Mito, Medical Kidnap Files #1, p.22P.D. Workman
THEY WENT BACK TO the pharmacy early the next morning to pick up Renata’s prescription. It was a chilly morning and Gabriel wanted to move around to get warmed up. Instead, they had to lurk around the parking lot, looking for any suspicious vehicles. Gabriel shivered, crouching behind a van, looking for the rust red station wagon, or a police vehicle, or anything else that set off alarm bells.
“Black van with an antenna.” Renata pointed.
They watched it. A couple of minutes later, a man climbed out and went into the coffee shop. They circled around to make sure there was no one else still sitting in the van.
“Courier truck,” Renata whispered, nodding to a brown van.
“What’s wrong with a courier truck?”
“They’re owned by the feds. Good cover vehicles.”
So they waited for the courier to make his deliveries and pull back out of the parking lot. Gabriel rubbed his arms, waiting for Renata’s verdict.
“Okay,” she said finally. “In and out.”
“I’m coming in with you this time.”
She didn’t object. They hurried purposefully toward the doors and took one quick look around before going in. Renata grabbed Gabriel’s hand and squeezed it, then let it go. She led the way to the prescription counter in the back of the store. There was no one visible.
“Hello?” Renata called.
An older man with wire-frame glasses came out of the back room and looked at them. “Oh… hello. How can I help you?”
“Renata Vega,” Renata snapped.
“For a pick-up?” he asked pleasantly, moving at a leisurely pace toward the shelf lined with white prescription bags that had been prepared and not yet picked up.
He looked over the bags and frowned. “Vega with a V?”
He shook his head.
Renata leaned forward over the counter. “I can see it right there. The box.”
“Oh, I didn’t realize it would be a case lot…” He bent down to pick up the box and looked at the white piece of paper taped to the top. He froze.
Gabriel and Renata exchanged a glance.
“I’ll just need to clear this…” he said.
“You don’t need to clear anything. It’s ready and I’m here to pick it up.”
“I don’t think it has the right codes on it. Your health care corporation…”
“I gave my card yesterday. Just give me my food. I can’t eat anything else. If you withhold my formula, you’re withholding necessaries of life. You’re forcing me to starve.”
“I’m not withholding anything, miss,” he said, his voice kind. “I just need to check on the coding… it will only take a few minutes. If you want to come back in half an hour…”
“Give it to me,” Renata ordered. “It’s paid for. You can sort out your coding issue later.”
He hesitated, holding the box in his hands.
“Just give it to her,” Gabriel ordered, using his toughest voice.
The pharmacist nodded. He removed the white note from the box, crumpled it in his hand, and brought the box over to Renata.
They retreated as quickly as possible. Gabriel opened the door for Renata. She stopped before exiting, looking around for any waiting vehicles. Then they walked away.
In spite of the fact that they had only walked, Gabriel was breathing like he had just run a race. They ducked into the alley behind the strip mall to rest for a moment.
Renata was pale and sweating. “I don’t know how far I can carry this.”
Gabriel grabbed the box. “We’ll trade off.”
But it was much heavier than he had expected. He didn’t know if he could even carry it to the end of the alleyway. Certainly no farther than that.
“Oof. We’ll have to hide it. Get some help, or carry one can at a time.”
Renata obviously didn’t want to part with it. She moved to take it away from him.
They both heard the car engine.
Gabriel didn’t know who said it first, or if they both said it at the same time. They both ducked down behind a big garbage bin, out of sight. A car made its way down the alley. Slowly, like it was lost. Gabriel tried to quiet his breathing. As if the driver of the car would have been able to hear him. Renata clutched his arm. The weight of the box grew and grew in Gabriel’s arms, and he had to crouch lower and put it down on the pavement. Ever so quietly, ever so slowly. The car stopped. They both stayed frozen.
“Come on…” Renata whispered urgently, willing the car to drive on.
The car started to move again. Gabriel peeked around the corner of the bin. Renata pulled at him, but he couldn’t help himself. He had to see. It would be some soccer mom or a senior citizen who had taken the wrong turn. He only needed a glimpse to reassure himself. Then they would both laugh at how silly they had been.
He caught a glimpse.
A streak of rust-red paint. He gasped and fell back, falling hard on his butt. A stab of pain ran from his tailbone up his spine.
“What?” Renata demanded. “What is it?”
“It’s him. The doctor from the clinic. The one with the station wagon.”
Renata swore. They waited. Eventually, the doctor made it to the end of the alley and continued on. But he was still going to be out there, patrolling the streets looking for them. He knew that they had to be close by, and if he knew about them, then he knew that they couldn’t run away. Neither of them had the physical stamina to run.
Gabriel started to shiver again. But he didn’t want to get up and walk around anymore. He didn’t want to do anything but sit there on the ground, safely hidden behind the garbage bin, until all danger was past.
“He’s gone,” Renata said.
“Not far. And he’ll be back. And the cops too. Everybody. We’re not going to be able to get away.”
“We can do it,” Renata reassured him. She put her arms around him to warm him. “You got another shirt in your bag? You’d better put it on.”
Gabriel obeyed, shaking violently. He remembered getting hypothermia at school over recess one day, outside playing in the snow like the other boys. It felt like that. Numb inside. Shivering as he started to warm up. Unable to control the shaking of his body. Renata held him again, and rubbed his arms, trying to warm him back up.
“We’ll leave the formula here,” she said. “You take one can in your backpack, and I’ll take one in mine.”
“What are we going to do with the rest? We can’t carry it around with us, and we don’t exactly have a cupboard to put it in.”
“We’ll… we’ll get a locker. At a gym or the bus depot. We can store it there. We’ll take a few trips, and we can leave everything there that we don’t want to carry with us all the time. That’s a good idea anyway, right?”
Gabriel nodded. Maybe they could even get more clothes. Blankets. Other comforts that they didn’t have the space or strength to carry with them.
“Come on,” Renata encouraged. She opened her backpack and used a set of keys to split the tape on the formula box. “We’ll get ready, so when it’s safe, we can just go.”
Apparently, a couple of homeless kids renting a locker at the bus depot was nothing to raise eyebrows. The man reeled off the list of items that could not be kept in a locker in a monotone. He handed them a key, hardly even looking at them. They unloaded everything they could from their backpacks to make room for formula, hoping to be able to carry all the remaining formula back in one trip. Going back to that back alley repeatedly felt like a very dangerous thing to do. Gabriel scanned the inside of the terminal for anyone suspicious once they were done with the locker.
Renata took out her phone to call Ray. The forced cheer in her voice was plain to Gabriel and he wondered whether Ray heard it as clearly.
“Hey, Ray! How’s it going?”
“Renata, where are you?”
“Just wondering whether you found Nick,” Renata said, deflecting the question. “Are the fab four back together again?”
“No…” Ray sighed. “I mean… what I mean is… I found him, yeah, but I couldn’t convince him to stay with us. He’s going back home.”
Renata swore. “Oh well, I guess he wasn’t cut out for it. So you want to meet? You can fill us in on all the details.”
“Renny… I’m going to go back too.”
“I’m sorry. But I agree with Nick. We all thought that once we got here and told our story, we’d be safe. They’d roll out the red carpets, and everything would be okay. I never thought we’d still be running and sleeping on the street. I thought we’d at least be able to stay at a shelter and be safe there. But that was all just fantasy. There’s nowhere for us to go.”
“You can’t do this, Ray. Come on. We need your help.”
“If you and Gabriel don’t want to go back, that’s fine. This was your show from the start. But you don’t need me. You can do this on your own.” His voice carried a tone of finality. He wasn’t going to be talked out of it.
“We need to put together a list of all the kidnapped kids in the mito clinic,” Renata said urgently.
“Go ahead. You know them better than I do.”
“I need your help!”
“Sorry, Renata. I really am. Maybe we’ll run into each other again sometime. You’d better not call me at home. You wouldn’t want them to trace your number.”
“Bye Renny, Gabe.”
Gabriel was speechless. He couldn’t answer. Before Ray hung up, there was another noise. Ray said politely: “Oh, sorry sir. I didn’t see you…” and then he was gone.
Renata blew. She screamed with wordless fury and launched the phone across the terminal. Gabriel heard it smash, heard the broken pieces scattering across the floor.
“Renata, it’s okay—”
But she was not to be consoled. She shoved Gabriel away from her. “No! No, no, no! Damn him! Why did he have to do this to me?” She screamed again, sounding like an enraged animal.
Everyone in the terminal was looking at them with interest. There was no reason for them to pretend they didn’t see such an open display in public. Gabriel saw a security guard striding toward them.
“Renata. We have to get out of here.”
She started to rant at the top of her lungs. Gabriel could barely tell what she was saying. Some of it didn’t even sound like real words, a garbled mess in the middle of her meltdown. Gabriel had a split second to decide whether to stay with her, or whether to walk away before the security guard got there. But he couldn’t run and he couldn’t abandon Renata to her fate.
“What seems to be the problem here?” the security guard asked in a neutral voice as if this kind of thing happened every day. And at the bus depot, maybe it did. Gabriel had heard once about how some mental institutions, when they wanted to be quit of a particularly difficult patient, would put him on a bus with a one-way ticket out of town. The patient would be left at the destination with no money, nothing but the clothes on his back, and no possibility of getting gainful employment. So maybe that sort of thing was par for the course when you worked security detail at a bus depot.
“If you just give me a minute, I’ll get her out of here,” Gabriel said.
The security guard didn’t back off, but stood there, waiting. Gabriel tried to touch Renata. He tried to hold her hand or find some way to calm her. But she wasn’t having any of it. She continued to scream and rant, sounding truly insane. Gabriel didn’t know what to do.
“Ray’s right. We don’t need him,” Gabriel told her. “This has always been your operation. It doesn’t matter, Renata.”
Whenever he approached her, she shoved him back or hit him. The security guard gave Gabriel a minute or two to sort her out, then became active again. “Miss? I’m going to have to ask you to leave. Can you do that?”
She swore at him, then went back to her deranged ranting.
“Miss, if you don’t leave, I’m going to have to put you under arrest and call the police. If you don’t want to spend a night in jail…”
Renata launched at the guard, both fists flailing. Gabriel couldn’t follow the progress of the fight. They moved too fast for him to see what was going on. He saw the security guard’s nose blossom red and knew that Renata had punched him in the face.
Renata’s frenzied attack could last only a minute or two. She didn’t have the energy in her muscle cells to maintain it.
The guard had her on the floor and was attempting to force her hands into white plastic restraints.
“She has broken ribs,” Gabriel said, “be careful, please!”
The guard didn’t look up at him, intent on getting her under control. “Come on, miss. Don’t fight me. Just take it easy now.”
Renata was restrained. She lay on her belly, panting. Gabriel was worried about her ribs and about her feeding tube. He didn’t think they should have her lying on her stomach.
“You should turn her over.”
“Prone is safer. I’m calling the cops. If you don’t want to be here when they get here, you’d better make yourself scarce.”
“She has broken ribs and a feeding tube. You should put her on her back.”
He looked at Gabriel briefly, then flipped Renata over. She didn’t try to kick him, but lay there floppy and lifeless, eyes shut. The guard checked her pulse and leaned in close with his cheek in front of her mouth to listen for her breathing.
Gabriel nodded. The guard sat back on his heels and pulled out a phone to call for ambulance and police. Gabriel touched Renata’s face to reassure her. He didn’t know whether she was unconscious or just exhausted.
“Do you have to call the police? She didn’t really do anything wrong. I mean… other than punching you in the face,” Gabriel added, feeling his own face heat up.
The guard dabbed at his bloody nose with a tissue. “I have to call them any time I put someone in restraints. She could try to sue me.”
“She just… she had some bad news; that’s all.”
“That was more than just bad news.”
Gabriel looked around. “Can I put her bag in our locker?”
Gabriel picked up Renata’s backpack. “Can you… not tell anyone we have a locker here…?”
“Not anybody’s business but your own.”
“There are people… after us…” Gabriel trailed off at how paranoid it sounded. “Really… it could cause us real trouble.”
“Go put your stuff away.”
The policeman who answered the call drove Gabriel to the hospital when the ambulance refused to let him ride along. Gabriel sat in the front seat and tried to avoid answering any of the persistent officer’s questions.
At the hospital, he was allowed to sit by Renata’s gurney in the emergency room. They didn’t send her directly up to psych.
“What’s her name?” asked the admitting nurse.
“Uh… I don’t know. We just met.”
She glared at him, then looked at the paramedics. “Did she have any identification?”
Gabriel had stashed anything that might identify her in the locker.
“Jane Doe, then. What do you know about Jane’s medical history?” she shot back in Gabriel’s direction.
“Uh… not a lot. She said she had broken ribs. I don’t know if they’re fully healed yet. And she needs this,” Gabriel put one of Renata’s cans of formula on the little side table. “She has a tube thingy.”
The nurse took a look under Renata’s gown, even though the paramedics had already filled her in on the fact. She made some observation aloud that Gabriel assumed identifi
“This is prescription. Where is the prescription label?”
“I don’t know.”
“We can’t give that to her without a new prescription being issued.”
“Well, she can’t have anything else. If you give her a different one, she’ll be sick.”
The nurse scribbled something down. “What else?”
“Medical history. What else do you know?”
“Umm…” Gabriel wasn’t sure how much he should reveal. “She has something called mitochondrial disease. I don’t know if you know what that is…?”
“Of course, I know what that is.”
One of the paramedics looked up, frowning. “There was a program about that on the TV the other day…” His eyes widened as he looked from Renata to Gabriel. “Wait… that was you, wasn’t it? You were both interviewed on the show. By Kirstie Holt.”
Gabriel looked down at Renata’s hand, interweaving his fingers and hers. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. We just met.”
“Yeah, I’m sure it was you!”
“What is her name?” the nurse asked the paramedic.
“They were anonymous informants; their names were never given. But the show will know. If they don’t want to get sued, they have to do their background checks.”
“Well, we’ll have to have the police follow up on that.”
“She has a psychiatric history too, doesn’t she?” the medic aimed this at Gabriel.
Gabriel shrugged. “It’s all part of her mitochondrial disease.”
“Yeah, she did. Paranoid delusions and some other stuff. Sees conspiracies everywhere. That’s what the whole show was about. This big conspiracy to kidnap kids with mito and force them to have medical treatment.”
“Well, of course they need to be treated,” the nurse said.
“It wasn’t like that…” Gabriel protested weakly.
“Do you know what meds she’s on? Antipsychotics?”
“Umm… no.” There had been nothing in Renata’s bag. She had lied to him about taking her meds. “I think… she’s been off them… for a few days.”
“But you don’t know what.”
“If you know her name, you’d better tell us so that we can access her medical history. If we give her the wrong treatment or something that she’s allergic to, it will be on your head.”
“She said she responds to meds the wrong way… I forget the right word… paradox?”
“Paradoxical. But which meds?”
“I don’t know… benzos…”
“Benzodiazepines. Is that it?”
“I don’t know,” Gabriel said helplessly. “I don’t think so.”
“Then give me her name.”
He just shook his head, staring down at his hands.
The nurse grunted. “I’ll talk to the police officer. He can make the calls to Kirstie Holt’s station manager.”
They were screwed.
Gabriel sat there with Renata until the paramedics transferred her care to a doctor, and then he was kicked out. “We’ll have to transfer her to psych. No visitors.”
Eventually, Gabriel found a phone that he could use and placed a call to Kirstie. On answering, she obviously already knew what was going on.
“Oh my goodness, Gabriel. Are you all right?”
“Yes. But…” he found himself choking up. “I don’t know what’s going to happen to us.”
“It will be okay. They’ll take care of Renata. And you’ll be okay. It will all work out.”
“You said that once they have us in custody, they have to send us back. Across the line.”
“I’m seeing whether there is anything I can do from here.”
Gabriel saw a movement out the corner of his eye and turned his head. It was the cop. Watching him. Gabriel supposed that he was under orders to detain Gabriel if he tried to run.
“There are a few clauses in the interstate compacts. Not very extensive… about the sending state being required to ensure that the child is not being sent back to a situation where their safety is at risk…”
“Then they can’t send us back! Renata was right!”
“Well, they have to do some more research to figure out what the requirements are. I gather no one has ever used the safety exception before, so they’re not sure what to do. Right now, they have three days to send you back, unless they can use that clause.”
Gabriel nodded, even though she couldn’t see him. “Okay. Thanks.”
“Are the others boys with you too? Ray and Nick?”
“No. They decided to go back voluntarily. That was sort of what set Renata off in the first place.”
“Oh. Well, I hope that doesn’t throw a wrench into the works. Can we say that it is dangerous for you and Renata to return when Ray and Nick have gone back voluntarily?”
Gabriel’s gut tied itself into a knot. “They could be wrong. Isn’t there enough evidence to show that we would be in danger? We don’t want to be put back into the mito program. It’s experimental. They shouldn’t be able to force us. It just made me sicker.”
“I know. We’ll stay on top of it, okay? But we don’t have long to convince them. Only three days.”
“Yeah.” Gabriel watched the cop, who was pretending to stand around casually, but was watching Gabriel. “There’s a cop here. Are they going to arrest me?”
“They won’t arrest you. But they will put you into care. They have to, knowing that you are a runaway from another state.”
Gabriel let out a sigh of exasperation.
Kirstie swore suddenly. Her voice carried shock and fear that sent Gabriel’s already-tight stomach into spasms.
“What? What is it?” he demanded.
“Gabriel… this has just come across my desk. The police haven’t made a public statement yet.”
“They found Nick’s body.”
“What?” Gabriel’s voice screeched upward. He grabbed at the wall for support. The cop took a few steps closer to him. Gabriel didn’t know whether he thought Gabriel was going to run or if he thought Gabriel needed help. Black spots grew in front of Gabriel’s eyes until he couldn’t see anything around him. He clutched the phone tightly against his face.
“Nick’s body? How could that be? What happened to him?”
“There aren’t any details yet. The police will be making an announcement in an hour.”
“Are you sure it’s him? It could be someone else.”
“I saw Nick’s ID. I have his full name. And the description matches. We can’t make it public yet, because the family hasn’t been notified.”
“His family or his foster family?”
“I don’t know how it usually works.”
Gabriel pulled at his hair. “What happened? How could they get to him?”
“Don’t jump to any conclusions, Gabriel. We don’t know what happened yet.”
“There’s been a doctor dogging Renata and me… they must have put someone onto Nick too. What about Ray? Can you call him and warn him?”
“I don’t have Ray’s number. Do you?”
Gabriel thought of Renata’s smashed phone. “No. Renata might remember, but she’s not awake yet. Can’t they…” he tried to think of some suggestion, but was at a loss. He yanked on his hair again, tears of pain and frustration welling up in his eyes. “Kirstie…”
“I’m going to come to the hospital,” Kirstie decided. “You need someone with you, and when the police announce Cause of Death, we might need to put together a spot. Can you hold it together until I get there?”
“O-okay,” Gabriel agreed, sobbing.
“Okay. Good boy. I’m going to get a crew together, and I’ll be over soon.”
Mito, Medical Kidnap Files #1 by P.D. Workman / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4.8 out of 5 / Based on19 votes