WYWH, Chapter 15: All Good Things Must Come to an End
Alan, still hunched on the passenger-side floorboard of the car, cautiously lifted the blanket far enough to look at his watch in the moonlight. Charlie was starting to toss and turn on the back seat, moaning, and Don said Alan should get them both out of there at 12:30, if they weren't back. He saw that it was a little past that now, so he tossed the blanket aside and began extricating himself from the floor of the car. He wished again that he had his cell phone. Don's, Charlie's and Oswald's had all been confiscated, of course, and on the way to the warehouse Colby had discovered that his battery had run down, so Alan had given his up, unwilling to send them inside without anything. He wondered, suddenly, if they still made phone booths. His plan had been to drive to the first one he saw, but he couldn't really remember seeing one since the 1990s.
Charlie emitted another moan as Alan practically fell out the passenger door and made his way in an arthritic crab-walk to the back of the car to check on him. If he couldn't find a phone booth, he decided, he would just stop at the first open business he could find. A convenience store, or something.
Before Alan reached the back of the vehicle, the warehouse door opened, spilling out the two federal agents and Oswald. Colby was supporting Don with one hand and holding Alan's cell up to his ear with the other. Oswald walked a little ahead of them. The young man's eyes lit on Alan standing by the car, and he broke into a run. By the time he reached the borrowed sedan, Charlie had roused enough to find the blankets over his face. He tried to fight them off. "Dad!", he yelled, half delirious. "Don! Save yourselves! It's in the mushrooms! They've turned!"
Alan, who had greeting Oswald with a warm hug the likes of which he'd never experienced before – but found himself enjoying – released him quickly and yanked open the door so he could get to Charlie. "Old nightmare," he said. "He's had this one for years."
As rapidly as he could, Alan peeled back the blanket, and one of the coats that Charlie had managed in his struggle to pull over his face, and grabbed his son's arms. "Sshhh, Charlie, calm down. Calm down, son, you're all right. You're all right, there are no mushrooms."
Charlie blinked up at him in a haze. The nightmare faded to be replaced by an even more frightening reality, and he started to struggle again, terror showing in his eyes. "Don. Cold. Help Don. Find Oswald. P-P-P-Penfield…"
Alan continued to speak in a calming, assured voice. "Everyone's fine now, Charlie, Don's coming. Colby's bringing him. He's all right." He glanced up at Oswald, who had rounded the car and crawled in on the other side. "Oswald is right here, Charlie."
Charlie's protégé hovered over the professor and grinned proudly. "Hey, dude. Colby let me cuff someone, and I held a gun, and…and…man, I never got to tell you about this little redhead I met at Hardrock! Awesome, dude!"
Ambulances had arrived before Chicago's finest. Both Don and Charlie were receiving examinations and treatments in their lighted interiors, doors open, while Alan wore himself out traveling between the two. He spent a considerable amount of time convincing Don to let the paramedics do their job. He was frantic to get to his brother, and fought them every inch of the way. Oswald stayed with Charlie, and Colby helped Alan restrain Don until the police finally showed up.
A patrol unit responding to the call and the detectives assigned to Charlie's case arrived at the same time. Not bothering to hide his disgust, Colby sauntered up to the cars. "FBI, Granger," he said, holding up his ID and badge. "Had a little time on my hands so I thought I'd solve the case for you," he deadpanned. "Dr. Eppes was kidnapped by a long-time academic rival, who was after some new research the Dr. is about to publish. His brother and Oswald Kittner were taken by the same men when they got too close for comfort. I've got the guys on ice inside for you; one if them has a gunshot wound."
The rotund detective had spent half the day being reamed out by his Captain and threatened with demotion, He was still sweating in the cool night air, and he sneered at Colby. "That's ridiculous. One smart guy goes after another, for a paper? And you discharged your weapon, Agent? You may be facing charges yourself!"
Even the patrolmen looked at him as if he'd lost his mind. "I plugged him in the shoulder in self-defense," growled Granger, "and I have witnesses." He advanced on the man. "Now when I flatten your ass right here with my fists, that may be prosecutable."
Colby looked as if he just might do it, too, so the other detective, tossing a "shut-up" look at his partner, stepped between them. Another patrol car had arrived. "I think you'd better take us inside," he suggested.
Once inside, Colby told them how Oswald had escaped, found himself and Alan, and brought them back to the warehouse. He further noted how the young statistician was able to crack the code on the freezer's timelock. One of the patrolmen issued a low, appreciative whistle. "Damn. I was helping on a case down here in these warehouses a couple of weeks ago. Same thing, remember? Kidnapping, vic in a freezer. Poor bastard died because we never could break the code. Had to wait for the timelock…" His voice faded out at the end and he looked nervously at his partner. He could tell from the looks of the detectives that he was in deep excrement. He swallowed, and wondered vaguely if you could be busted beneath "patrol officer" in the Chicago PD. Meter maid?
Colby, who had been entering the combination into the lock, stopped suddenly and looked down. Despite the watchful eyes of the officers, in a blur of motion he had slammed the sweaty detective back against the wall of the freezer before they could stop him. His elbow to the man's throat was effectively cutting off his air. "Your last vic was found down here and the first thing you did was NOT have this area thoroughly searched?" He was yelling by the end, and pressed harder on the man's neck. "That was a DRY RUN, you idiots, a DRESS REHEARSAL!"
The detective sagged and gagged and as quickly as he had pinned him there, Colby released the pressure and moved back to the lock. The detective was too large for the other officers to keep him from plopping to the floor, but at least they slowed down his descent, a little.
After clearing the keypad, Colby started entering the combination again. When next he spoke, his voice was completely level, and calm, again – yet all the more threatening because of it. "I will not just have your badges," he said conversationally, as if talking about the weather. "Your incompetence endangered the life of a consultant for the FBI, the NSA, the CDC, the FAA and more letters of the alphabet than you probably know between you. He also just happens to be a friend of mine, and the brother of another federal agent." The lock clicked and he stepped back, allowing the officers to take over. "As a veteran of Afghanistan and a federal agent myself, I promise you that when this is over – you will be sharing a cell with Penfield."
The parade that exited the warehouse was subdued. Visions of being a cop in prison dancing through their heads, the officers were trying to do everything right, from here on out. Working at McDonald's might not be so bad – as long as they were still on the outside. To cover all their bases, they had read Penfield and his henchmen their rights again, inside the warehouse. Outside, they stopped a few feet from the first ambulance. An EMT hopped out, performed a quick examination, and signed a form that said no injuries were life-threatening, and the suspects could be transported via police unit to Cook County General Hospital.
The officers started to herd them toward the vehicles when Marshall figured out one of the ambulances wasn't for him. "I demad bedical addenshun!", he whined loudly. "I hab a broden dose!"
Alan, who had been watching silently from his position between the ambulances, stepped forward a little and yelled. He had been told that it was Penfield, but until he actually saw him, he couldn't believe it. He had met Marshall way back when Charlie was only a sophomore at Princeton, when Alan had visited him and Margaret. He continued to hear his name periodically, over the years. This was nothing short of insane.
"HEY! Both of my sons are injured worse than you are! Charlie…" his voice almost broke, but he went on anyway. "Why did you do that much damage to my son?", he asked, genuinely confused.
Marshall sneered at him as the police dragged him toward their cars. "Your son stole my life from me! I was supposed to have everything he ended up with! He had to take it all for himself! He should have left me alone, he should have let me have my share! HE STOLE EVERYTHING, he ruined my life!"
Alan took another step and was about to break into a jog, so that he could kill Penfield himself, but Colby managed to grab an arm and stop him. He moved protectively in front of Alan while Penfield continued to sputter as he was being placed in the back of a patrol car. "No, Marshall,"Colby said, smiling grimly after him. "No, you're a real genius. You managed to ruin your own life."
Several hours later, Oswald had been treated and released, but was still hanging out at the hospital with Colby. Both Don and Charlie had been admitted; Don for 24-hour observation, against his protests. He had finally stopped giving everyone hell and trying to get out of bed and find his clothes, when they wheeled Charlie's bed into the same room, Alan following.
Don looked at Charlie's closed eyes anxiously. "Is he all right? Is he still unconscious? Did anything fall off because of frostbite?"
Alan threw Don a sharp look. "I assure you, your brother is in one piece. Lower your voice, he's just sleeping. They had to stitch up some things, and set his fingers, and run some warm saline for a while to get his body temperature back up." Alan indicated the IV pole attached to Charlie's bed. "That's just your regular antibiotic-cocktail IV, now. They won't give him much for pain, because they don't know for sure what drug he was given." He caught a glimpse of Don's taped ribs under the flimsy hospital gown and frowned. "How are you?"
Don grimaced. "I'm good. I'm only staying here overnight – to keep Charlie company,"
Alan smiled knowingly and moved toward a visitor's chair in-between the two beds. The door opened again, admitting Colby and Oswald, each carrying a paper bag. "Good news, bad news," Granger started. "Cafeteria is open 24 hours, but all we could find was some sandwiches. Hope turkey is all-right." He reached in the bag, drew one out and tossed it at Don. He grunted as he lifted a hand to catch it, and Colby reddened a little, crossing to sit on the end of his bed. "Sorry. Forgot about the ribs."
Don just stared at him balefully while he began to unwrap the sandwich. Oswald advanced, handed Alan a paper cup of coffee, reached into his bag and withdrew another sandwich, offering it to Alan. "Here ya go, Mr. Eppes."
Alan accepted gratefully, suddenly unable to recall when he had last eaten. It might have been on the airplane. He smiled up at the young man. "Oswald, please. I've asked you to call me Alan."
Oswald smiled shyly and looked around for a place to sit. He finally spied another chair near the closet, and he dragged it as quietly as he could into the circle, so that he could see Charlie.
"Mmwphf," offered Colby, trying to talk around a full mouth. He swallowed, took a hit off his soda and started again. "Os, I talked to Megan. She's putting you in for a citizen's commendation. I'm not supposed to tell you this part, but she's planning a surprise party already for after the ceremony."
The Eppes men smiled, but Oswald looked a little overwhelmed. His own sandwich lay untouched on his lap, and he reddened in sudden embarrassment. "Oh, geez. Wow. Man, she shouldn't do all that. I was only trying to help Charlie. I wouldn't know what to do, at a party."
Alan watched him carefully. "What would you do at any other party, Oswald? A birthday party, say?"
Oswald shrugged. "Never had one, so I don't know. Grams wasn't much into that sort of thing."
Alan's eyes widened a little, but he kept his voice under control. "You've never had a party? Of any kind?"
Oswald grinned, suddenly remembering. "Me and my buddies, we always have chips and beer when we watch the Superbowl together. Is that a party?"
Colby smiled into his turkey. They were so going to make this a righteous party, for Oswald.
Charlie shifted on the bed and moaned lowly. Alan was up in a shot, almost spilling his coffee. He set his meal down and grabbed a cup of ice chips. He smoothed Charlie's hair and spooned some chips into his mouth. "Take it easy, son. It's all over now, you're safe. Everybody is safe." Oswald had left his chair and was hovering on the other side of Charlie's bed. Alan saw him out of his peripheral vision. He continued to smooth Charlie's hair. "See, son, Oswald is right here. And Don is just a few feet away. Even Colby is here!"
Charlie's half-mast eyes blinked a few times and finally focused, first on his father, and then Oswald. His swollen, cut lip made talking difficult, but he tried. "Dad...Os'wad…" His eyes rolled a little. He was obviously a little loopy from whatever they had given him. "Os'wad, didja 'njy the math conf'rnc?"
"Dude," answered Oswald, while the others chuckled a little, "I had no idea math could get me kidnapped, almost killed and then help me bust the bad guy!" He grinned again, widely. "It was awesome, man!"
Colby laughed outright, then, and Don would have joined him if his ribs hadn't protested. Alan smiled and remained the voice of reason. "Oswald, I'm not sure this was a typical math conference…"
Oswald nodded, and turned a little red, again. "Yeah. Still." He looked back at Charlie, who was almost asleep again. "Still, dude, I've been thinking about all you've said to me, and the time you're spent with me." His eyes scanned the room and then landed back on Charlie. "I appreciate everything, man, really…and…and I was wondering…."
His voice faded off and Charlie managed to open his eyes a little wider to search his young friend's face. "Wha?", he croaked.
"Is it too late for me to apply? For CalSci, I mean. That special admittance program you're always going on about."
Charlie tried to smile, which proved impossible. He was quickly losing the battle with sleep, too, and he moved his eyes to his father's. "Don' le'im outta yer sid," he instructed, just before he was finally pulled under again.
A/N: Hope you enjoyed our long-awaited debut!