Mito, Medical Kidnap Files #1, p.17P.D. Workman
THE TENT CITY THAT had been set up in a grassy park was only a couple of blocks away. There were tents and shelters of every description, some of them just a tarp and rope, and some fancy high-end commercial tents. It was crowded and messy, and it stank. Old and young, singles and families, people milled everywhere. It was chaos.
Gabriel looked around in dismay. “I don’t know…”
“This is…” Gabriel trailed off. He couldn’t think of an argument that would persuade Renata. “I never liked camping,” he said finally.
She laughed. “Gee, woulda been nice to know that before we started!”
“I can’t sleep here…”
“It’ll quiet down in a while. It’s not so bad.”
“We can’t just lay on the ground, with no shelter or anything.”
“Sure we can. Groundsheet will keep us from getting too cold. And body heat.”
“We need blankets.”
“You’ve got a coat and an extra set of clothes, if you’re cold. It’s a nice enough night.”
Gabriel shook his head stubbornly.
Renata rolled her eyes. “You’re too tired to go anywhere else tonight. Maybe you’ll get lucky, and the mission will be around handing out blankets.”
Gabriel’s stomach was growling. He put his hand over it. Renata put her backpack on the ground and opened it up. She pulled out what looked like a big garbage bag and laid it out on a free spot on the grass, covering up a litter of cigarettes, condoms, and other debris.
“Come on. Sit down. We’ll have a picnic supper.”
Gabriel reluctantly sat down on the plastic. Renata sat next to him. She pulled a bag of formula from her backpack. Gabriel got a pasta salad out of his grocery bag. He tried to focus on his own dinner and not to look sideways at Renata.
She nudged him. “Does this bother you?”
Gabriel bit his lip and slid his eyes in her direction. Renata coupled the tube on the formula bag with the one that she fished out between the button holes of her shirt. “No… it doesn’t bother me. You need to eat too.”
“You can look, I don’t care. I know I’m different.”
“Some people get all disgusted and grossed out,” Renata said. “But it’s just a tube!”
“It’s okay,” Gabriel repeated. “It doesn’t bother me. I just didn’t want to stare.”
They sat up and talked for a long time after having their respective dinners. Gabriel wasn’t ready to lie down for sleep yet. There was too much noise and chaos around him. He knew there was no way that he would be able to sleep through it all, even after all of the walking and riding they had done. The mission came around with blankets, and Gabriel took two for himself. He was exhausted by the time they finally lay down together. Gabriel was too self-conscious to cuddle up with Renata like she suggested. There wasn’t much space on the ground sheet and whatever part of his body extended off of it froze. The encampment got quieter, but every time he started to relax, someone would start screaming again. Renata seemed calm and unworried.
“What if he comes over here?” Gabriel whispered as they listened to a German man shout. “He could be violent!”
“Shh. Just stay quiet and no one will bother you.”
“Why is he yelling? What’s wrong?”
“Probably schizophrenic. It’s just like being back in the psych ward again, huh?”
Gabriel groaned. He got a bit closer to Renata, getting more desperate for her body heat. “I heard you yelling when I first woke up at hospital.” He yawned. “Think it was you, anyway.”
“Yeah?” Renata giggled. “I do go off, sometimes. Not my fault when the meds stop working.”
“What if he comes over here?”
“Shh. He won’t. Come here; you’re cold.” Renata put her arms around Gabriel, holding him close. Gabriel let his body melt against hers. She was warm, and his shivers gradually subsided. “Go to sleep,” Renata whispered. “We have to get up pretty early. You gotta sleep when you can.”
Morning came way too soon. It was barely even getting light out when Renata shook Gabriel awake.
“Come on,” she encouraged. “We gotta move out.”
“What? Why?” Gabriel rubbed at his eyes, looking around. Homeless people all around him were getting up, talking, and packing away their gear.
“Cops come by at five-thirty, everybody’s gotta be on their way.”
“Five-thirty?” Gabriel groaned. “I can’t get up at five-thirty!”
“You’re getting up now. Come on. Off my ground sheet.” She pulled the ground sheet out from under him, rolling Gabriel off, and he was in the cold, wet grass. He jumped to his feet and pulled his mission blankets around him. He watched Renata swiftly fold the ground sheet in halves over and over again until it was small enough to put in her backpack. She left her blanket on the ground.
“Aren’t you going to bring that?”
“I don’t have enough room to carry it. They’ll come by and pick up the discards later. Wash them up and redistribute them again. Just leave yours here.”
“I need them! It’s too cold.”
“You’ll warm up when we start moving. You can’t carry them around all day. Leave them here so the mission gets them back.”
Gabriel opened his mouth, looking for a good argument. Renata swore. He followed her eyes.
“Cops are here early,” Renata growled. “Come on, time to move.”
“We’re already up. What are they going to do?”
“Are you forgetting there’s an APB out on you? You want to get slammed right back in care? Maybe in a closed facility this time?”
Gabriel pulled his blankets closer. “No.”
“Put them down and let’s go.”
Gabriel looked toward a couple of policemen who were making their way through the tent city. They didn’t seem to be angry or mean; they were just telling people to clear out.
“I want to keep the blankets.”
Renata tried to pull them away. “The point is to stay invisible, Gabriel. How invisible do you think you’re going to be if they decide you’re stealing the mission blankets?”
“I’m not stealing! They gave them to me.”
“What’s the problem?” One of the cops had managed to sneak up without Gabriel seeing him coming. “Time for you kids to move on.” His eyes went over Renata and then took in Gabriel.
Gabriel could see questions in the cop’s eyes. The man frowned at Gabriel, maybe trying to recall a missing person’s bulletin that he had seen. Gabriel quickly shed his blankets, throwing them on top of Renata’s.
“We’re going,” Renata said. “No problem.”
“You kids in trouble?” The cop’s name badge said Rusk. “Are you runaways?”
“We’re discards,” Renata snapped. “No one cares where we are. And we’re leaving, so thanks for your concern.”
Rusk frowned, his eyes piercing, trying to divine their secrets. “How about you show me what’s in your bags,” he suggested.
Gabriel picked his up. What if Rusk found his money? He was going to know there was something suspicious about a homeless kid with hundreds of dollars. Renata shook her head at Gabriel.
“How about we just move on?” she countered. “You got no cause. We don’t have to show you anything.”
Gabriel froze, holding onto his backpack, and he didn’t open it like he had intended to. Rusk looked at Renata and back at Gabriel. “I’m sure I could come up with cause. I might think that your boyfriend here is carrying a knife, for instance.”
Renata started to walk away. When Gabriel didn’t follow, she tugged on his arm. “Let’s go,” she said in a low growl. “He’s got no reason to detain us. Stay close.”
Gabriel stuck with Renata as she worked her way deeper into the tent city crowd instead of out toward the street. Rusk didn’t follow them. When Gabriel looked back, the cop was
“So what is the plan today?” Gabriel asked. “Do we try the bus depot today?”
Renata nodded. “Yeah, I think we will,” she agreed. “Maybe around noon, when they’re not watching as close.”
“Then what will we do?”
“Meet up with the other guys. Tomorrow maybe. Figure out how to get our stories heard.”
Gabriel sipped his coffee, still too hot to swallow. “Who are the other guys?”
Renata nodded, conceding his right to know who else they were working with. “They’re both mito,” she said. “I thought I’d keep it all in the family. One boy, Ray, he’s sort of like you. His parents wanted a second opinion. Dr. Seymour didn’t like it and had him removed. Nick, it wasn’t even the doctors who initiated it; it was DFS. They’re a homeschooling family. I don’t know how many kids, six or seven. They homeschool all of them, not just Nick because he couldn’t manage the rigors of public school. So, you have seven kids home all day; things can get kind of messy. DFS decided that it was an unsanitary home environment, and that threatened Nick’s health because he’s medically fragile. So they took him away. His parents are scared to fight because they’re afraid of all the other kids getting taken away too. So far, it’s just Nick.”
“So Nick, homeschooler, and… what was the first one?”
“Ray, second opinion. And they’re both mito. In the research program?”
“Yeah, of course.”
“Mito is so rare,” Gabriel said. “People will have to see how there’s too many of them just being taken out of their homes for no reason. They’ll have to see that it’s not in their best interest. DFS and the doctors are just trying to fill the research program up.”
“What are they like? Ray and Nick?”
“Ray is pretty serious. Deals with lots of pain, so, of course, the first thing they do is withdraw all meds to make sure he’s not addicted. Then drug him up so much he doesn’t wake up for a week. He’s from… I forget. Europe somewhere. Parents came here when he was little. Speaks three or four languages. Nick’s more of a clown. Six siblings, you know, so things could get pretty wild at home. Since he couldn’t really roughhouse, he sort of ended up the play-by-play announcer; he can be pretty funny sometimes.”
“And they’re together now? Did they know each other?”
“Yeah, they were both at the Children’s at the same time. I wasn’t there then but met them both separately. They split the day before yesterday. A day before you did. I’ll try calling them once we’re out of the area.”
“And then we’re going to meet up?”
“After I make sure they haven’t been caught. We have to make sure we’re not being lured into a trap.”
Gabriel turned his coffee cup on the table several times. “You think that’s likely?”
“Everybody’s going to be after them, just like us. If they get caught, DFS wouldn’t be above using them as bait.”
“Once we get out of state, you think we’re safe?”
“Well… I think so.” Renata scratched at a dried-up ketchup spill on the table. “I don’t know all the laws,” she admitted. “But I haven’t heard of them sending runaways back across borders. To tell the truth… I’ve never made it out of state before.”
Gabriel swallowed too much coffee at once and winced at the burn. “How far have you gotten before? How long before you got caught?”
“I’ve been on the lam for a couple of weeks. But I didn’t have anywhere to go; I just headed back to the old neighborhood.”
“And that’s where DFS looks first.”
“Yeah. They didn’t catch me right away. But eventually, enough people who knew me saw me and talked about it.”
“So you knew not to do that this time.”
“I’ve run away a lot of times.”
Renata shrugged. “I like the freedom. I don’t like being cooped up in one place… people monitoring me…” She took a quick look around to make sure that no one in the McDonalds was watching them.
Gabriel stared out the window. Renata had lots of experience running away. But she always got caught. He’d been depending on her expertise to keep them out of the hands of the authorities. But maybe he shouldn’t.
“I never had a plan before,” Renata said, reading the expression on his face. “I just took off. This time is different.”
“You think we can avoid getting caught?”
“How about Ray and Nick?”
“Less likely,” Renata admitted.
“Will just the two of us be enough? To convince people about the…” he had a hard time using her words, “…the kidnappings? All the corruption?”
“Hopefully enough that they’d do some research of their own. Check out other kids. There are already other stories in the mainstream media. But not the idea that it’s a widespread conspiracy.”
It was going to be hard to convince anyone of that. Gabriel still wasn’t sure himself. He didn’t believe everything that Renata said. Not one hundred percent. But the doctors and judges who were corrupt had to be stopped.
Gabriel wasn’t normally an early morning eater. But they had been up for a while, and he was starting to get hungry. He didn’t know what the schedule for the day was going to be, but he imagined it would involve a lot more walking around, and he’d better get some calories in.
“I think I’m gonna get a McMuffin or something. Are you going to eat?”
“Sure. Why don’t you go order and I’ll get set?”
Gabriel went back up to the counter and waited. It had been almost empty when they arrived, but people were starting to arrive now, all looking tired or grumpy, waiting to get their caffeine or sugar fix. When he got back to the table, Renata had her formula hooked up and one of the young McDonalds employees was talking with her. Gabriel put down his McMuffin on the table and was about to slide in when he realized that it was not a friendly discussion, but a low-toned confrontation.
“You can’t do that in here,” the employee whose name tag said ‘Rhett’ insisted.
“I’m eating. Exactly what everyone else here is doing.”
“Not like that! You’re disturbing the other customers. No one wants to look at that.”
“Leave her alone,” Gabriel told Rhett, trying to make his voice as hard as possible. “She’s allowed to eat here just like anyone else!”
Rhett looked Gabriel over and apparently decided that the lightweight wasn’t much of a threat to him. “If she wants to do that, she can use the restroom,” he insisted, his nose wrinkling.
“She’s not going to eat in the bathroom!”
Rhett stomped back to the front of the restaurant.
Renata rolled her eyes. “I told you!”
“I can’t believe it! What an idiot!”
“These are the same kind of people who think that women shouldn’t be able to nurse in public,” Gabriel said. He sat down and started to unwrap his McMuffin. “It doesn’t bother you if I eat by mouth here, does it?”
Renata laughed. “I dunno. All of that… masticating and slobbering… food that hasn’t been properly pasteurized… it can’t be very hygienic. It’s disgusting.”
Gabriel grinned and took a bite of his sandwich. When he was partway through, he took out his meds and assembled what he needed. His legs were already aching, so he added a couple of the Tylenol he had borrowed to the pile.
“No experimental drugs?” Renata double-checked, watching him sort everything out.
“Nope. Didn’t bring them with me.”
Another employee walked up to the table. Not Rhett this time; he was hanging around at the front of the restaurant pretending not to watch them. This man, John, was apparently the franchise manager.
“I’m sorry. We’re getting complaints,” he said, motioning to Renata’s tube. “I hate to do this, but I have to ask you to stop or to use the restroom; or we’re going to have to ask you to leave.”
“I’m not leaving,” Renata said. “And do you think I’m going to eat in a bathroom? No way. This is how I have to eat. Deal with it. If I tried to eat by mouth, I’d be throwing up all over your table. Would you prefer that?”
“I understand that this is an unusual request. But we can’t have you upsetting our regular clientele… We do have a rule about outside food or drink. It is not allowed.”
“Oh, nice end-run,” Gabriel said. “No outside food or drink? Am I allowed to take my meds?” He motioned to the rainbow of pills.
“Of course you’re allowed to take your medication…” John conceded.
“They why wouldn’t she be able to take her prescription?”
John’s eyes went to the formula bag with its incomprehensible headlines and fine print. He looked back at Gabriel and avoiding looking at Renata and the tube snaking its way under her shirt. He turned his head to look back at Rhett, still watching from the counter, and shook his head.
“You have a nice day,” he said, and walked away.
They killed time until noon, when Renata led them to the big bus depot. They looked at the departure boards and destinations, and each privately considered their own funds, before finally selecting a route.
“Should we go separately?” Renata wondered aloud. “The police bulletins have probably put us both together. We’re less obvious if we go on different buses. You could take the twelve-thirty, and I could take the one-forty-five.”
Gabriel shook his head. “No… I don’t want to be separated. What if you didn’t come? I wouldn’t know what to do, or how to get ahold of the others. If we’re going to get caught, I’d rather be caught together.”
“Okay. As long as you know that it’s riskier.”
“Let’s at least go through the line separately and not sit beside each other on the bus. It’s not much, but…”
Gabriel was about ready for bed. He hadn’t slept nearly enough in the tent city. His head was pounding, and his eyes were drooping with fatigue. So he decided to do his best to sleep on the bus. He was sitting next to an old lady with wispy hair who smelled like baby powder. He was afraid that she would be the grandmotherly type who would talk his ear off for the whole trip, but she eyed him doubtfully and did not do more than smile a half-hearted greeting before burying herself in a brand-new paperback romance. With his backpack clutched in his lap, Gabriel leaned his head against the window and closed his eyes.
He awoke later with the sun in his eyes and looked around. They were in the middle of nowhere. No city in sight. No road signs. Barely any other traffic on the road. No gas stations. Gabriel was a city boy who hadn’t even been well enough to go on school field trips to the farm. The city was all he knew.
Gabriel suddenly felt very alone and isolated. He was getting farther and farther away from Keisha. The hope of ever returning to her was fading fast. She would have no idea where he was, what had happened to him. If he contacted her and told her anything, she could be charged with harboring a fugitive. She was getting farther away, and he had no idea when he’d be able to see her again.
Gabriel sniffled and held back tears. He buried his face in his backpack and tried to regain control. The old lady patted him on the back. She didn’t say anything to comfort him and didn’t ask him any questions. She just patted him comfortingly, and when Gabriel was able to stop the sobs, she stopped and went back to reading her book.
Mito, Medical Kidnap Files #1 by P.D. Workman / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4.8 out of 5 / Based on19 votes