Mito, Medical Kidnap Files #1, p.4P.D. Workman
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It had been a couple of days since Gabriel had seen anyone other than nurses. There didn’t even seem to be any doctors supervising his care, which didn’t feel right. He always liked the safe, cared-for feeling that he got from a doctor checking in and reassuring him that everything was under control, and he was going to be home soon.
Gabriel hadn’t realized how much he would miss Renata if she weren’t poking her head in a couple times a day. He wondered if she had gone home without saying good-bye. Without Keisha there to help keep him distracted with books, lessons, gossip about the neighborhood, and the latest news from his father overseas, the days dragged on interminably long. No books, no TV, no one to visit with.
So he was overjoyed when the shuffle of slippers brought Renata back in for a visit. She wasn’t looking well. Usually, she had on only her hospital gown, with bare feet, and fairly skipped into the room. But now she seemed weighed down by the slippers and a dingy white terrycloth robe wrapped around her slim body. Her eyes were dark hollows, almost bruised.
“Hey, are you okay?” Gabriel worried. “Come sit down.” He patted the mattress next to him.
Renata shuffled the rest of the way into the room, and perched on the bed next to him, slouching down with an exhausted sigh.
“Messing around with my meds,” Renata explained. “Chemical…” she trailed off, losing her train of thought.
“Why are they doing that? You were doing okay before.”
“Control. They gotta control me.”
“Is it because of what I said? That you weren’t sleeping? Did you get in trouble for coming in here?”
Renata shook her head. “They’re always trying to sort me out.” She gave a weak grin. “But I’m like nothing they’ve ever seen before.”
“Me neither,” Gabriel agreed in admiration. Despite whatever they were putting her through, Renata was still a fighter. Still unbroken.
She smiled and put her hand over his.
“Once they get your meds fixed, will you be going home?” Gabriel asked. “Or to that other clinic?”
“Lantern,” Renata reminded him of the name. “It’s not residential. So I’ll go back to my foster family.”
“Foster family? So you’re not with your real parents?”
“Nope. A kidnappee, like you.”
“I wasn’t kidnapped.”
“I thought you didn’t remember,” she challenged.
“Well…” Gabriel tried to wrap his mind around it. “It doesn’t make any sense. Why would someone kidnap me and bring me here? They’d get caught. And what would they get out of it?”
“Shove over.” Renata nudged Gabriel with her hip. He moved over an inch, not sure what she wanted. She stretched out beside him, balanced precariously on the edge of the mattress. Gabriel moved over a couple more inches. A hospital bed was not built to hold double occupants, but he and Renata were both pretty skinny and it worked. Renata sighed and closed her eyes, her body relaxing and molding against his. “They don’t get caught,” she explained, “because they do it inside the court system. Right up front where everyone can see.”
“Do what? That’s not kidnapping.”
“You take a kid away from his parents for money, that’s kidnapping.”
“Who does?” Gabriel demanded, completely at a loss. She really was crazy.
“The doctors and the social workers. It’s all part of a conspiracy. To get us into foster care and into research programs like Lantern, for money. It’s a booming business.”
“Who gets money? Why would they get money for taking us away from our parents?”
“Doctors get money for getting kids into research programs. Or they do it to cover up their mistakes before parents realize and sue them. And DFS gets money from the federal government, for every kid they apprehend. Thousands of dollars a month for every kid.”
Gabriel blinked and shook his head. “Money to care for them. That doesn’t go to the social workers.”
“Yeah? Who pays their salaries? You ever hear how much money foster parents are given to take kids? It’s nothing compared to what the feds pay out. Chicken feed. So where does the rest go?”
“We need social workers to keep kids safe. Kids who are abused.”
“That may be some administrator’s grand plan,” Renata agreed. “But there’s more kids abused in foster care than in their own families. They’re taking kids out of safe homes and putting them into unsafe ones.” Renata took Gabriel’s silence for dissent and forged on. “For money! The more money the feds pay, the more kids Social Services finds to take away.”
She turned onto her side to look at him, propping her head up with her elbow. “You’re skinny and sick, but you don’t look like you were neglected or abused at home.”
“No. I wasn’t!” He was aware that his tone was defensive.
“And yet, here you are.” She stared at Gabriel, letting him think about it. “You know they’re not letting your mom see you. They couldn’t do that if she was still your guardian.”
“What?” Gabriel sat up partway, looking at Renata. His heart raced, and there was a stabbing pain in his chest. Keisha wasn’t his guardian? “What are you talking about?”
“Think about it, dopey. Why isn’t she here? She decided to go on a vacation? Pop over to Disneyland and ride the roller coaster by herself for a few days?”
“Then why isn’t she here?”
“Because… they won’t let her.”
“Yeah. Exactly. But they couldn’t stop her from seeing you if she was your guardian. Right? A hospital can’t do that. Only a court can do that. And only if they sever her rights.”
Gabriel’s head whirled. He let himself flop back down on the pillow. He felt sick. And scared. And like crying. “She’d go to court. She’d get it straightened out. They can’t just take kids away from their parents for no reason.”
“Oh, they have their reasons. She’ll fight, but she won’t win.”
“How do you know that?”
“I’ve been around. It’s the rich guys that win in court, and trust me; DFS has got the money on their side. Your mom hasn’t got a chance.”
“A judge will see—”
“A judge will see what the social worker feels like reporting. And if they’re kidnapping kids, you think they’re going to tell the truth?”
“It’s not kidnapping,” Gabriel insisted.
“Call it whatever you like. They took you away from your family. Why?”
“I think…” Gabriel hesitated to tell her anything, but she was his only friend, the only one he could confide in. “I think it was something to do with my mom figuring out what would help me… This nurse I saw before I came here…” He saw her face in front of his eyes. Eyes angry and accusing. Furious with Keisha for taking care of him. “She was mad about mom changing my diet. Giving me supplements and stuff.”
Renata nodded sagely. “That would do it. You can’t do naturals instead of drug trials. They don’t get paid for that.”
“But… I wasn’t part of a drug trial.”
“Yet. Who was the nurse?”
Gabriel searched his memory. “I don’t know… Maple? It made me think of—”
That was it. Birch. “Yeah.”
“I like to call her another name,” Renata offered. “Just change one letter…”
He frowned at her for a moment, picturing the word in his head and trying out different substitutions.
“Come on,” Renata encouraged. “Use that brainpower. B-I-…”
“Oh!” Gabriel’s face burned. “I get it.” He was flustered, embarrassed. “How do you know her? You’ve met her?”
“She works here, at the hospital. With Dr. Seymour. Dr. Seymour has privileges here, but her main job is at Lantern. She funnels kids from the hospital to Lantern. So Birch at the feeding clinic, and other nurse prac
Gabriel shifted uneasily, thinking back. “She was mad at my mom. I don’t remember very much. I couldn’t understand why she’d be mad, when I’d put on weight. That was the whole point of the program…”
“But you didn’t follow the program, did you? So she decided that your mom was medically negligent.”
“But I gained weight… that’s not negligence. When we followed the program exactly, I lost weight.”
Renata rubbed her eyes, making a tired noise. “She woulda got you either way. You follow the program and lose weight, and she says your mom is neglecting you because you’re losing weight. You don’t follow the program, and she says your mom is putting your life in danger by not following the program.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Where are you, Gabriel? And where’s your mom? Tell me I’m not making any sense.”
One of the nurses came in with Gabriel’s supper plate and found Renata asleep on the bed beside him, snoring away. She was Asian, one of the nicer nurses, and she laughed when she saw Renata. She went back to the door and called out into the hallway.
“She’s in here!”
As she set Gabriel’s plate on his table, one of the bigger nurses and an orderly came in.
“She shouldn’t be in here,” the nurse declared. Gabriel wasn’t sure whether the comment was aimed at him, or someone else. Or no one in particular. She grabbed Renata by the arm and shook her. Renata stopped snoring but didn’t wake up.
“Quit playing possum. You need to go back to your room!”
“What’s she doing in here in the first place?” the orderly asked. “I thought you had her on benzos.”
“She is. And she shouldn’t be out wandering around on the dose she’s at. But this one is always having paradoxical reactions. We should just start giving her the opposite of whatever the books say.” She shook Renata harder. Renata’s body just flopped around, her head lolling as if her neck were made of spaghetti. “Renata! Get up! Wake up!”
Renata still didn’t respond. The nurse started to pinch her, leaving a trail of angry red welts up Renata’s arm. The big nurse growled impatiently when Renata still didn’t wake.
“Why don’t I just take her?” the orderly suggested.
“I suppose.” She looked around. “Where’s the wheelchair?”
The orderly shrugged. “I don’t need it. She’s probably eighty pounds sopping wet.”
The nurse stepped back out of the way, and the orderly bent over and picked Renata up off of the bed. He held her cradled in his arms like a toddler, with no apparent effort.
“I got her. No trouble.”
He and the nurse left again. Gabriel turned his attention to the Asian nurse who had brought his dinner. “Will she be okay?”
“We’ll keep an eye on her. She’s a tough one, that girl.”
“Is she… crazy? All those things she talks about?”
“By most people’s definitions,” she admitted. “You can’t believe the things that she says.”
“But some of them… they make sense.”
“She’s not stupid. But she is… paranoid. Don’t you worry about what she says.” The nurse’s lips pressed tightly together as she looked at him. “And keep in mind that she could be… dangerous. She’s very charming, comes across all sweetness and roses… but she can be violent.”
“She doesn’t think the same way you and I do. She’s not just here for a med adjustment.”
Gabriel teetered between believing that there could be something dark behind Renata’s sunny attitude, and the suspicion that the nurses just didn’t want him getting too close to her. He found himself wondering about conspiracies, like Renata.
Gabriel considered the nurse, wondering if she would tell him anything else. “Why am I here?”
She smiled reassuringly. “For evaluation.”
“What kind of evaluation? I’m not crazy. Mentally ill. I just have mito. Renata says lots of kids with mito come through here.”
She pushed the rolling table over Gabriel’s lap. “Sometimes we need to sort out what is real and what is imagined. Or what a parent might have caused, intentionally or unintentionally.”
“You think my mom made me sick? But it’s not her. I have a disease.”
“We’ll get everything straightened out. That’s why you’re here. We’re good at what we do. You’re being taken care of.”
“What if I want to see my mom? Is she allowed to come see me?”
She took the cover off of his plate. “What do we have today? Roast and mashed potatoes, and carrots and peas. Mmm. I’m not off shift for another hour and my stomach is growling.”
“Do the mashed potatoes have milk in them?” Gabriel picked up the fork and poked at them dubiously.
“I would guess so, yes.”
“But what about my allergies?”
She raised her brows. “They shouldn’t have anything you’re allergic to in them.”
“Gabriel.” She put her hand on his arm, stopping him. Her hand was warm and her dark eyes were calm and reassuring. “You need to trust us. We’re not going to do anything to hurt you. We’ll sort out your problems, and we’ll work with your social worker, and everything will be okay.” She patted him. “All right?”
Gabriel swallowed. The mention of his social worker did not calm him. He didn’t even know who that was. How could she look after his best interests if she didn’t know anything about him?
The nurse rearranged a lock of Gabriel’s tightly curled hair. “I promise. It will all work out.”
Mito, Medical Kidnap Files #1 by P.D. Workman / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4.8 out of 5 / Based on19 votes