Last time we found out about a certain behind-the-scenes villain that must be stopped…. but what can be done about it while our anti-hero is still in the hospital from saving the day? Let’s find out…
And, if you’re new…
You lucky little ducky, you’re showing up right at the end. You don’t even have to wait through the cliffhangers. Well, many more of them, anyway.
Read up below.
And, Part 28…
Giving the slip
“I’m going to see him.” Fernsby set his lips in a tight line as he met my eyes. He leaned forward in his chair, clasping his hands between his knees. “I checked with the program . . . Mansley’s back. But he’s still not answering his phone and his secretary says he’s not taking calls.”
“Yeah, gee. I wonder why.” I rubbed at my wrist cast and frowned, “Why don’t you just call the SPI on him? Tell them he’s corrupt. That . . .”
Charles shook his head, “We never know anyone’s intentions for absolute sure. I’d just . . . I’d like to talk to him in person before reporting anything. God knows, we might have deeper problems going on here.”
Even though now I was technically on Fernsby’s side, his methods of working things out still confused me. It might’ve just been my view still coming out of the criminal world, but my first inclination was to schedule Mansley for an appointment of bad luck with a certain Mr. News.
But hey, whatever was involved in bringing him to justice, I wanted in on it. I shifted my position in the hospital cot, readying to get out. “I’m coming.”
Fernsby opened his mouth for a second, then closed it again, raising an eyebrow.
“What?” I asked.
Fernsby bit his lip and looked doubtful, “I don’t think you’re really in any state to go anywhere, Wolfgang. It’s fine, really. I’ll deal with it.”
Indignation rose in my chest at his words. I was so done with all this hospital babying junk it wasn’t even funny.
I tipped my chin out stubbornly. “I’ve been lazing around here long enough. This is my battle too. And someone needs to be carrying a gun in case your three-percent chance that he’s an innocent little lamb doesn’t go through.”
Charles sighed and ran a hand over his hair. “I’m not that dumb. I’ll be stopping back by my house to grab something to arm myself.” He stood, putting one hand in his pocket. He walked over and patted my shoulder, nodding. “You’ve done enough, really. You deserve some rest.”
I bit my tongue to keep from swearing at him.
He must have picked up on the murderous expression on my face. “Listen, you can ask the doctor if you’re good to go and if he says okay, then you can call me and I’ll come back and pick you up. Alright?”
He had me there. There was no way they were letting me out of here yet.
It was out of my hands.
I rubbed my hand over my face and gave Fernsby a look.
His eyebrow twitched upwards again and he shook his head. “I’ll see you later, okay?”
And with a wave, he was gone.
I sat there stewing for a few minutes, then Abby poked in.
“Lunchtime,” she announced. I held back a groan and thumped my head back on the pillow. She smiled her tiny, amused smile and slipped the rest of the way in with the food tray propped on her arm. She walked over and set it on my lap.
I gave the smushed sandwich and soggy tater-tots a pained look. Bad News had spoiled me. Sure, about eighty percent of the time he made cake and ice cream, but he was an infinitely better cook than whoever was back there doling out all these prepackaged nightmares.
I flicked at the unnaturally white bread atop my sandwich and wrinkled my nose.
Abby propped a hand on her hip and tucked her honey-colored hair behind her ear. “Also you have a couple more visitors waiting outside to see you.”
My head snapped up, “Who?”
“Mr. News and Mr. Tucker.”
“I’ll see them now, sure.” I set my lunch tray to the side as I spoke, hoping I didn’t sound too eager.
Abby frowned, “While you’re eating?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I assured her, shifting my voice to hopefully sound nonchalant. “Send them ahead.”
She shrugged and walked back out into the hall.
Just a few minutes after the tiny pixie exited, a fedora-wearing giant ducked through the doorway, followed by a spiky-haired hotshot. Bad News had a familiar looking lump in his coat.
I waved at them. “Hey, guys.”
“Heyo.” Roy sat on the foot of my bed with a bounce and grinned at me, his toothpick poking out from between his teeth.
News peered back out into the hall for a second before walking over to me. He pulled the smuggled good out of his coat and tossed it into my lap along with a spoon. “Got some blackberry this time.”
I couldn’t help grinning as I popped the lid off the mini ice cream container. “Thanks.”
“No problem, bucko.” News seated himself in one of the hospital chairs and it creaked dangerously. “So, how goes it here?”
“And could I have these tater tots?” Roy poked at my lunch.
I answered Roy first. “Be my guest, please.” Then to News. “If I keep my perspective straight, it’s better than prison . . . so,” I shrugged, “I can’t really complain.” My spoon cut into the smooth top of the ice cream and I stuck the bite in my mouth, letting the cold sweetness dissolve on my tongue. God bless ice cream smugglers.
News nodded and leaned backwards in the chair, pushing his hat back on his head. “I talked to Liza a bit and she said something about that Mansley dude . . . what was up with that?”
Any hint of a smile melted off my face. I swallowed the bite in my mouth before answering. “Yeah, he’s . . . a jerk. Just putting Fernsby and my pieces together . . . he’s been playing everyone in this game for his own gain and . . . yeah. He’s bad n . . . I mean, a bad dude.”
Roy stuck his toothpick in his pocket, then popped one of the tater tots in his mouth and chewed on it doubtfully for a few seconds. “You guys gonna turn ‘im in?” His chewing stopped and he went over to the garbage can to spit the tater tot out.
I stabbed my spoon into the ice cream again. “Fernsby is. I apparently need my rest, so I’m just going to stay here while he heads over to have a showdown with Mansley by himself.”
“That stinks.” News commented, watching my spoon as I drilled it deeper into the container. “You helped too. He shouldn’t get all the fun.”
Roy blew a raspberry over the garbage, shaking his head. “And I don’t see why you still need to be cooped up here. I mean, your leg is in a cast, isn’t it? You’ve got crutches. There’s not a whole ton else they can do.”
They voiced my thoughts exactly. I twisted my mouth to the side and shrugged. “Well, the doctors make the rules around here and Fernsby’s just driving back to his house to get a gun before taking off. I’m stuck.” I bit a tiny bit more ice cream off the end of my spoon. “I mean, what else am I going to do? Break out?”
All three of us froze as the words left my lips.
I was talking to the guys who’d planned more prison breaks than birthday parties.
Bad News’s mouth twitched into a crooked smile. “We might be able to arrange something.”
I admit, when you think about it in comparison to prison, hospitals are a piece of cake to escape from. Crutches did make me a bit obvious, but I’d been told I could exercise anyway, so I had an excuse.
News had gone downstairs a few minutes ahead of Roy and me with the explanation that he needed to “get a few things ready”. He would see us in the lobby.
Roy insisted that I needed some sort of disguise, so I wore his sunglasses. I doubt it did any good besides to partially hide my probably guilty-looking face.
“There’s the elevator,” Roy hissed, grinning. “All a piece of cake from here. We’ve just got the waiting room to get through.”
It was my personal opinion that the waiting room was the prime location for getting caught. My being in the hall wasn’t suspicious because I was allowed to be there. If I wasn’t, we would have already been caught three times. But I hated to dampen his optimism, so I kept my mouth shut and whacked the elevator button.
We stood there for a few seconds and I fidgeted with my crutch handles.
A bell noise dinged and the doors slid open. Roy stepped in, spinning on the toe of his sneaker and nodding to me. I followed him into the small, antiseptic-smelling container.
“Heading into the final lap,” Roy announced gleefully as I hit the button for the ground floor.
“Shut up, Tucker.” The doors slid closed and I swallowed, feeling my heartbeat accelerate. My eyes stayed fixed on the metal of the doors. Shiny . . . closing me in like the shell around the bomb . . . My hands shook and I closed my eyes. I forced myself to breathe against the pressure in my chest.
I’d always had mild claustrophobia before, but I’d never had a problem with everyday things like elevators. This was much more intense. I guess going somewhere small and nearly getting blown to bits will do that to you.
I’m taking the stairs next time. I don’t care if I’m on crutches. I pushed the sunglasses up on my head and rubbed at my eyes.
Roy had never been particularly good at noticing if something was wrong, so he simply stood next to me, bouncing on the toes of his red sneakers and counting off the floors as we went down.
“Floor two . . .” he dragged out the last word slowly, holding it until the elevator chimed again. “And ground floor! Home stretch!”
The doors glided open and I could breathe again. I swung out as quickly as I could and just stood there for a few seconds, gulping in air and trying to stop my hands from shaking.
“Got the car right outside the door,” Bad News seemed to materialize next to me. I jumped at his words. He pulled at his tie and nodded out to the main waiting room area. “And Cardboard’s sitting in there.”
Roy came up next to us, twiddling the toothpick in his fingers. A grin still stretched across his face. “Man, this is the easiest place we’ve ever had to break you out of. Not even any guards.” His voice echoed down the shiny, fluorescent-lit hall.
News whacked the backside of Roy’s head with his hand, “Shut your pie-hole, Einstein. We’re not out yet.” He glanced over at me and frowned. “You doin’ okay? You look kind of pale.”
My heartbeat and breathing were just beginning to slow down, but I still felt shaky. I nodded, swallowing. “I’m f-fine. Let’s go.” I needed to get to Fernsby before he took off. I swung my crutches out in front of me and made my crippled way towards the waiting room.
Bad News walked beside me, accepting my statement without question. “So pretty much we just need to get through the waiting area without being noticed . . .”
“I’ll head out first,” Roy piped. He skidded around us and dashed out of sight around the corner. The automatic door was sliding shut as we rounded the corner after him and I saw him through the glass jumping into the driver’s seat of his car. He landed and gave us a thumbs-up.
Escape vehicle in place.
The lady behind the desk at least seemed distracted with some paperwork and didn’t notice us. Sunlight from outside came in through the windows, adding some natural light to the sterile environment.
All the chairs were empty except for one that held a tiny girl with frizzy hair and an orange hoodie, swinging her bare feet. She looked up at the sound of my approach and waved enthusiastically. “Hey, Wolfgang!”
I flinched. The lady at the desk looked up at my conspicuous name and glanced over in our direction. She frowned and tilted her head at me in concern.
“You don’t look well . . . do you need to sit down?”
Yes. In my getaway car. I swallowed.
Then footsteps and another voice from behind us. “Mr. Dankworth, where do you think you’re going?”
I turned slowly to see my warden in turquoise scrubs marching towards us.
I was screwed.
The sound of shattering glass split the air and I whirled. News stood next to the busted window, his fist in his fedora. He slapped his hat back on his head and gave a shrill whistle.
“What in . . .” the lady behind the counter was on her feet in an instant. “Sir, what do you think you’re . . .?”
Lucius shot through the glass with a squawk and she screamed.
“Five, ten, fifteen, twenty!” News belted out in his roaring baritone, “Twenty-five, thirty . . .” Cardboard picked up on the cue and joined in counting by fives, bouncing around on other chairs in the area. Lucius flapped around the room, targeting random flower vases and knocking them over.
Abby stood, frozen in shock, with her mouth hanging open.
I didn’t blame her. I wasn’t far off from that myself.
Bad News didn’t stop in his top-volume Schoolhouse Rock recitation, but gestured widely towards the door and gave me a shove in that direction that almost sent me off my crutches.
I snapped out of my dumb amazement. This was their distraction. The diversion so I could get away. Standing here gaping like a fish was wasting it.
I got a move on, swinging my crutches out far in front of me and making for the door as fast as I could. The glass sides slid apart and I heard the rumbling of Roy’s car engine. I barely caught myself as the rubber tips of the crutches snagged on the edge of the door.
My shoes hit on pavement. I was outside.
“Hey!” Abby’s voice was cut off as the doors slid shut.
I pulled the passenger side door open and got in, throwing my crutches in the back. “Go!”
Roy didn’t need a second prompting.
I’m pretty sure we set some sort of record with how fast we left that hospital.
I told Fernsby that I got an early release.
It was technically true. I’d just gotten it dishonestly.
He looked skeptical and I didn’t blame him. After our daring escape and a hair-raising, Roy-style car ride, I’ll admit I was a little shaky and more than a little lightheaded. And my paleness probably hadn’t improved since News’s remark on it before.
But I had a bit of a bargaining chip in the form of my “old Mr. Tom” mask that Roy had found back at the den. Fernsby was intrigued by that new aspect of my and Mansley’s meetings and didn’t take too much nudging to let me come after that.
We made pretty good time and soon a tall, college looking building loomed in front of us with the words “Superior Protective Intelligence- Hero Program Center” emblazoned across the front.
The disgust I felt as we drove up was for a different reason than on all of my other visits. It was like looking at a shiny apple that I knew had a giant, nasty worm eating away at the core.
Charles parked in one of the special spots painted with a Superman symbol. One of the few “reserved for superheroes” spots.
I put on my mask and we went in.
The hallways were a lot more crowded than the last time I’d visited. Everyone cleared out of Fernsby’s way, though. Whispers of the name “Amazing Man” buzzed in the air.
Old Mr. Tom hardly got the same reaction. I said hello to a couple of interns who recognized me . . . or, more accurately, recognized the mask . . . but for the main part I just followed in Fernsby’s wake of awe through the busy hallway.
Mansley’s secretary was on the phone when we entered.
“No, ma’am . . . yes, I’m sorry, Director Mansley’s not taking calls today. Would you like me to give him a message for you? . . . Alright, I’ll tell him. Thank you for calling.” She set down the phone and glanced over at us as she went to get a pen. “I’ll be with you in a moment.”
Then she did a double take, her brown eyes opening wide. “Mr. Fernsby, sir!”
Fernsby nodded and smiled at her, “Hello. I’d like to see Director Mansley personally, if it’s not too much trouble.”
“Why, yes . . . yes of course . . .” the girl flustered, tucking her somewhat tangled hair back behind her ears. “I mean, he said he didn’t want to see anyone, but I-I’m pretty sure that for Amazing Man he could make an exception . . . I assume it’s urgent?” I seemed to be totally invisible to her.
Charles nodded again, “Thank you. And yes, it’s quite urgent.”
She gestured towards the door. “Go ahead, sir. He’s been alone in there since early this morning.” As Fernsby passed, her gaze finally flicked over in my direction and she furrowed her brow in concern. “Why, Mr. Tom! What did you do to your leg?”
Roy had broken his leg once, so I just blurted out his explanation. “I . . . um . . . was bouncing on a trampoline and landed wrong.”
I’d always been horrible at playing the role of an old man. The girl’s face clearly showed that she was questioning Old Tom’s sanity.
I shuffled after Fernsby before she could call some assisted living home to come cart me away to where there were no trampolines for me to hurt myself on.
He’d left the door open, so I slipped in after him, shutting it behind me.
The office was empty. And not just a no-one’s-in sort of empty. More like a no-one’s-planning-on-coming-back sort of empty. All the neat stacks of papers were cleared off the desk. The paperweights and desk lamp were gone. The pictures were off the walls. The books were off the shelf.
Fernsby stood in the middle of the room, taking everything in. He stuck his tongue in his cheek and shook his head. “He saw us coming. We missed him.”
I was quiet for a second. “Maybe not.” I swung over to the familiar old blue file cabinet in the corner and pulled open the middle drawer. It wasn’t as full of papers as it had been, but there were still a few file folders. I stuck my un-casted hand in each of them, feeling along the bottom. My fingers hit the edge of a small, plastic box.
“Bingo.” I pulled the box out and held down the red button. There was a familiar buzzing noise and I smiled.
Charles frowned. “What was that?”
“A lock.” I thumped my way over to the bookshelf. The mask was getting itchy, so I pulled it off before bending down to run my finger along the edge of the wood against the wall. I felt a scratch in the paint and pressed my fingertip down.
Hinges squeaked and the secret door swung open.
Charles blinked and stared.
I nodded, “Yeah, I know.” With a deep breath, I ducked into the hidden passageway and flipped the light switch, gesturing for him to follow. “Down here was where we had the bomb construction going on and all. I don’t think anyone else even knows about it.”
Fernsby swallowed his shock and followed me, “Probably a safe bet. Also a definite indicator that his commitment to this scam is higher than I originally thought.” His hand brushed the bulge at his hip. He reached to shut the bookshelf door.
Panic tightened my chest as he started to pull it closed and I gripped onto his arm. “Don’t.” He looked over at me and I tried to come up with a more reasonable explanation than “this tiny, enclosed hallway is already giving me the willies and if you shut that I’m probably going to throw up”. I swallowed.
“It . . . it locks behind you. If the other door is bolted, we’ll have no way to get back out.”
Fernsby nodded in understanding and let go of the door.
We made our way down the long hallway as it descended deeper and deeper into the building. My chest got tighter as we descended, but I argued with myself enough to keep from making it too obvious. Still, my crutches rattled from my shaking hands.
Finally, the door at the end came into view. A tiny beam of yellow light fell in a strip over the wall and floor, coming from the slight opening between the door and its frame.
I swallowed and managed to breathe a bit easier as I pushed the door open the rest of the way and stepped into the room.
I’d remembered it as almost a garage before. Lots of tools, papers and random things lying around. But I barely recognized this place. Totally scoured from anything that had been here before. Scarily clean.
Fernsby stepped in behind me and looked around.
I shook my head, my eyes resting on the corner where the bomb had stood. “He’s clearing out. Removing any evidence,” I muttered.
Charles stepped out further into the room, starting towards a white door in the corner. I followed.
“He could still be here,” he said to me, his voice low. He slipped his gun out and held it by his side as he turned the doorknob. It opened into an office looking area with a walnut desk, a leather chair and a small fireplace grate. No papers sitting around. The file cabinet drawers were all open.
He’d gutted this place too.
Fernsby zeroed in on another door and opened it, holding his pistol at the ready. It opened into a dark stairway that led upwards. An escape route.
Fernsby looked back at me . . . well, at my crutches. He frowned, clearly not getting a very safe-looking mental image of me going up those stairs.
“It’s fine. I’ll stay here.” I assured him. “He might still be hanging around, so I’ll . . . stand guard.”
He nodded and dashed off up the stairs and into the black.
I tilted my head and looked after him for as long as I could, then looked over the room again. Quite extravagant for only a part-time office. Maybe this was his reading room, too. Maybe he worked out all his super complicated, double sided plans down here and needed a more comfortable chair.
A fireplace still seems over the top, though. Really. I glanced over at it and realized that it was still smoldering. My breath caught in my throat.
If he was taking off . . . destroying evidence . . .
I hobbled my way over there, set my crutches to the side and went down to look closer at the smoking, mostly-burnt papers. A few documents that I couldn’t make out anything but the heading saying it was to Mansley. And then a couple blueprints. Mostly too splotchy and burnt for me to make out much . . .
Then my eye caught a familiar shape on one of the blueprints. The giant, bullet-shaped bomb housing, diagramed out from every angle.
I grabbed it by one corner and pulled it out onto the floor in front of me to look at it. The plans for my bomb . . . I don’t remember seeing these . . . I frowned and looked at a few of the notes in the corners. My gaze froze on the date.
Two months before the Twin Bombs.
But they said it was an unknown terrorist organization . . . that’s what all the news reports said. They’d never been able to track them. The bombs were a mystery . . . they had just happened.
I had blamed Amazing Man for not stopping it . . . for not doing his job. Everyone had blamed Amazing Man. Even Charles Fernsby.
But if Mansley had the plans . . . if Mansley built the bombs . . .
I was still staring at that when Fernsby came staggering back down the stairs, huffing and puffing like the big bad wolf with asthma. I looked up at him, trying to formulate the questions in my mind.
He shook his head, leaning up against the wall. “He’s . . . gone. We missed him. He took off. Took everything.”
“Not . . . everything,“ I swallowed, finding it hard to get my voice to work.
Charles looked up at me and leaned forwards. “Wh-what? What did you find?”
I held up the singed, half-blueprint. It wavered in my shaking hand. “I found the Twin Bomb culprit.”
-shocked gasp- -from most of you- -there were a few that saw that coming-
But yep, I’ll be back on Thursday with another part.
See you guys then!