Mito, Medical Kidnap Files #1, p.18P.D. Workman
GABRIEL WAS STIFF AND sore when he finally got off of the bus. The old woman moved more spryly than he did. Gabriel exited without looking at Renata, not wanting to draw attention to their relationship and hoping that she hadn’t seen his breakdown en route. Inside the depot, Renata moved to his side.
“How are you doing?” she asked. “Ready to stretch your legs?”
“Yeah, and I gotta eat.”
“Grab one of your snacks to eat on the go. We can’t stop here.”
Gabriel sighed but did as he was told. “What are we doing now? Are we going to meet the others?”
“First, we gotta make tracks. Bus depots are too visible.”
“Do you know where to go?” Gabriel looked around when they got outside the building. It was comforting to be back in a city again. All the open space on the road had freaked him out a bit. But it was weird being someplace so unfamiliar, not even knowing which way was home. Even the flowers and trees were different, like he had traveled to another country or another planet instead of just across state lines.
Renata cast her eyes around. “We’ll just have to guess, until we can find someone to ask.” She pursed her lips and looked up and down the street again, then finally motioned right. “This way.”
Gabriel followed. “Why?”
“If you’re not sure, go right.”
Gabriel raised his eyebrows, not finding this particularly comforting. He had hoped that she had made some kind of observation that had led her to pick that direction. And maybe she had, but just wasn’t telling him yet. He didn’t like guessing. Renata was the one who was supposed to have a plan, and she didn’t seem to know anything about the city that they had chosen to travel to.
“Who are we going to ask? About where we should go?”
“Who would you ask?” She countered. “Come on, Gabe. You’re older than I am. More experienced. Use your thinker for thinking and contribute something.”
“I don’t think I’m more experienced,” Gabriel countered. “You’re the one who’s run away a million times before.”
“And been caught every time. So? Who would you ask?”
“I dunno. Someone homeless, I would guess.”
Renata nodded. “Yep. That would be best. No one knows the city and where to go like the homeless.”
“So we’re just going to wander around until we find a homeless person? And then ask them… what? Where to go to sleep? I don’t want to sleep on the ground again.”
“No whining. We’ll sleep where it’s safe, and that’s not usually the shelters. I’ll find people to talk to, just give me a few minutes.”
A few minutes was a lot faster than Gabriel had hoped for. He had envisioned wandering for hours, up and down tidy residential streets, unable to find their way to the neighborhoods where they could get help and not stand out. So he clamped his mouth shut to keep from whining and let Renata choose their course. She didn’t always choose to go right, so she must be seeing some sort of signs that Gabriel wasn’t. He tried to pay more attention to their surroundings. Renata was right; he needed to put some of his own thought and consideration into the process, instead of just asking her what to do all of the time.
He started to notice logic in her choices. Renata was staying away from the little residential streets. Choosing more commercial areas. Streets with cafes and urban parks and old brick apartment buildings. It was fascinating, but Gabriel found his energy flagging.
“Can we sit down for a rest?”
Renata looked around. She nodded. “As good a place as any.” She didn’t look for a comfortable green space or bus bench as Gabriel expected her to, but put her backpack down right where they were. Gabriel frowned. Renata picked up a discarded coffee cup from the gutter and placed it on the sidewalk. She sat down cross-legged, leaning against her bag, and looked at Gabriel with raised eyebrows. Gabriel reluctantly sat. The concrete was hard against his bony bottom. Renata dropped a few coins into the coffee cup. As people walked by them, she began asking for spare change.
Most of the foot traffic ignored them completely, walking by as if they were invisible. Some of them swore or called names. A few people, mostly middle-aged women, dropped a coin or two into the cup. Gabriel was uncomfortable, both physically and mentally. He had not grown up with much money. With only his father working on a soldier’s salary and Keisha staying home to take care of Gabriel, they had lived in a poor area of town, in one of the few neighborhoods where blacks were not the minority, and no one thought it was odd that he didn’t have a father around, because none of them had fathers around either. But Keisha had always insisted that they didn’t take any kind of charity. Gabriel’s medications and hospital stays were expensive. So were healthy foods that Keisha had to go out of the neighborhood to buy, while all around them kids lived on mac and cheese and their parents drank.
Renata elbowed Gabriel. “Smile!” she ordered through the side of her mouth. “You’re scaring away the clientele!”
Gabriel blinked, and made an effort to smile at the people who were walking by. “Thank you, ma’am… have a nice day, sir… God bless… have a great day…” He fell into a rhythm, sending out well-wishes to everyone who passed, whether they paid any attention to him and Renata, or not. One woman gave them leftover donuts and sandwiches, somewhat dry, from meetings earlier in the day. Gabriel thanked her profusely, making her smile and blush pink. A young man stopped to give them coffee and Gabriel thanked him too. They didn’t try to tell anyone about Gabriel’s allergies, or that Renata couldn’t eat solid food.
Renata emptied the coffee cup at intervals, leaving only two or three coins at the bottom each time. Eventually, an older homeless guy who smelled strongly of beer approached them.
“This is my space,” he confronted them. “You can’t beg here.”
Gabriel expected a fight from Renata, but she just stood up and picked up her cup and backpack. “Okay.”
The man looked suspicious of her surprisingly compliant reaction. He frowned at Gabriel as he got up.
“You kids are new here?”
Renata ignored the question and grabbed Gabriel’s arm, pulling him forward as if they were going to walk away.
“Wait!” the homeless man protested. “You kids don’t know the ropes. Let me give you some pointers.”
Renata looked back at him, stopping. Gabriel turned away and covered his mouth as if he were yawning, but really he was smothering a laugh. In a few seconds, Renata had skillfully turned the man from a potential threat into an eager advisor.
“I’m Les. You don’t need to leave. You get a piece of real estate first, you hold it. Don’t let anyone take it away from you. Okay?”
Renata played the naive newcomer. “Oh, okay. I didn’t want to make any trouble…”
“No, you gotta stand up for yourself. Don’t let anyone push you around. Unless they have a weapon. Then you make yourself scarce. Where did you two kids come from? I haven’t seen you here before.”
“No, we’re new,” Renata agreed.
Les waited for a moment, but there was no more information forthcoming. He looked at Gabriel. “You guys are boyfriend-girlfriend?” he guessed. “Maybe your folks didn’t like that?”
Renata grabbed Gabriel’s hand and didn’t answer.
“Have you eaten today?” Les asked.
Gabriel picked up the bag of sandwiches and held it out to him. “You want some?”
Les pursed his lips and considered the offering. “Gotta watch my carbs,” he said, eventually picking up one half-sandwich. Gabriel wasn’t sure whether he was joking or serious. Les devoured it in a few bites. “Those are… not the best,” he declared. “But food is food. You know where to find the Thirteenth Street soup kitchen?”
“Thirteenth Street?” Gabriel couldn’t help asking.
“You got a real smart ass for a boyfriend; you know that?” Les said to Renata. He outlined where they could find the soup kitchen and when it was open
“No shelters,” Renata disagreed.
“Your money won’t last long if you’re renting hotel rooms. Sooner or later, you’re going to need something free.”
“Where can we sleep where the cops won’t roust us?”
He looked at her, maybe revising his opinion on how naive she was. “You sleep rough?”
Gabriel tried to catch Renata’s eye. He had already told her that he didn’t want to sleep on the ground another night. She ignored his signals.
Les suggested a few places where they might sleep. “But kids like you,” he said, “you should find a youth shelter. That would be better.”
Renata shrugged. “Thanks. You want another sandwich?” She gestured at the bag.
Les helped himself to another sandwich and a stale donut and nodded his thanks. “I’ll see you kids around, then. Be careful.”
They went on to scout out a couple of the locations that Les had mentioned. Gabriel was not happy about the possibility of sleeping out in the cold again. “We might not,” Renata said, “we might find something else.”
“Really? Where?” Gabriel demanded. It was getting late in the day, and he knew that Renata wasn’t going to give in and stay at a shelter, where they might be recognized from a missing person’s bulletin. “We could find a hotel, like Les said. Just one night. There’s places that don’t cost too much for just one night…?”
“I’m not wasting my money on hotel rooms. And they probably wouldn’t rent to minors anyway.”
Gabriel opened his mouth to argue further, and she waved him into silence.
“I’m gonna try touching base with Ray and Nick. Okay? See where they are.”
“Okay. All right.”
They sat down on a park bench, and Renata pulled out her phone. She looked all around, making sure that no one was watching them, then powered it on. She tapped a name and waited, phone to her ear, again looking around to watch for anyone who was showing too much attention.
“Ray. Hey, it’s Renata. Where are you?”
Gabriel strained his ears, trying to hear Ray’s part of the conversation, but the volume was too low to overhear it.
“You guys safe? No trouble?”
She listened for a while. Obviously, the answer was more than a simple yes or no.
“No, I’ve had it turned off,” Renata’s tone was clipped. “What have you guys been doing today? Are you up to travel?”
After some more consultation, Renata gave them instructions and checked the time. “I’ll turn my phone back on in three hours.” Then she hung up.
Gabriel was eager for her report. “They’re coming here?” he asked.
“Yeah. They went a little further on, so they’re going to double back. Should be safe to do that, the police won’t be watching the reverse routes. It should only take them a couple of hours.”
“Then what are we going to do?”
“I guess we’re finding accommodations for four.”
“Does that mean a hotel?”
Renata rolled her eyes.
“There’s four of us,” Gabriel persisted. “A four-way split of a cheap motel room wouldn’t be so bad, would it? We’ll have heat and privacy; we can make our plans and not get rousted by the police. Ray and Nick are going to be ready for something more comfortable too.”
Renata sighed deeply. “Fine. We’re going to look around a bit, see if we can find an abandoned building or somewhere else sheltered that hasn’t been claimed yet. If you see a motel, you can ask how much. But only say it’s for you, not for four. And… look older. You gotta be eighteen.”
“Yeah, I’ll try,” Gabriel agreed.
He wasn’t sure how he was going to look older. It was probably an attitude thing. Stand tall, act confident, project his voice… he wasn’t that far from turning eighteen. He could pull it off.
The search didn’t go well. The buildings that looked like they might be empty were locked up tight and usually had an alarm as well. Renata pulled herself up onto an old fire escape to gain entry into one old building and Gabriel just stood down below and shook his head. There was no way that he could climb around like a monkey. He didn’t have the arm strength to support his own weight.
Renata pointed out one or two motels that looked promising, but the women at the check-in desks just looked down their noses at him and told him he’d have to find somewhere else to bed his girlfriend. Gabriel went into the next one angry. He shoved the door open with a bang and strode up to the desk, clenching his jaw and speaking through his teeth.
“How much for one night?” he demanded without preamble. No more being polite, it only seemed to tip them off that he was too young.
There was a man at the desk instead of a woman. Small, Asian, maybe Vietnamese. He had to look up at Gabriel, which was a good start. The little man opened his mouth to answer.
“And don’t give me any crap,” Gabriel warned. “I’ve been on my feet all day, and I just want somewhere to soak them and go to sleep.”
“Yes, yes,” the man said. He opened a drawer and pulled out a room key. “One night thirty dollar and fifty cent.”
Gabriel snatched the key from him. He checked his pockets and started to count his money.
“How about twenty-eight… seventy-five?” he suggested.
The manager made a little shrug of acceptance and put a form on the counter. “You name, license plate number, and major credit card, please.”
Gabriel slid it back. “I don’t have a car or a credit card. You think I would be staying here if I did?” he barked. “I paid for the room. Good night.”
He turned and walked back out of the motel foyer. His heart was beating wildly, but he couldn’t restrain a grin. Renata was coming around the corner, watching for him. He held up the key.
“You just went ahead and got it?” Her voice was disapproving. “I thought we were going to talk about it.”
“I paid twenty-eight,” Gabriel said. “That’s seven bucks a piece. I think that’s pretty good for a warm room for the night.”
Her lips tightened, but she nodded. “What room?” she asked. “I’d better leave and come back later. Don’t want the manager to see more than one person going into the room.”
“Room thirty-five. What are you going to do? You shouldn’t be walking around here alone. It’s not a nice neighborhood.”
“Go ahead and let yourself in. I’ll just go pick you up a burger and come right back. Won’t be long. This is the knock…” She tapped a rhythm out on the wall of the building next to her.
A secret knock? Gabriel supposed that he should be happy it wasn’t shave-and-a-haircut. He didn’t attempt to talk her out of it.
“See you soon, then,” he whispered. “Don’t be long.”
Renata gave him a kiss on the cheek and was gone. Gabriel gave a long sigh and went on to his assigned room. He didn’t even bother to turn on the light, but fell into the bed and immediately fell asleep.
There were voices outside the room.
Gabriel rubbed his eyes and strained his ears to listen. He was safely out of sight. There shouldn’t be anything to worry about. But he didn’t like it. The two voices were male, and they were right outside his window. Not loud voices. That wouldn’t have been so worrying. It was a quiet, covert discussion.
Gabriel sat up slowly. What was he going to do if they came into the hotel room? What if they were still there when Renata returned, and they harassed her? There was nothing in the room to use as a weapon. Even the lamp was screwed down to the bedside table to prevent theft. Or maybe to prevent lamps from being used as weapons.
If it had been two women, he would reassure himself that they were just the maids. And why couldn’t two men just as easily be maids? But he knew that the lowered voices were not discussing which rooms might need towels. There would be no need to be covert about something like that.
There was another voice. Female. Gabriel got
He was reluctant to open the door to her with two other men standing there. But she was the paranoid one; if there were any need for caution, she wouldn’t have used the special knock. Gabriel opened the door a crack. Renata pushed it open impatiently.
“Come on, don’t leave us standing out here,” she snapped.
Gabriel stepped back and watched the three of them file in. Renata found the light switch and flipped it on.
“Food is in there,” she said, tossing a fast food bag onto the dresser.
Gabriel didn’t look at the food, but at the two newcomers. One was close to his height, with deep-set dark eyes. The other was shorter, blond, with a sunny disposition.
“Gabe, this is Ray and Nick. Say hi.”
The boys nodded at each other.
“I thought it was too dangerous for more than one person to come into the motel room at a time,” Gabriel addressed Renata.
“Yeah. But these two half-wits think that they can get away with anything. They wouldn’t wait and take things slowly.”
Gabriel peeked out through the curtains. Now that there was a light on inside the hotel room, he couldn’t see anything but the darkness of the parking lot, and the neon lights farther away along the street.
“I’m starving,” Nick declared, grabbing the bag of food. “It’s been hours since I had a bite. And nothing hot for two days.”
He removed a burger and started to unwrap it. Renata got closer to him. “Not that one. No cheese. That’s Gabriel’s.”
Nick passed it along and took another one out. He handed the bag to Ray. “I assume you’ve got your baby food,” he said to Renata.
She didn’t look offended, but Gabriel didn’t like the remark. “It’s not baby food. You should just be glad that you can eat solid food. It’s not Renata’s fault that she can’t.”
Nick looked at Gabriel, surprised. “Well,” he drawled, “your new boyfriend is a little sensitive, isn’t he? Don’t go all mama-bear on me, Gabriel. Renny doesn’t mind a little joke.”
“It’s okay Gabe,” Renata assured. “Really. I’d rather he joked around than acted like he didn’t even see it.”
Gabriel wondered if that was a shot at him for looking away when she used her feeding tube the previous day. But she didn’t seem to be angry. Ray and Nick sat down on the bed, and Renata opened up her backpack to get out her dinner.
“Since we have running water today, I’m going to go with the powder instead of the premix,” she said, pulling it out with a flourish.
Gabriel watched her while he unwrapped his burger. She cocked an eyebrow at him, then retreated to the bathroom to get the water she needed. She came back and sat down on the bed as well, rigging up her tube. She leaned back against the headboard and patted the space next to her for Gabriel to sit. He obliged. Everyone let out a collective sigh as they started in on their dinners.
“The motel room is courtesy of Gabriel,” Renata commented, as she was the only one without her mouth full. “We each owe him seven bucks for the warm digs.”
“It’s much appreciated,” Ray said through a mouthful of burger. “As is the warm food. I never knew how cold you could get after two days sleeping on the ground without anything warm in your belly. I never knew how good I had it, sleeping in a warm bed and getting three squares a day.”
“Amen,” agreed Nick.
“Sometimes you have to put up with a little discomfort for your freedom,” Renata said. “Just think about how much the blacks sacrificed to travel the underground railway.”
“Was this whole underground railway thing your idea?” Nick asked Gabriel.
“Because I’m black?”
“Well, you are.”
“No,” Ray interposed. “It’s a bat-crap crazy idea, and that means it was all Renata’s.”
Renata nodded her agreement. “You’d better believe it,” she shot back. “And so far, it’s working, isn’t it? I mean here we are, the first four to ride the mito underground railway. Away from our foster families and medical research programs and safely out of the state. Just think about how many more need to be rescued.”
“Crazy,” Ray repeated. But he didn’t seem to be in any hurry to go back to his old life.
“How are we going to get anyone else out?” Nick asked. “And what are we going to do now that we are out? We can’t just keep on living here for long. Somebody’s bound to notice and to squeal on us or kick us out.”
“That’s what we’ve got to discuss.” Renata looked at the empty space on the dresser. “I was hoping there would be a TV, so we could start researching who to go to. Who around here does breaking-news, human-interest type stuff.”
“Can’t we just call all of them?” Nick asked.
“No. We have to be focused. If they only do local news, then they’re not going to care about us. They have to have national connections, but we’ve got to make them interested enough to run the story. We have to offer them an exclusive. And the more people we call, the bigger the chances are that someone will just call the authorities and cause us trouble.”
“I thought they couldn’t do anything once we were out of state,” Ray reminded her.
“Well… I don’t think they can send us back. But they could decide to put us into foster care or something here. They still have to do something about runaways. If they get a fix on us.”
“I don’t like the sound of that.”
“We’ll have to find a library tomorrow,” Renata said, redirecting the conversation. “We can do some research. Check the internet and papers and talk to the librarians. Then we’ll sort out who we’re going to contact, and how.”
“She’s crazy,” Nick confirmed. He and Ray were both done their burgers. Gabriel was still working on his. Renata’s bag was only half-drained. “So what are the sleeping arrangements? Don’t tell me mommy and daddy get the bed, because we’ve slept more nights on the street than you have.”
“More than me?” Renata challenged.
“Well, okay, maybe not more than you. But Gabriel’s only slept out one night.”
“And he’s the one who got us a motel room,” Ray pointed out. “It’s because of him that you’re not sleeping on the pavement tonight. Even the carpet is more comfortable than sleeping outdoors again.”
Nick sighed, lying down crossways on the bed. “So mommy and daddy do get the bed.”
“I’m taking a long, hot shower,” Ray said. “And after that, I don’t care where anyone sleeps. Good night.”
They all watched him retreat to the bathroom, grabbing his bulging backpack on the way.
“If anyone wants to wash their clothes, do it tonight in the sink and hang them up to dry,” Renata advised. “Don’t know when you’ll get the next chance.”
“Aren’t we going to stay here?” Gabriel asked. “It’s really cheap. Why would we look for anywhere else?”
“We can’t stay in one place. They’ll turn us in. We have to keep moving. You got lucky on this motel. Chances are, we’re not going to be somewhere warm with running water again for a while.”
Gabriel put what remained of his burger on the table beside him and closed his eyes, frustrated.
“You’re not going to finish that?” Nick asked.
Mito, Medical Kidnap Files #1 by P.D. Workman / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4.8 out of 5 / Based on19 votes