|The One Who Answers
Author: TrenchcoatsAreSexy PM
Who was Gale Boetticher, really?Rated: Fiction T - English - Words: 3,424 - Reviews: 3 - Favs: 1 - Published: 01-13-12 - Status: Complete - id: 7738204
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The One Who Answers
"G-A-L-E! He's our VIP!" a strawberry blonde girl exclaims as she jumps up out of the bus seat and does an impromptu cheerleading move, grinning wildly.
"Stop it, Gina," her brother, the 16-year-old Gale Boetticher, protests as he blushes furiously. "And it's 'MVP', anyway."
"MVP, VIP – whatever," Gina retorts. They're on their way to a meet for Hi-Q, a quiz competition team on which both are members. Gale, however, is the shoo-in for All-Delco Hi-Q, an expert in both Science and Literature, whereas Gina is an occasional competition team member who joined more for moral support. She's only 14 and, while wildly different from her brother, she looks up to Gale tremendously.
"Don't be so modest, Gale," Emily, a sophomore girl, chimes in. "The only reason we've even managed to score any points at all this year is because you've been on the team. Hey, so where are you off to next year again?"
"University of New Mexico," Gale tells her. "I got offered a special scholarship."
"Is it called the 'You're a Freaking Genius Scholarship'?" Gina teases. "Because it really ought to be. Why are you so smart, Gale? How did all that brain go into you – and none into me?"
"Those genes went to other places," a junior named Kevin chimes in. "Gale's got a big head, whereas you've got…" Gina shrieks and tosses her notebook at him.
"You're gross! Gross!" she accuses.
"It's called the Maximo Arciniega Scholarship," Gale tells Gina.
"Who's Maximo – whatever that last name was?" Emily inquires. Gale shrugs.
"I don't know. It's offered by some big businessman out in New Mexico. He owns this huge chain of chicken stores."
"Is it better than Popeye's?" Emily asks.
"I don't know – I don't eat chicken," Gale reminds them, and Emily smirks.
"Oh, I forgot – Gale doesn't eat anything with a face," she teases.
"When you put it like that," Gina chimes in, "Neither would I."
Gale's roommate at UNM is a partier by the name of David. The two men rarely see each other, as David spends his nights out on the "town" and Gale spends them locked up in the 24-hour school library, leafing through textbooks on Organic, Inorganic and Physical Chemistry.
At some point, he decides he likes Organic best, but there's no one to tell this revelation too. He gets along well with everyone he encounters but has no close friends, no girlfriend. He flies back home to Pennsylvania to spend holidays with his sister and his beaming parents. On the planes, he dog-ears travel books with pages of places he'd like to go after he graduates – Belize, Bermuda, Thailand, Egypt – the more exotic the better but really, he'd just like to go anywhere at all.
He dreams of not being tied down, just being able to go anywhere he likes. There's something about New Mexico that he finds exotic, in all of its wide open spaces, but he wants to see still more.
In his senior year, he receives a call from his mysterious benefactor, Mr. Gus Fring, creator of the Max Arciniega Scholarship.
"I'd like to offer you a job."
"I'm not ready to be tied down just yet," Gale replies, "I still have more to do – I want to travel first, then get my Ph.D. But… thank you for the offer."
"Gale, I would recommend that you keep my number… in mind," the voice on the other end tells him cryptically before hanging up.
Gale puts the conversation out of his mind.
Gale graduates with his bachelor's degree, and he then proceeds to try and travel the world. If he could do just that, he would – arrange a huge map of the whole globe on his wall and poke it with thumbtacks to indicate where he's been, not stopping until the poster is completely covered. But he has to stop sometime, and he stops when he's found that his money has run out.
In the meantime he's sung karaoke in Thai bars, found himself entered in mountain climbing competitions, and walked a thousand staircases and flown into a million lit up, beautiful cities.
He decides that that's well enough for now.
He applies to Overbrook University, back "home" in New Mexico, to work for a famed organic chemist named Dr. Lucas Escobar.
Dr. Escobar is excited with Gale's qualifications and puts him to work on a number of projects; before the year is done he can proudly point to "Boetticher, G." on a handful of publications in well-regarded, peer review journals.
But the high of seeing his name in print wears off quickly, and Gale always darts back to the lab. He's more thrilled to watch the chemicals change colors, from dull grays to florescent pinks, even if he doesn't know quite yet how the pieces will come together to form a whole. He's simply delighted to be able to learn.
He thinks his life can't get any better when he walks across the stage with his Master's in hand, but only days later everything comes crashing down upon him, leaving him to scramble for the pieces like everyone's been playing a game of Jenga but no one bothered to let him know until one block hit him on the head.
He walks in, as he does every day, and after a few moments standing outside of Dr. Escobar's door, inquires of May, the pretty blonde secretary, if she's seen him.
"Dr. Escobar is on leave," she replies shortly.
"On leave where?"
"But I have to do my work, I…"
"He's on leave," May says shortly. "That's all I can tell you, Gale. Go talk to the chair of the department."
Gale proceeds to do so, walks in and asks as politely as he can what's happened to Dr. Escobar and when he is coming back.
"Dr. Escobar is done here," is all the chair, a broad-shouldered woman with stringy gray hair and a perpetual scowl, will tell him.
The next day, Gale has to give a presentation. He stands up tall, knowing he knows what he's talking about, full of information about oxidation states and reaction times. He can't help but flinch, though, when every other research student for every other advisor raises their hand and asks him to retrace his steps. He sees them talk behind their hands, whisper things about him.
He finishes the presentation but then he throws down his folder.
"If Dr. Escobar's done here, then I am too," he declares, before walking to the back of the lecture hall.
He can still hear them whispering as he walks out the door.
Gale gets a job working in an office supply and computer store. He works in the technology department, fixing people's computers with a friendly smile as he tells them important facts such as that they cannot delete the operating system and still expect the computer to work, and if certain sites give them viruses, they should really stop frequenting those sites or get an anti-virus program.
He doesn't mind the computers, enjoys the work – but doesn't like the people. The clientele are stuck-up by Gale's standards and stupid by the standards of his co-workers.
It doesn't help that many customers call asking for "the tech, some girl named Gale apparently."
He works there seven years, off and on, with spurts in between where he's a computer chemistry tutor, an adjunct at an online university, a peer reviewer for a couple journals, and a travel photographer.
His fingers linger on the phone more than once as he considers transplanting himself up to Pennsylvania and seeing if he can do research at Swarthmore University, where Dr. Escobar left Overbrook to work. But he can't bring himself to call.
Nor has he forgotten the number left by the mysterious and not quite so mysterious (after all, he's on the TV every five minutes promoting that fried chicken place) Gus Fring.
One day, a customer walks in, wags her finger in Gale's face, tells him he doesn't know what he is doing and is a queer besides (one who needs to take a bath, she adds as she tosses the paperwork in his face). Gale simply stands, looking at the woman and wondering what he was thinking when he went into retail.
As he's standing, the phone next to him rings – "Technology Associate, you have calls holding," the recorded message announces.
He hits the button to pick up, puts the phone to his ear.
"Hello, thanks for calling the Tech Department. This is Gale, how may I help you?"
"Hi, Gale, do you suck dicks?"
Gale hangs up, his face flushing, as he swallows down a sob.
That night he dials Gus Fring's number.
The next night he's invited to the man's house.
"I run a peculiar business, Gale," Gus tells him, limber brown fingers clasped together as he watches Gale eat. "Are you good at… keeping this business discreet, were I to involve you in it?"
"Well, I would like to say yes, but I don't know what it is, yet."
"I would like to offer you a salary of $3 million for three months, to begin. All of the equipment that you would need to be up and running. A more than modest living expense."
"Yes, I can keep my mouth shut… as long as it isn't… a hit man business or something like that," Gale replies quickly.
"Let me cut to the chase. This position involves the manufacture of methamphetamine, Gale."
The words run over in Gale's head, and he tries to consider what they mean. He's never been someone with any experience with drugs rather than the occasional drink (well, and okay, he's smoked marijuana on a post-college trip to Amsterdam).
"…I suppose I could… come to terms with that," he says finally. It's not as if he'd be pushing the stuff, just making it. And Gale has the skills to make sure the stuff is, well, as safe as it's going to get. It'd be like working in pharmaceuticals.
Gus extends his hand.
"I'm delighted to have you," he says, and Gale's heart swings on the parallel bars as he hears the words.
"The pleasure's all mine."
The first time Gale hears the name "Walter White", he conjures up an image of him. He's fantastically talented of course, but what does he look like? Regal and kind of majestic, Gale figures, though the name doesn't really represent it. He can't wait to meet him, actually counts down the days. Paints a picture in his mind of how impressed this man will be, this man who can make product of this purity.
Then he meets Walt, and the feeling goes from admiration to something deeper. After all, he admired Lucas Escobar, but he didn't feel… this way, about him.
Walter White makes his pulse race, makes his heart beat faster, makes his palms sweat like he's a teenage boy with a crush.
Which might be what it is, because he's never felt this way about anyone else. There's no way to breach the topic, however – Gale wouldn't dare. He simply tries to be the perfect assistant, perfect ying to Walt's yang and hopes that he gets it. He thanks Gus Fring in his head every moment for giving him this chance, this opportunity to touch greatness and hopefully have it rub off on him.
He's so glad that he made that call.
When Walt fires him, his first thought is that it must be a joke. Ha, ha – yeah, there had been that error (that error he was almost certain he hadn't made, but now he's thinking maybe he did screw up, maybe he's just not up to the task), but that couldn't really be firing material – could it?
And Walt's little talk about how he's like classical and Gale is like jazz. What did that even mean? And Walt's new little partner – who looks like he didn't even pass high school, he's more Walt's… type?
Gale doesn't know whether to be angry or hurt or just confused. He finds himself feeling so much of the latter two that he can't find it in himself to be angry. Or maybe he just admires the man too much to be bitter.
Gus Fring leaves messages on Gale's voicemail, but Gale isn't ready to answer them, not yet. Instead he just sits in front of the TV, an episode of How I Met Your Mother flickering across the screen listlessly, his lonely apartment echoing all of the questions he has – why him? Why always him? Why does he always get the short end of the stick?
Maybe it's finally time to pick up and move. Maybe it's time to go ahead and call Lucas Escobar.
Something makes him stay, however.
Two days later, he returns Gus' calls.
"Gale, I must say again that I am very sorry about all of this. If you're willing to stick around, I am certainly willing to keep you on payroll. I don't understand, honestly, what is currently going on with Walter White, but as soon as all of this is ironed out, I will be sure to let you know."
Gale's not sure if he wants to leave or stay, but something tells him that he doesn't have much of a choice. Something in Gus' tone tells him this isn't an option but an order.
So he agrees.
"Sure, I'm not going anywhere," he replies amiably. "I hope everything works out." He swallows as he hangs up. The addition of Walter White makes this whole situation so very real, so very… dangerous, now. He finds himself worried for the life of his young replacement and feels pity and concern where there was formerly only hurt and a bit of contempt for someone who obviously didn't have the same background and skill set that he had spent so long developing.
There had been something more, though, something between Walt and this young man…
And Gale knows that if anything happens to him, Walt will be broken for life.
He considers leaving, making his replacement less expendable.
But he doesn't know where he would go.
He tries calling Lucas Escobar, but hangs up on the second ring. What would he tell him, anyway? That he is working for a meth lab and needs a new appointment, one that helps him sleep better at night? That up until now, up until this ominous phone call, that he'd been sleeping just fine actually?
And there is the undeniable realization that underneath all of it, he wants the job. Wants the lab. He doesn't want to teach, doesn't want to deal with university politics and tenure committees. He knows he'd never fit in with the "coffee klatch crowd", probably even less than Dr. Escobar had.
And so he stays.
It must be a week or two, if that, of sitting on his hands and wondering what's going on before he gets the call from Gus that he is being rehired.
When he sees Walt again, he knows that he's not wanted, but tries desperately to make his presence a positive rather than a negative. But it's hard to do that when Gus' man's eyes are on him every second, almost leering over him, as if any second he is going to swoop in and kill them both, rip them both apart.
When Gale questions Walt about it, the other man's answers are evasive. He cannot ask the question that plagues his mind as he thinks of the young man he saw only briefly, not much older than a high school boy: Is the man I replaced alive? Did you kill him? Did Gus?
And more than that: What exactly have I gotten myself into?
His doubts only rise when Gus arrives at his home unannounced.
The explanation seems simple: Walter White is suffering from terminal lung cancer. He is not aware of his own mortality.
Gale hears an implicit threat in the explanation and finds himself wondering if it's really cancer that Walter needs to be afraid of, or Gus.
His services are requested in learning Walt's formula and learning it now. Gus is insistent. Gale agrees to learn it.
Maybe he'll learn it but just not let on how much he knows. He's suspicious – maybe Gus' explanation is correct, but there seems to be much more to it than that. He cannot ask Walt what's true because that man, Gus' man, is always around – Gale has to at least pretend to learn the formula or else he'll be a target as well.
He's between a rock and a hard place, between oil and water.
If he has enough time, he can figure it all out – work it all out, get he and Walt out. He just needs time.
He wonders if that was Walt's new partner's plan. He wonders if he ever got to try it. Whether the young man has family who are out looking for him, not knowing that he had gotten mixed up in this whole business. Whether Walt ever told this boy to just go on home already.
I know what I'm getting into. I should be there, not him. I wonder if there's any chance he's still alive.
Gale's forgotten about his plan temporarily when the doorbell rings.
Maybe it's Gus again. With more plans, to find out whether he's learned the formula or not.
Better play it cool.
His cell phone is in the corner of the room, out of view, and he doesn't hear it vibrating. He had the kettle on, making some tea, and he had just gotten off the phone with his sister, Gina. He told her he was fine. He was happy. Everything was going great. He had a new job – at least that was only partially a lie.
"I love you, Gina," he'd said before he had hung up.
Now, he walks to the door and opens it, prepared to be faced with Gus, but not with who he actually sees.
Back from the dead is his first thought. He lives.
The young man, whose name he still doesn't know, pulls a gun and Gale does not understand.
He blinks and he wonders whose doing this is, because the man's eyes are not filled with hatred or pain or fear – maybe this would make more sense if it were a disgruntled former employee, shoved out by Gale after replacing him. But he knows it is not that, and maybe that's more frightening. This man is not here of his own free will and the thought that occurs to Gale is that Gus is behind this.
I didn't do a good enough job and now Gus is behind this.
Maybe this man can be swayed, and Gale tries to think fast, offers money, offers anything he wants – he thinks hysterically of a dramatization he saw on America's Most Wanted where a man who was being threatened at gunpoint by two female hitchhikers pleaded, "You can take my wallet, my car, just don't take my…" and he was cut off with a gunshot before he could say, "Life."
People don't really talk like that, Gale thinks. He wonders if he could turn and make a break for it, but his legs won't move and so he only stares. Stares and pleads.
"Please don't do this. You don't have to do this."
But he knows somehow that he really does.
In the split-second between the gun firing and everything going black, Gale's last thought is, How did we get here?