Mito, Medical Kidnap Files #1, p.16P.D. Workman
“WE’LL LEAVE TOMORROW.”
RENATA’S instructions rang in his ears. She knew that returning to the house would sap his remaining energy. And then he would need to make covert preparations to go. Maybe even while everyone else was asleep. She gave him a short list of what to prepare.
“One extra set of clothes. Clothing takes up lots of space. You only need something to change into while you wash what you’ve been wearing, once it’s actually dirty. All the money you can get your hands on. Cash, jewelry, electronics, anything liquid. Don’t bother with credit cards. Grab the meds that you really need. Leave the rest. You’d better bring some snacks to keep your blood sugar steady if we don’t stop for meals at the regular times. That’s it. No extras. Travel as light as you can.”
“I can’t steal,” Gabriel protested.
“You’re entitled to your clothes and meds. That’s not stealing. They’re yours. And you gotta have something to carry them in.”
“And I don’t know if we’ll be able to stop to get snacks everywhere along the way. If we’re hitching or waiting for a bus, you’re going to be out of luck.”
“Yeah. I’ll bring some snacks.”
She looked at him, and he looked at her.
“You gotta have money,” Renata said finally. “If you don’t have money, we won’t make it. I don’t have enough for everyone. We can pool what we have, but you have to have something.”
“Stealing is wrong. I can’t do that. That’s not the way I was raised.”
“Then borrow it. You can send them money back to cover it when you’re safe.” Renata was annoyed, her voice blunt and clipped and her face set. And she was the one who knew what she was doing. She might be younger than Gabriel, but she had far more experience with running away. And so far she had remained at large, in spite of a big network of people looking for her.
Gabriel stared down at his hands. “I’ll try, I guess. But it isn’t like they leave their wallets and watches lying around.”
“I’ll bet I could find cash in the cookie jar. Look around. She’ll have an emergency stash somewhere. And probably a coin jar for family pizza night. And there’s an older foster kid too, right? He’ll have something stowed away. Anyone who’s been in the system long enough does. You never know when you might have to run.”
“I only have a day to get ready. How am I supposed to find these stashes?”
“You’re supposed to look. Now quit whining, Gabe. You’re with me, right? Be a man and do a little work.”
Looking through the closet in the bedroom, Gabriel found a backpack that wasn’t being used. He didn’t have a lot of clothes, but there were enough clean clothes to pack one full change in the backpack. In spite of what Renata had said, he put two extra pairs of underwear and socks into the backpack. He wouldn’t be able to pack his meds or snacks until after supper, or Heather would notice. He turned his mind to liquid assets.
Gabriel looked over the dresser. Collin had a small music player and some big showy rings that were probably football trophy rings. Gabriel picked them up and stowed them in the front pocket of the backpack, feeling horrible. He knew how hard it was for foster kids to acquire any personal items, especially ones with value. Collin would kill Gabriel if he noticed before Gabriel left. But Gabriel wasn’t as worried about that as he was about how Collin would feel about losing his precious possessions.
He looked carefully through Collin’s drawers, checking underneath and behind everything, feeling all the socks for money rolls, and pulling out the drawers to look for anything taped behind or on the bottom. He came across a stash of blue pills, but no cash. Gabriel went back to the closet and looked through all the pockets of the jackets and pants that were hung up. He found little more than pocket change. He checked the toes of all the shoes.
After that, Gabriel looked around the room, trying to think of where else Collin might hide cash. There was no shoebox under the bed, but Gabriel looked under the mattress and hit the jackpot. There were a couple of catalog-size envelopes hidden there. Opening them up, Gabriel found wads of cash. There were hundreds of dollars, maybe thousands. Was Collin selling the blue pills? Or running some other shady business?
Gabriel took only one of the envelopes and put the other back. He also put Collin’s music player and rings back on the dresser. He had more than enough cash to contribute to the venture. He’d have to keep track as he spent it, to make sure that he could pay Collin back when it was all over, and he could earn some money somehow.
Renata had advised Gabriel to have his breakfast as usual so he’d have something in his stomach, and then to go for another walk. That would give them at least an hour head start before Heather started looking for Gabriel. He dropped the backpack out of the window into the backyard so they would not see him leaving the house with it. Renata said she would scoop it up and then meet him around the corner, so there would be nothing suspicious about Gabriel’s behavior if Heather watched him through the window. Heather was busy getting the kids ready for school and Gabriel didn’t think that she paid much attention to him leaving.
By the time he got around the corner, his heart was going much faster than it had the previous day. He kept glancing around, sure that someone would see him. They knew that Renata had come to him. They were bound to be watching for her. He saw Renata coming this time, emerging from between two houses. She smiled, face lit up with excitement. She held his backpack out to him. Gabriel slipped his arms through the straps and settled it onto his back.
“You remembered everything?” Renata demanded.
“Good.” She motioned down the block. “Let’s grab the bus.”
Walking with the backpack was going to tire Gabriel out a lot faster. But he didn’t have far to go to the bus stop. And they sat down to wait.
At first, Gabriel was too excited and anxious to think about where they were going. He watched out the bus window for anyone who looked suspicious, making Renata laugh.
“I’m the paranoid one, you know,” she said. “They don’t even know you’re gone yet. Nobody’s looking for you.”
“But they’re looking for you,” Gabriel pointed out. “Heather told them you were there.”
“I know how to stay out of sight.”
Despite her assurance, Gabriel still tensed up when a police car with flashing lights pulled up behind the bus. He put his hand on Renata’s arm and covered the side of his face with his other hand, shading it from view through the window.
“Take it easy,” Renata warned. “You’ll attract attention.”
“Chill. They’re not after you.”
The police car pulled around the bus, and Gabriel couldn’t look at it. It turned its siren on, and the bus driver glanced at it but didn’t slow down. The police car whipped past them and continued down the road. Gabriel blew out his breath.
“Whew. I was sure…”
Renata loosened his grip on her arm. Gabriel released her.
“Just take it easy. Even if someone stops us, you gotta act like everything is cool and you don’t know what the problem is. They gotta be sure before they take you into custody. You bluff well enough, and they’ll let you go.”
Gabriel settled back against the seat, holding his hand over his pounding heart. “I don’t know if I can do this.”
“You can. You gotta be strong if we’re going to make this work.”
Gabriel nodded. “Yeah. So… what’s the plan?”
“We’ve got a couple of other guys we’re going to meet up with. But I figured we’d be too noticeable if we all traveled together. So we’re traveling parallel until it’s safer.”
“I should call my mom. You have a phone?”
“You can’t call your mom.”
“To let her know that I’m okay, and that I’m on my way.”
Gabriel stared at Renata. “What?”
“You want to know where eighty percent of foster care runaways go? Back home or to the old neighborhood. That’s exactly where DFS is going to be looking for you.”
“I got out so that I could go back to her. And warn her about Dr. Seymour.”
“Not yet. Not safe. You can’t contact her directly. You can’t go there. If she harbors a runaway, she’ll go straight to jail.”
“Renata! That was the whole idea! I want to go back to my mom!”
Renata glanced around, her eyes wary. “Lower your voice, Gabe. Look, eventually, we’ll figure out a way to reunite you with your mom. When we’re out of state, and this thing is blown wide open, then it will be safe. But not yet.”
Gabriel slumped down. He couldn’t really complain that she hadn’t told him her plans. She had said that they would need to go out of state to be safe from DFS.
But Gabriel’s plan had been to go back to Keisha.
At the end of the day, Gabriel wasn’t sure that Renata had a plan. Their movements throughout the day had seemed random. Busing, walking, occasionally taking a cab or begging a ride from a likely-looking mark. Sometimes doubling back where they had just come from. Renata made Gabriel buy a cap to change his appearance and mandated clothing changes throughout the day. Jacket on, hat off. Hat on. A pair of sunglasses. New t-shirt. He was exhausted and kept falling asleep en route, then waking up groggy and unsure of where he was.
“When are we leaving?” Gabriel whined. “We’ve been hopping all over the suburbs like a grasshopper; when are we going to make tracks and actually get somewhere? You said we’re going out of state, but we aren’t getting anywhere.”
“Not today.” Renata shook her head. “They’re going to be watching all the bus depots for the distance buses. Gotta give them a day or two to stand down before we use them.”
Gabriel rubbed his eyes. “Then where are we going tonight?”
“Where’s that? What about a shelter?”
“We’re close. We’ll get a bite to eat first.”
“Do you have a tent?”
“No. We’ll put down a ground sheet and cuddle. Not supposed to rain tonight.”
“Why not a shelter?” Gabriel didn’t like the idea of sleeping on the ground, especially surrounded by a lot of homeless people. He had a lot of money in his backpack. What if they were mugged? A shelter seemed more protected, less of a danger.
“They get missing person flyers. It takes a few days before the new ones get buried. You don’t want to be on the top of the pile.”
“Oh.” Gabriel followed Renata, not sure where she was going. “What would they do if they found us? Just send us back to our foster parents?”
“Yep. You run too much, though, and they’ll put you in a secure facility. Running more than once or twice a year… not a good idea. You don’t want to get locked up.”
“Yeah, I think I’ve had enough of that.”
Renata’s eyes scanned the street. “Grocery store down there. Can we get something good for you to eat there?”
Gabriel nodded. It was time to refuel. The deli would have food that he could eat cold. And maybe a piece of fruit from the produce department, or a bit of peanut butter. Renata didn’t need anything; she had her formula.
After checking the area out, Renata led the way into the grocery store. Gabriel quickly found what he wanted and got in line. Renata had already made him move a few dollars to his pockets and to bury the rest deep in his backpack, so no one would see them handling large amounts of money. They stood together, waiting for the line to move ahead. Someone pushed a cart in behind them, impatient to get their goods up on the conveyor belt. The cashier called for a price check and Gabriel sighed. The man in front of them turned around, rolling his eyes.
“Looks like we’re here for a bit!”
Renata shrugged. Gabriel nodded. The man’s eyes went slowly over them. Gabriel’s face got hot. The man wasn’t wearing a uniform, but he could have been a cop. Or he could be a social worker, or a foster parent, someone in the network who knew that Gabriel was missing, expected to be found traveling with a Hispanic girl. Gabriel adjusted his hat, pulling it down a little, and turned to scan the magazine rack beside him.
“You guys down on your luck?” the man asked. “You need more food than that.”
“We just needed a couple things,” Renata said, her voice light and unconcerned.
“Are you homeless?”
“Of course not. We’re fine. Thanks.”
“I could help you out. If you’re new in town, you need to know where to go for help…”
“Why don’t you leave her alone?” Gabriel demanded. “She told you we’re fine. Just let it go.”
Others were looking up from what they had previously been occupied with, listening to the conversation and watching to see if anything interesting was going to happen. Gabriel gulped. He knew what Renata was telling him now in her mind. Just chill. Keep cool and casual and don’t attract attention. She had gone to all that work to make sure that they couldn’t be tracked, and he was screwing it up by attracting everyone’s attention.
“Sorry,” Gabriel muttered. “I get grumpy when I’m hungry.”
Renata laughed and the man gave a friendly smile.
“Understandable. Sorry, maybe I was pushing a bit. I just don’t like to see anyone out in the cold, you know? Not when they could be warm and comfortable with full bellies.”
“We’ll be fine tonight.” Renata smiled again. “It’s nice of you to be so concerned.”
The price check was completed, and the line moved again, with the man’s groceries being scanned through. He paid, gave them another look and smile, and then left. Renata lifted her eyebrow at Gabriel, and their little stack of groceries was checked through. Outside, Gabriel had to find a bench and sit down for a minute, his legs shaking. Renata didn’t sit down, but stood beside him, her eyes scanning the parking lot and nearby street over and over again in an endless loop.
“I’m sorry,” Gabriel said.
“Don’t worry about it.”
“No, really, I’m sorry to cause extra trouble… people noticed us…”
“Can’t change the past. You might have done us a favor, though.”
Gabriel raised his head hopefully. “Really? How?”
“He was curious. He might have waited outside or followed us if you hadn’t gotten in his face. But since you did, he wouldn’t want to stick around. He wasn’t anonymous anymore. If he stuck around watching or asking more questions, he could get beat up. Or we could call the cops on him for harassing us.”
“You think he left? He didn’t stick around to see where we went or what we did next?”
Renata hadn’t stopped scanning the area. “I don’t see him. I think you scared him off.”
“Yeah? Good. That’s what I meant to do.”
Renata laughed and stopped her surveillance for a moment to smile at him and pat him on the back. “Good boy. So do you need to eat here or can we get settled first?”
Gabriel rubbed his burning leg muscles. “I can wait, as long as we’re not going too far.”
Mito, Medical Kidnap Files #1 by P.D. Workman / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4.8 out of 5 / Based on19 votes