Mito, Medical Kidnap Files #1, p.21P.D. Workman
THE NEXT MORNING, THEY called Kirstie Holt from the library again. They got right through with no waiting and were talking to her within minutes. Everyone crowded around the receiver to be able to hear both sides of the conversation.
“Did you guys watch it?” Kirstie asked without preamble.
“Yeah, we did,” Renata agreed. “I can’t believe that Carol Scott called in. And Dr. Seymour. That was incredible.”
“I agree. We’re still getting calls this morning. We’re getting great coverage.”
“Do people believe us?”
“Some do, some don’t. Those calls made a big difference. I think there are more who believe than not.”
“Are you following up? What are you going to do next?”
“I’d like to pursue it, with your permission,” Kirstie said. “I think we need to name names. The doctors, nurses, social workers, and judges who are involved. We will start an in-depth investigation, and where we can find evidence, disclose it to the public.”
“Yeah,” Renata agreed. “For sure.”
“I don’t want to put you guys in danger. We’ve already been getting calls this morning from DFS looking for information on where to find you.”
“Don’t tell them.”
“We have the right to protect confidential sources, but where the safety of minors is at stake… I’m afraid we might be getting a subpoena.”
“They can’t do anything to us,” Renata said. “We haven’t broken the law.”
“DFS can apprehend you just as easily here as back home.”
“And do what? Put us into foster care? We’ll just run again.”
“They could put you in a closed facility. Send you back home and make sure you couldn’t get away this time.”
“They can’t send us home. Not across state borders.”
There was silence on the other end of the phone.
“Can they?” Renata asked, her voice small.
“There are interstate compacts. Not only can they send you home, they’re required to within a limited timeframe.”
The boys looked at Renata. She gave a little shrug, looking away. Ray swore under his breath. “So we’re not safe here. And now that we’ve plastered ourselves all over TV, they know where to find us. Everybody’s going to recognize us, even if they don’t know our faces.”
“We’ll have to split up,” Renata murmured. “Make it harder. I thought…” She shook her head. “You know what I thought. What about leaving the country?”
Kirstie’s voice brought their attention back to the phone. “I really don’t know if there are agreements with neighboring countries, but I would assume there are. And you’d have to be able to cross the border, which you’re not doing without ID.”
“I would suggest,” said Kirstie, “that you stay away from the area where we conducted the interviews. If they do serve us with something that says we have to disclose what we know about your location, I don’t want you to be there.”
“Yeah,” Ray agreed. “We’ll move around.”
“I need to know the names of all of the individuals that you believe are involved. So that we can investigate them. See who’s taking orders and who is giving them.”
“We’ll call you back,” Renata said. She pushed down the hang-up switch. They all looked at her in surprise.
“She could have told DCF where we were already,” Renata said. “That was a warning. We gotta move, or we’re sitting ducks, spending an hour talking on the phone with her while they close in. Come on.”
Gabriel hated to lose the illusion of safety. It turned out they had never been safe, but now his heart was thumping hard like he was already being chased. If anyone identified them, there was no way for them to run away. Renata might be able to get away with one sprint, but none of them could handle any sustained activity.
A woman walking into the library with her two small children looked at them with a frown. Renata led the way out of the building, and the mother turned and watched them go.
“We need to go where there are other kids, so we don’t stand out like a sore thumb,” Renata suggested.
“Where do other kids hang out?”
They all glanced at each other.
“School,” Gabriel pointed out the obvious. “DFS will never look there for us, and we can split up and blend in. Who’s going to notice four more kids with backpacks at school?”
“Good call,” Renata agreed. “I’ll go ahead and call Kirstie back from the first one we hit. Then we’ll need to go on and find another one to hide out at, in case her caller ID identifies where we are.”
“If we call her from a school, won’t they look at other schools?” Gabriel asked.
She looked at him. “Yeah… they might. Call from a fast food place? Then go find a school?”
“Double back,” Ray said. “Don’t give them a vector to follow.”
“Aren’t we all experts all of a sudden?” Nick jeered, shaking his head.
“We’re going to have to be,” Renata snapped. “You want to go back?”
“I’m getting awful tired of sleeping on the streets.”
They all looked at each other.
“I thought that by now, we’d have somewhere more comfortable,” Nick said. “We’d be able to stay in a shelter or something. This is just getting more and more ridiculous.”
“You want to go back? So go back. No one is stopping you.”
“Fine. Good luck.”
Renata, Gabriel, and Ray watched Nick walk away.
“He’ll be back,” Renata predicted after he was out of sight.
“How is he going to find us?” Gabriel asked.
“He’s got the phone, doesn’t he?” Renata asked Ray.
“No. I’ve got it. He’s on his own.”
They stopped at a fast food restaurant and used the pay phone. Renata painstakingly gave Kirstie all of the names that she could remember of the players in the conspiracy. Gabriel watched the street outside for any suspicious people or vehicles. Renata was getting more and more wound up, and that worried him. Ray had split off. He had the other cell phone, so they would be able to touch base with him again when they needed to. Gabriel thought that Ray was probably going to search for Nick. The boys had grown as close as brothers during their flight. Letting Nick go back to foster care didn’t sit well with Ray.
Gabriel jumped at Renata’s voice in his ear.
She giggled; a stressed-out noise, not happy. “Sorry, Gabe. Everything look okay?”
“Yeah. I don’t see any problems.”
“You want to get something to eat, while we’re here?”
“You don’t think they’ll trace the call and show up?”
Renata grimaced. “You’re right. Let’s at least cross the street. We can watch from there.” She gestured to a sub shop.
They walked together. Gabriel glanced aside at Renata. She was pale, and he thought she had lost weight since they’d gone on the run. She tried not to show any weakness, but she was just as sick as the rest of them, if not more so. When they reached the sub shop, Gabriel stood casually outside it, as if he were there for a smoke or some fresh air. But what he was doing was checking for discarded sandwiches in the outside garbage. There was one near the top that was not even half-eaten. Gabriel grabbed it and went into the shop. It was lunchtime, so there were plenty of people there. They settled themselves in a corner booth. Gabriel unwrapped the sandwich and Renata got her formula flowing.
Renata caught Gabriel’s eyes on her. “What?”
“I haven’t seen you take any of your meds.”
“I take them through the tube, like everything else.”
“Yeah, I know, but… when? I’ve never seen you take them. Are they already mixed into your formula?”
Of course, if that were true, that would mean she was still on the mito clinic protocol,
“I just do it when you’re not paying attention,” Renata said with a wave of her hand.
Gabriel ate his sandwich, considering that. By the time he was finished, he was convinced that she wasn’t taking her meds at all. That would explain why it was getting increasingly difficult to keep her on track, focused on their efforts instead of obsessing over new theories.
“Why don’t you take them now?” Gabriel suggested. “Since we’re eating anyway.”
“I don’t take any at noon. I already took my morning dose.”
“In the bathroom, this morning.” She stared at him. “After my shower. Are you my mom now? You take your meds and let me worry about mine.”
Gabriel hadn’t yet taken his lunch-time pills, so he did. Renata watched him lay them all out and her suspicious expression softened. She patted his arm, then checked her tube.
“Are you getting enough?” Gabriel asked. “You look like you’re losing weight.”
She hesitated. “I gotta find a source for more. It’s prescription. That means I gotta find a doctor.”
“We’d better do that, then. Will a walk-in clinic do it? They’re so busy; they might not figure out you are a runaway. Even if they do, you still need to eat, right? They can’t deny you food.”
“DFS will have put a flag on my prescription card. As soon as I use it, they’ll know.”
Gabriel thought about his prescriptions. He always had to wait for the pharmacist to dispense it. Half an hour, an hour… In that time, the police could be there to apprehend them.
“What about some kind of off-the-shelf formula? Baby formula or Ensure or something?”
“It’ll make me spew everywhere. The kind I need is only available by prescription.”
Gabriel finished swallowing his pills. “How much should you be eating?”
Renata fiddled with the formula bag, frowning. “Four times a day,” she said. “I’ve only been eating three.”
It was no wonder she was losing weight.
“We’ll just have to try,” he said. “I’ll be lookout. We’ll make sure there’s no cops around when we pick the prescription up.”
“I don’t know…”
“You can’t starve yourself. You have to eat.”
“Yeah… I guess.”
Gabriel watched the restaurant across the street. “I haven’t seen any police or anything; I guess they didn’t trace the call.”
“Or they haven’t forced Kirstie to tell what she knows yet,” Renata agreed. “Sometime in the next few days, though.”
Hanging around the school was a good idea. They were completely invisible. No one looked at them twice. Gabriel enjoyed being around the other kids, watching them horse around or gossip in little groups, doing normal teenage things. He had not been at public school for months, and it was comforting to see that everything was still the same as it ever was. Other kids were still going to school. They had no idea of what it was like to be kidnapped and used as a guinea pig and not allowed to see your family anymore.
They had talked at first about splitting up so that they would be less visible, but no one was looking at them when they were together, so in the end, they just stayed together. Renata didn’t seem happy. Gabriel watched her, wondering what was bothering her. Not like there weren’t enough options. They had plenty to be worried about. But usually, Renata kept upbeat, almost manic.
She looked at him. “I forgot what it feels like. Being here. So… lonely and isolating…”
Gabriel frowned at her. He found it energizing, exhilarating. He missed the noisy crowds. “There are lots of people,” he pointed out. “It’s not lonely.”
“It is when you’re the only kid with psychiatric illness. You think other kids want to hang out with you? Or their parents tell them that they can’t. Afraid that I’m contagious. My mom always said that public school was the best place for me. Lots of opportunities for socialization. Role models. Learning to be normal.” She hugged herself, looking bleakly at the swarms of students.
Gabriel had never seen Renata as an outcast. She was friendly and outgoing, cheerful despite the paranoia. But he watched her withdraw into herself now, avoiding meeting anyone’s eyes. Afraid of being rejected. He pictured her mother telling her that she had to go to school to learn to be normal. What a cruel thing to say to someone who had no control over her mental illness. Gabriel put his arm around Renata, pulling her closer into a comforting hug.
“It’s okay. You don’t have to worry about what anyone else here thinks. They’re just our cover. Do you want to go somewhere else?”
“I know… I think it’s the safest place to be right now, though.”
Gabriel rubbed her back. “If you’re sure. We should probably leave before school lets out to go to the clinic anyway, get you some more formula.”
She nodded, looking cheered by this. “Yeah, you’re right. The clinic will get busier after school.”
Renata’s bleak expression faded when they left the school, but at the clinic, she was clearly anxious. Her head swiveled back and forth, looking over everyone in the waiting room, checking the doors, checking on the nurses, and starting over again.
“Do you want me to stay in here?” Gabriel asked. “Or should I watch outside, in case… someone shows up?”
Her eyes went back and forth. “Stay here, in the waiting room. Then if you see someone, we can find a back door…”
“Okay. I’m sure no one will show up. They don’t have any reason to report you for anything. But just in case…”
“Who knows how many people are in on it,” Renata said in a hoarse whisper. “These guys could all be hooked into the mito clinic by computer. They could have people on the lookout for us already. We were on TV; they know we’re in the area.”
Gabriel nodded. “Well, I’ll watch. You don’t need to worry.”
She squeezed his hand briefly and didn’t say anything. It was another hour before they called Renata in. He could see by the way that the nurses were watching Renata’s increasingly-frantic pacing that they were nervous about her. Once a nurse took her down the hall, Gabriel turned back to watch out the window. He didn’t really expect to see the police or anyone who wanted to apprehend them, but Renata’s anxiety made him jumpy.
There were no police cars. No one whose clothing and bearing screamed ‘social worker.’ There was a young doctor who walked in and talked with the nurse at the reception desk. He apparently didn’t work there; she didn’t seem to know him. He only talked to her for a couple of minutes before leaving again without ever entering the back offices. He stopped and looked around the waiting room briefly before walking out. Gabriel thought that the man’s eyes paused for an instant longer on him, but that was probably just because Gabriel was staring at him. Gabriel watched him walk back out to a rust-red station wagon in the parking lot. He sat in his car talking on the phone for several minutes before driving away.
Gabriel watched the other cars in the parking lot, looking for anyone who was watching the clinic. There were a lot of cars, but he didn’t see anyone who was just sitting there, and everybody who came into the clinic seemed to have a reason to be there.
Looking out into the parking lot again, Gabriel jumped at a light touch on his shoulder.
“All clear?” Renata asked.
“Yeah, looks like it. Did he give you the prescription?”
Renata nodded. “No problem. Wants me to find a local gastroenterologist, but he gave me a repeat prescription anyway. Let’s scram.”
There was a drug store right across the parking lot from the clinic, but Gabriel eyed it uneasily. “I think… we should go somewhere else. If someone does report us… that’s exactly where they’ll expect us to go next.”
Renata agreed. It was a commercial area. Lots of strip malls. It wouldn’t be hard for them to find a smaller pharmacy farther away. Renat
“Okay, let’s go. They said they’d have it ready in an hour.”
“I’m not going to go back today,” Renata said. “If they’re going to send someone to pick me up, it will be in the next hour. They can’t leave someone here twenty-four hours a day until I show up. I’ll pick it up tomorrow. If they try to stall me…” She shook her head. “I won’t hang around. Sooner or later, they’ll just have to hand it over. They can’t refuse to give me my prescription, and the police or DFS can’t be here waiting all the time. Right?” She looked at Gabriel for reassurance. Her eye sockets were getting hollow with all of the worry and the weight that she had lost.
“Right,” Gabriel agreed. It was a good plan that ensured they wouldn’t just walk back into a trap when they came back to get it. “Can we… take a nap or something?”
Renata laughed. “Sure, old man. But I want to watch to see if anyone shows up, so we need to stay close by.”
Gabriel looked around. There wasn’t anywhere remotely comfortable, but at that point, he didn’t need comfort. He just needed to lay his body down. They crossed the street together, and he lay down on the sidewalk. Renata sat down with a cup for change. For all intents and purposes, they were invisible. Renata could watch to see if anything went down at the pharmacy.
Renata poked Gabriel awake. “Shh,” she warned. “Take a look.”
Gabriel opened his eyes. He couldn’t see from his supine position, so he sat up, head still fuzzy with sleep. It took him a moment to focus on the activity across the street.
There was a police car in the parking lot. It didn’t have its lights or siren on and was just cruising through. In another minute, it disappeared into the alley behind the pharmacy and didn’t come back out.
“He’s there,” Renata breathed. “Waiting for me.”
Gabriel couldn’t find any other explanation. They continued to watch. Gabriel knew nothing was going to happen, because Renata wasn’t going to go over there to get caught, but he was fascinated anyway.
Renata pointed to a minivan that passed the pharmacy twice and then pulled into one of the parking spaces in front of it. No one got out. They just sat there, in the vehicle, waiting. Gabriel’s heart beat a rapid rhythm, and his breathing got louder and faster.
“I don’t believe it,” Gabriel said.
Who was in the van? A social worker? One of the doctors from the clinic? Somebody who expected to be part of recapturing Renata. Renata’s head turned back and forth, and Gabriel looked to see what else she was watching.
“Looking for a phone I could borrow,” Renata whispered. “I wonder what would happen… if I called Kirstie. Do you think she would come? What would they tell her if she did?”
“Nothing. They’d say it was all confidential and none of her business.”
Renata snorted. “Too true,” she agreed. She turned back to look at the parking lot, entranced. Still, no one got out of the van, and the police car didn’t reappear.
“How long has it been? Since you dropped off the prescription?”
“Half an hour.”
“They were quick.”
“Yeah. Scary quick.”
A red station wagon wove through the parking lot, looking for a space. Gabriel watched it idly at first, then frowned.
“What is it?” Renata asked.
“That car. You see it? The station wagon. It was at the clinic.”
“Somebody else who needed a prescription filled.”
“Why would they come over here instead of going to the one that was closer? No… it was a doctor, not a patient.”
“Yeah. He was there when you were in talking to your doctor. He talked with the nurse, then left again and called someone on the phone. He didn’t work there.”
“I know. And now he’s here.”
“You’re sure it’s the same car?”
“Look at it. Do you think I’d make a mistake?”
“No… I guess not.” Renata hesitated, her whole body tense. “Okay,” she decided. “I’m going to try calling Kirstie. Tell her what’s going on. You…” Renata patted her pockets, and came out with her cell phone and held it out to him. “You see if you can get a video. They might be gone before she can get here, or she might not be able to come. But if we can get a video of what’s going on…”
Gabriel nodded, taking it from her.
“But no phone calls,” Renata warned. “It can be traced. We don’t want to give anyone our GPS location.”
“Won’t they know that when you tell Kirstie that you’re here?”
Renata shook her head. “The pharmacy isn’t going to go anywhere. But the phone is going with us and will keep broadcasting our location.”
“Oh. Yeah, okay.”
Renata got up and walked briskly away. Gabriel stood up for a better vantage point and started the phone video recording. He wasn’t holding it very steady, and nothing much was happening. But he hoped they’d be able to do something with it.
In the end, the suspicious vehicles all left, including the police car. Kirstie didn’t make it there in time to see them. Renata promised to get the video to her soon, but Gabriel didn’t know what value the low-quality video would have.
“We’re getting a lot of pushback from everybody that we’ve contacted so far,” Kirstie advised when they called her back. Gabriel and Renata both cuddled close to the phone to hear it at the same time. “But they can’t keep us from public records, and that includes grant applications by the Lantern Clinic for research studies. We’re getting a team to collate the statistics and see what they can come up with—number of kids with mito, number of kids being treated at the clinic, how many of them are in foster care. That one’s a bit harder, but we’re hoping to get some help from Carol Scott.”
“She hasn’t been fired?” Renata asked.
“She’s been suspended with pay. Which means that she doesn’t have access to current records, but she’s putting together what she can remember. The number of kids that she has apprehended that have gone into the program, the number she’s heard of from other social workers or seen in the news.”
“I know some too,” Renata offered. “I mean, besides the four of us.”
“Skyler,” Gabriel suggested.
“Yeah.” Her eyes got distant. “Man, I’d like to break him out.”
“Renata,” Kirstie warned, “you can’t suggest to me that you’re planning to break the law. I’d be ethically bound to report it.”
“I didn’t say I was going to break him out, just that I’d like to.”
“I know. But I need to stop you before you say anything that I’d have to repeat to the police.”
“Yeah, okay. I’m not going to say anything like that. I’ll try to put together a list. I bet I know at least ten of the kids who went into the mito program this year. Maybe fifteen.”
“Out of how many?” Kirstie asked.
“Forty,” Gabriel said. “That’s how many they need to provide for the study.” He looked at Renata. “How do you know that many of them?”
Renata shrugged. “I’ve spent a lot of time in hospital this year. And I’m friendly. I talk to people. If I see someone new in the program, I find out who they are. What their story is.”
“Fifteen,” Gabriel repeated. “If Carol knows another five… we’ll have the names of almost all the kidnapped kids. I mean… half of them have to be kids whose parents agreed to put them into the program, right? Some parents would try anything.”
He had seen how desperate Keisha sometimes got to fi
“Do you really think there are that many cases of medical kidnap?” Kirstie asked Renata, her skepticism carrying over the line.
“There’s a lot more than that. That’s just the kids that got put in the mito clinic.”
“Well, I’ll do my best to find all of the ones being treated at Lantern. I’m getting a lot of calls from my superiors, so we must be stepping on some pretty important toes.”
“We already knew that,” Renata said. “Judges and big famous doctors.”
Kirstie sighed. “We’ve probably been on the phone too long. You guys should clear out. Head to a new location.”
Mito, Medical Kidnap Files #1 by P.D. Workman / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4.8 out of 5 / Based on19 votes