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Mito medical kidnap file.., p.19
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       Mito, Medical Kidnap Files #1, p.19

           P.D. Workman
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  Chapter Eighteen

  GABRIEL LOOKED OVER RENATA’S shoulder to see how she was doing in sorting through the various news outlets and reporters who might help break their story. He saw garish fifty-point black headlines with exclamation marks and stopped.

  “What are you reading?”

  Renata jumped and turned quickly to look at him. “Don’t sneak up on me like that!”

  “Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. But… what are you doing? That doesn’t look like mainstream media.”

  She clicked over to another tab, but that one too seemed to be a tabloid. “No… I just lost track of what I was doing…” She closed several tabs. Gabriel noticed that her hand was shaking.

  “Are you okay?”

  “Yeah, sure. I’m fine. Why wouldn’t I be?”

  “You just took off on a tangent, huh?”

  “Uh-huh. I’m a curious person; sometimes I follow a rabbit trail too far.”

  “And fall down a rabbit hole,” Gabriel suggested.

  She looked at him again, her expression tense. “I’m on it,” she promised. “I’m not going to get distracted. What’s important right now is getting the word out there. We have to tell our story. We have to get news of the corruption out there to the public so that more people will help us. We’re going to get all of the kids out. The railway will be humming; it will be busy all the time, rescuing kids who have been kidnapped.”

  Her tone was frantic. Gabriel nodded reassuringly. “Sure. We’ll get the word out there. We’re going to help a lot of kids, Renata, by letting people know what’s going on.”

  “Yeah.” She was breathing heavily like she’d been running. “That’s right.”

  Gabriel walked back away from her, giving her space. He caught Ray’s inquiring glance and didn’t know how to answer it. He just shrugged and went back to the periodicals to see what information he could find.

  Eventually, they settled on a list of five reporters at five different news outlets. They were written down in priority order. It was time to make the call. Gabriel wasn’t going to be the one to do it. They all talked back and forth and in the end, it was agreed that this was Renata’s show, she would be the mouthpiece.

  “You need to talk slow,” Ray told her sternly. “Be focused. Follow the outline. If you start raving about Martians in tinfoil hats, you’ll lose them. You have to stay… sane.”

  “It’s not the Martians that wear the tinfoil hats,” Renata muttered. “Yeah, I get it. Be calm and sane. Tell them the information without sounding like a crazy. I can do a pretty good impression of normal if I put my mind to it.”

  “Do that, then.”

  “Yes, sir!”

  They made the call from the library, where there was a rare public pay phone. They all hovered around Renata to hear as much of the call as they could. The reporter that they had selected was a mother, which they thought would make her more disposed to be sympathetic toward children who had been torn from their families. As they expected, it took a while to get through to Kirstie Holt herself, but Renata refused to reveal her story to anyone else, and eventually made it through all of the gatekeepers to get to the reporter.

  “Miss Holt?” Renata’s voice vibrated with excitement. “I want to offer you an exclusive on the story of my friends and me, who were kidnapped.”

  She gave a little grin, listening to Holt’s response.

  “Not by Martians in tinfoil hats,” she assured the reporter with good humor. “I’m talking about being taken away from our parents by a corrupt social services system.”

  Ray didn’t like the humorous touch and looked at Gabriel with anxiety, his face pale and pinched. Nick laughed and nudged Ray.

  “I know you’ve done stories on social services abuses before,” Renata was saying. “That’s why I thought you would be a good person to approach about medical kidnap. Kids being stolen away from their families for no other reason than that they have a disease. My three friends and I were all taken away from our families within the last year because we have mitochondrial disease, which is very rare. They wanted to use us for experiments being run by a mitochondrial research clinic.”

  There was tense silence as they all waited for some indication of Kirstie’s reaction to this claim. Renata listened and gave them a little nod.

  “We’re all ready to meet with you, to tell you our stories. And we’re not the only ones this happened to. The system is full of kids who were taken away without any reason other than that they were sick.”

  It sounded like the closer. Would Kirstie take it or not?

  “Technically we are runaways,” Renata admitted. “You would need to protect our identities.”

  Gabriel bit his lip. The whole thing sounded like a bad idea now. A stupid idea. Who was going to want to interview them? They would just end up being turned over to the police, or worse. Why hadn’t they just kept running? Gabriel had enough money to get by for a few months, to get really far away and start a new life. Why were they staying around to talk to this woman, who would probably think that they were completely crazy?

  “The public library,” Renata said, giving the boys two thumbs up. “Downtown. Can we meet today?”

  She settled up the details efficiently and hung up the phone. Nick gave a whoop as she put down the receiver. “You did it!” he cheered. “I didn’t think there was any way, but you did it!”

  He gave her a big hug and an exuberant kiss on the mouth. Gabriel froze.

  Renata held her side, pale. “Ow. Take it easy there, Romeo. Damaged property, remember? Broken ribs.”

  “Oh, yeah.” Nick’s face was stricken. “I forgot! I’m sorry, Renny.”

  Renata breathed out in a whistle, obviously trying to control the pain. She grasped Nick’s arm. “I gotta sit down.”

  Nick and Ray both supported Renata, guiding her into the nearest bench. Gabriel hovered. “Are you okay, Renata? Did he re-break it? What about your lung?”

  Renata shook her head. “No,” she said breathlessly. “Lung’s still inflated. It will be fine. Just bruised.”

  Nick stood there, his hands over his head as if holding the top on. He clutched at his short blond hair. “I forgot,” he repeated, agonized. “I just… it was just an impulse. I didn’t mean to hurt you!”

  “I know that, Nick,” Renata said. “Just chill, please.” She breathed a few times, in and out. “Kirstie Holt is going to be here in two hours. So we need to go over our stories and what we’re going to tell her. There’s lots to do; we can’t just sit around here.”

  Gabriel wouldn’t have guessed looking at Kirstie Holt that she had two children. She looked like she was barely out of high school, with a slim, girlish figure and fresh face. She had two men with her to handle the cameras and equipment. They both seemed entirely unaffected by her beauty or fame. He supposed that they worked with her every day and had seen her at her worst. The bloom would quickly fade.

  He watched them set up with interest. He was trying to avoid thinking about the interview and all the ways that it might go wrong. He assumed that was also why Nick was running off at the mouth, joking and clowning around as if he didn’t have a care in the world. Renata remained their spokesman, introducing everyone. She was quieter and more serious than usual. Which had the benefit of making her sound like a sane person instead of a conspiracy theorist. Gabriel was anxious about what was going to happen when Kirstie decided to look at their backgrounds and realized they had all been through the psych ward. At least, Gabriel assumed that Ray and Nick had also been through psych. Maybe they hadn’t. Renata had said something about the Children’s, not the psych ward.

  “It’s very nice to meet you all.” Kirstie smiled over them. “I’m going to need to see some proof of your identities. I realize that you want to stay anonymous, but I do need to know that you are who you say you are. And I will need to look into your public records to verify what details I can.”

  They all exchanged glances. Renata nodded confirmation, a
nd they each dug into their backpacks to get their IDs.

  “We probably all have the same problem,” Renata said. “You get kidnapped from your family, and you don’t get to take anything with you. Including a wallet with ID. So all I have is my medical card.”

  “Then that will have to do,” Kirstie said.

  They were all in the same boat. They each had cards from DFS to cover their prescriptions and medical expenses. Ray happened to also have his birth certificate, but he was the only one.

  “Now I want everyone to be relaxed and natural,” Kirstie said. “We’ll just chat and go over your stories. A lot will be cut out by editing, so don’t worry if you find yourself rambling. We’ll tighten it up. The more you can just be yourselves and share the truth about what happened, the better it will all come out.”

  They all nodded. Renata made Gabriel go first. He looked at her in a panic, shaking his head. Renata just crossed her arms in front of her chest and waited. The others were happy to have Gabriel go first. Kirstie smiled and invited him to sit down with her.

  Gabriel was sweating, and his chest hurt. He didn’t know how to sit, and the camera was uncomfortably close to his face. Kirstie gave him a reassuring smile that didn’t help Gabriel feel any better and led in with the date.

  “So tell me your story,” the reporter encouraged. “Tell me what happened when you were first apprehended.”

  Gabriel took a deep breath and started to tell her about waking up in hospital and what had happened there. He told what he could remember of what had happened at the weight clinic, and everything since. Kirstie was a good listener, prompting Gabriel now and then to dig out a nugget of detail, but mostly just letting him relate his story.

  After they had wrapped up, Kirstie shook Gabriel’s hand. He hoped it wasn’t too damp and clammy. “You did great, Gabriel. That wasn’t so bad, was it?”

  Gabriel nodded wordlessly.

  After that, he was able to relax, listening to Ray’s and Nick’s interviews. He had only the briefest outlines about them from Renata, so it was all new. But also eerily familiar. Renata, interviewed last, immediately explained that her case was a little different because she believed that her mother was trying to harm her; but she believed that DFS had other motives for removing her. She explained that she didn’t want to be part of the mito research experiments and that she believed that the unproven drugs were interfering with her other meds.

  “What other meds are you on, Renata?” Kirstie had asked the boys too.

  Renata showed no shyness about disclosing her private medical history. She listed several drugs by name and then faltered. “I don’t remember them all. The doctors keep changing things around. I have paranoia, bipolar, OCD… right now it’s under control. But sometimes I have a break and end up in hospital. That’s where I met—” she caught herself quickly. “Some of the others.”

  “And is this all part of your mitochondrial disease, or something separate?”

  “Probably part of the mito. There’s no way to tell, but psychological problems are higher among patients with mito. So are developmental delays. You can’t really tell where it came from, but you assume.”

  “So these experimental drugs could conceivably improve your psychological symptoms as well.”

  “That doesn’t give them the right to force me into treatment,” Renata growled. “No one has the right to control my body. Or my mind. They can’t just decide how they’re going to treat me without my input. Patients have rights—” Her voice was climbing higher and louder.

  Gabriel looked at the other boys in a panic. If Renata freaked out, they were going to lose all of their traction. Kirstie would can the whole thing. Ray stood up and walked across to where Renata was sitting. He took her hand and leaned over to whisper something to her.

  Renata coughed, then took a deep breath. She gave a little laugh. “I’m very passionate about patient rights,” she explained, her voice calm once more. “When I see kids brought to the hospital and put under chemical restraints to keep them from making waves, it makes me furious. Some of them are hardly more than babies, comatose from benzodiazepines or antipsychotics. They don’t have any diagnosed psychiatric disorder! The doctors do it just to keep them quiet!”

  Gabriel could tell that Ray was squeezing Renata’s hand, trying to rein her in. She looked up at him and nodded. “I know. I’m supposed to stay calm. It’s just hard.” She dabbed at the corner of her eye. “When you’ve seen the kinds of things that they do.”

  “I understand that. We are all sympathetic,” Kirstie agreed.

  “None of us are allowed to see our parents. DFS is supposed to be trying to reunite families, but we go weeks, even months without visitation. And then it is supervised to make sure that we can’t say anything about our medical treatment. Nothing.”

  “But your mother is in prison. And you said you thought she was trying to kill you.”

  “I’m talking for the others,” Renata said, and the camera panned back to where Gabriel and Nick were sitting. It took a huge effort for Gabriel not to put his hand up to cover his face, or to turn it aside. “How long was it before you guys got a visitation?”

  The camera was on Gabriel and Nick. Everyone waited. Nick motioned for Gabriel to go first.

  “Almost a month,” said Gabriel. “And then only for ten minutes, because my mom noticed I had a rash from the protocol meds, and she wasn’t allowed to talk about it.”

  He looked at Nick. “I haven’t seen anyone in my family yet,” Nick said. His voice was completely serious for once. “It’s been two months. I was taken because they said the house was unhygienic and might be dangerous to my health. Just to mine, no one else’s. And you know, they wouldn’t want my mom to somehow bring the house to a visitation and make me sick, or something.”

  The attempt at humor flopped. The camera panned back over to Renata and Ray.

  “It was twenty-four days before my first visitation,” Ray said. “I’ve only had two, in spite of the fact that the court said I was to have weekly visits. Things just keep coming up each week that make visits impossible.” He shrugged. “According to my social worker.”

  “That’s a long time to go without visits,” Kirstie agreed, probably thinking about her own children. “Especially when court-mandated visits are skipped. That must be very frustrating.”


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