been in. It would probably still have her scent in it. The deputy warden's face was kindly, more from habit than expression, but if she intended this as a mercy no hint of it showed in her face.
"Thank you." Gadget said and entered the cell.
"Thank you, Ma'am." The deputy warden replied sternly.
The door closed and Gadget was alone in the dark, in a cramped cell that wasn't even large enough to lie down in.
And they left her there.
"What the heck do you mean you can't find them? Are you telling me they've gone into hiding? That they're on the run?" Sherwood demanded.
He sounded almost hopeful when he said the last part.
Talpidae took a deep breath and counted to three before answering. "We asked Dale when we formally interviewed him at the hospital. Apparently Monterey Jack and Zipper were given a secret mission yesterday afternoon and will be out of contact for at least forty-eight hours. Dale claims he doesn't know what the mission is or where they've gone because he's on the injured list and therefore doesn't need to know."
They were in the hallways of the Street Watch precinct. It would be naïve to say that people weren't listening. At the volume Sherwood was using, it was a wonder the humans on the other side of the wall couldn't hear him. Talpidae let the squirrel rage and delicately steered him towards the office.
"Secret mission? Need to know? They're not secret agents, they're a search and rescue team for crying out loud!"
Talpidae drew a sigh of relief and closed the door behind them. This time he didn't need to count before answering. "Yes sir, that's true, but apparently the City Council only pays half the Ranger's funding. The Rescue Aid Society pays the other half and reserves the right to call on their resources at any time."
"The Rescue Aid Society? They're supposed to be a charitable organisation! Are you telling me we'd let them leave town if they owed the Salvation Army a favour?" Sherwood was close to foaming at the mouth.
Talpidae winced, hating that he was the one who had to tell his superior this and loving that he would get to see Sherwood's expression when he heard it. "Actually sir, it's sort of an open secret that the Rescue Aid Society is based in the human United Nations building and that they're a front for the Congress of Mice."
"The City Congress of Mice?" Sherwood sounded confused. Well, he was a Squirrel. This was foreign politics to him just as it was to Talpidae.
"No sir. The City Congress of Mice is one of their chapters, like a local lodge. They have a seat on the city council where I don't doubt they'll be making their voice heard, but I'm talking about the World Congress of Mice." Talpidae clarified. "Which, as you know, is very powerful in the Rodentia Parliament."
Sherwood stared at him. Rodentia was a fancy biologist's word that covered anyone from a field mouse to a little girl's pet hamster. The Rodentia Parliament was the closest thing to a world government that anything small and scurrying could lay claim to. Unlike the human race, whose time was taken up with bickering and backstabbing, it was a united, powerful and effective organisation. It had to be, in order to survive in the shadows of the warring giants that owned the world.
The squirrel sat down in the nearest chair, without bothering to move his bushy tail out of the way first. The career-minded office politician looked unusually unkempt and uncollected and Talpidae guessed the pressure was getting to him.
"Right. Fine." The squirrel said eventually. "It changes nothing. They're out of contact and that works both ways. What did Dale say when we interviewed him?"
Talpidae opened a file on his desk and consulted a piece of paper. "Dale walked into get some blank paper and pencils from Gadget and found the impostor writing a full confession along with a goodbye note. See ya later, suckers, or some such, I'd imagine. He realised she wasn't Gadget - probably only because she'd signed it with her real name which he recognised from one of the Rangers' earlier cases - and got clonked on the head before he could raise the alarm."
Sherwood considered this. A thought seemed to come to him. "Is Chip Maplewood more or less the only one in the city who doesn't know about this yet?"
"Well, I haven't had time to see the newspapers this morning, what with me having worked right through the night and everything, so I don't know what the whole city knows. That said, I gave orders that Maplewood shouldn't be told anything about either investigation and he's in isolation so the other prisoners can't get at him, so he won't have heard from any of the prisoners. I'd say there's a good chance that Chip Maplewood doesn't know a thing about this."
Sherwood stood. "Well, I guess someone better tell him and it might as well be me."
"No!" Talpidae jumped up in alarm.
Sherwood stared at him from the doorway in amazement.
"I mean " Talpidae shrugged and smiled. "Not yet. He's such a big shot detective and all. We're kind of enjoying it."
Sherwood continued to stare at him for a moment then grinned. "Are people betting on how long it will take him to figure it out?"
Talpidae winced. "You know that gambling is against Street Watch regulations, sir."
"Yes. But it happens anyway." Sherwood looked away. "Well, I won't spoil the fun. I can be one of the guys too, Talpidae."
Talpidae, who had never met anyone he considered to be less "one of the guys", smiled and nodded. "It's just until his probable cause hearing.
"Is there any word on when that will be yet?"
"We're holding off as long as we can. Just in case we need to rethink things." Sherwood closed the door behind him.
Talpidae breathed a sigh of relief.
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