By Fern Driscoll
Please see Chapter 1 for disclaimers and contact information
Chapter 7 Plumber's Helper
Special Note/Disclaimer for Chapter 7: Due to circumstances beyond their control (namely, the plot), Fred and Ethel will not be appearing in this Chapter. For those who still wish to read on: this Chapter contains explicit use of plumbing terms.
Cam sat, the picture of dejection, on a large rock at the end of a seawall, at which the nondescript street had dead-ended. Her now-useless cell phone dangled from one hand, and from the expression on her face, she appeared to be considering flinging the ineffective device into the roiling waters beating against the rocks. After a few moments, however, she roused herself with a visible effort, tucked the phone back inside her now-soaked shoulder bag, and rummaged for a moment. Fishing out her Palm Pilot, Cam quickly jotted down two cryptic notes: "307 Knotty Pine Way", and "MSX 459 blue van". She then looked up a phone number, repeated it to herself two or three times as she wiped the drops of rain from her Palm, and sighed an apprehensive sigh.
Cam looked down at herself. As one endowed with an innate fashion sense, her current appearance caused her pain. She was dressed in wet, muddy green hospital scrubs, and one loafer that had been through more than could be reasonably expected of business wear. The other foot was encased in a cracked, wet, and not very effective fiberglass cast. In addition, a very real ache emanated from her ankle. She had not exactly been following the doctor's orders. Cam thought back over the last 24 hours, as she painfully
got to her feet and prepared to continue her journey. . .
Cam made herself as comfortable as possible in the Navy van as she was driven away from the hospital. She wanted to prop her casted foot up on the dashboard, but, glancing at Chief Rowan's serious profile, thought better of it. Better not scuff up the taxpayer's property, she thought. Wonder how far this Station is - I'd like to get settled and then maybe give Kate a call, this as she rummaged in her bag for the card Kate had given her to make sure she had her numbers. Sucks not having any pockets. I wonder what doctors do with all their stuff? Cam was wearing a set of green scrubs, with "St. Anne's Regional Hospital" emblazoned on the front. The shirt sported one small pocket, and the pants had none. Her own ensemble had been rendered unfit to wear either by virtue of smoke and water damage or being cut to pieces, so her nurse had provided her with a pilfered set of scrubs until Cam once again had access to her wardrobe.
Taking another peek at her escort, Cam's natural curiosity got the better of her. She framed several questions in her mind before asking, "So, Chief Rowan, I really appreciate you all accommodating me like this. Does this mean I'm going to be able to meet with Captain Lake today?" The taciturn driver gave a quick look in her direction, then abruptly began to rummage in his side pocket. Cam looked at him quizzically, and had just opened her mouth to repeat her questions, when he half turned towards her, and, taking his eyes off the road for a moment, punched her in the arm. Cam's eyes widened in indignation and surprise for a moment, then slowly closed as her head rolled against the window with a soft 'thunk'. The Petty Officer withdrew a small hypodermic from her arm and casually tossed it out the window, then stepped on the accelerator as the van passed the Naval Air Station's main entrance.
"Hey! One of you all c'mon and help me get her outta the van!" Rowan shouted through the kitchen door of the characterless bungalow. The van was partially sheltered by a small carport, but still visible to the street. From within the house, one of three identically dressed men came to the door, peered furtively out, and, grabbing the hem of his brown monk's robe, ran around to the driver's side of the vehicle.
"You pull and I'll push," he directed.
Rowan gave him a disgusted look. "Never mind, I think I can handle her, she's pretty small. . . just stand over there and keep the door open." He then heaved Cam's limp form over his shoulder, and brushed past the ersatz cleric.
Once in the small kitchen, Cam's captor stood for a moment, appearing to consider where to deposit her. He settled on laying her (none too gently) on a scruffy couch in the adjoining den. Two other men, dressed similarly to the brown-robed helper, rose from where they had been seated at the kitchen table and followed Rowan into the other room. All four men contemplated the unconscious form. Finally, the larger of the two men who had been sitting in the kitchen moved forward and leaned over until he was within inches of Cam's face. He studied her for a moment, then reached into a pocket in his robe and removed a small semi-automatic pistol.
"Hey, wait a minute there, Gabriel, I'm not in this for no murder charge!" Rowan took a few steps back towards the door, seemingly intent on fleeing the soon-to-be murder scene.
"Please calm yourself, Brother. I simply mean to take precautions. Brother Matthew, come forward and prod her a bit. We need to make sure she is truly sedated before we move her to the secure area."
Brother Matthew, Rowan's erstwhile helper, inched over to the sofa and gave a tentative push to Cam's shoulder. A faint sound of protest escaped her lips, although she remained limp. Brother Matthew gave her another, more forceful jostle, which caused her head to flop back on the sofa arm, but otherwise had no visible effect on the captive.
"Yes, she does indeed seem to be properly tranquilized. Brother Paul, please assist Brother Matthew. Take her into the bathroom and make sure she is attached to one of the fixtures." Brother Gabrielle appeared to be the leader of the small religious gang. He was of medium height, with a mop of black hair cut in a curious bowl-like style.
Brother Paul, the largest and stockiest of the three robed gangsters, lumbered over to comply. Brother Paul's head was shaved and he wore a permanently puzzled expression. He and Matthew contemplated Cam's still form for a moment, then Matthew scurried around to the end of the sofa and began to pull on Cam's feet. "I'll take her feet and you take her head," he said, struggling with the effort. Brother Matthew was the slightest of the three men, with a seriously receding hairline framed by tufts of wildly curly red hair. He soon succeeded in dragging Cam half off the sofa. His compatriot grabbed her under the arms inches before she hit the floor, and together, with much bickering and banging into walls, they maneuvered their burden down the hall and into the bathroom.
Rowan edged towards the kitchen door, clearly anxious to take his leave. He tossed the keys to the van on the table, saying, "OK, I've done my part. I don't want nothin' to do with this anymore. And you all better think real hard about what you're going to do with her. She's a reporter, ya know, and she asks a lot of questions. The GHB'll probably keep her from remembering anything here, but she was still goin' on about her interview on the way over here. She's probably goin' to remember all about that."
The black-haired monk also moved towards the door as Rowan spoke, and reached under his robe once again. "Just a moment, Brother Charles. You led me to believe that this drug you administered would wipe out all knowledge of the incident. Now you are saying she may remember her purpose in coming here? This complicates the situation considerably."
"I ain't saying she will and I ain't saying she won't. Hard to tell with this stuff, some people remember more than others. I ain't no doctor, I'm just a Pharmacist's Mate with a good homegrown recipe for the stuff. And stop callin' me Brother, I ain't your brother and I ain't part of your God's Avengers cult either."
Brother Gabriel slowly withdrew his weapon once more and leveled it at Rowan's midsection. "I'd advise you to be more respectful of our holy order. We are called the Lord's Avengers, as you well know, and we are not a cult but the blessed few called upon to carry out the Lord's vengeance on the Wrongminded."
"I think you'd better stay around until this substance wears off so that you may help us assess the situation. We will also need to find out how much damage she may have already done with her sniffing around."
Hearing this, Rowan made a sudden feint to the side, followed by a leap forward, momentarily knocking Gabriel off-balance. He lunged for the door and was running down the street before the monk could untangle himself from his attire. Gabriel rushed out, but only in time to see the sailor jump into a car parked a few houses down the street and drive quickly away.
He stood for a moment in the carport, then turned thoughtfully back to the house, muttering a prayer beseeching the Lord to smite and otherwise do harm to the fleeing Rowan.
Darkness. Darkness, and cold, hard. . .porcelain? Cam felt cautiously around her with one hand. The other was bound to an immovable object that seemed to be a porcelain or ceramic column of some kind. Her mind moved sluggishly, disjointed thoughts floating to the surface like messages in a Magic 8-Ball, then drifting away again. But her awakening consciousness was coming up with questions, not answers. The first, and most recurring, being the classic:
Where am I?
Followed at intervals by:
What happened? I was riding in that van…
Is this the Navy Base? Am I in the brig?
As more consciousness returned, Cam began to explore her surroundings as far as the limits of her confinement would allow. She was definitely in a bathroom, she concluded, though she had no idea why. The fixture to which she was attached by means of a nylon rope around her wrist was a pedestal sink. By feeling around in front of her with her uninjured foot, she also identified a toilet, and another hard, smooth surface she assumed was a bathtub.
OK. I'm locked in a bathroom for some reason. Or am I? If I can get loose from this sink I'll just find out … most bathrooms don't lock from the outside.
Cam returned to a state of loopiness for a few more moments, then her mind started to clear a little more.
What this guy doesn't know is, I know my way around a bathroom. For some reason this thought struck Cam as highly entertaining, and she muffled a fit of the giggles, hoping she hadn't made enough noise to attract the attention of (as far as she knew) her captor, Rowan. Let me see what the setup is with this sink.
Cam examined her bonds. Her left hand was tightly bound to the base of the sink by means of a braided nylon rope, similar to those used on small boats. There was a little, but not much, stretch to it. She began to inch her hand upward, and, as she did, the rope loosened around the sink's base. The sink base tapered as it rose to meet the bowl. Cam squirmed herself around so that she was sitting as close as possible to the fixture. Then, feeling about with her free hand, she located the pop-up mechanism in the back of the pedestal. Yes! She thought, I'll be out of this rope in a minute! As it turned out, it took considerably longer than a minute, but after close to an hour of using the clevis to saw at the rope fibers, she was able to drag the frayed rope up between the pedestal and bowl of the sink, and, using all her weight, pull it through the small space between them. Thank God for shoddy plumbing!
Cam then turned her attention back to the pop-up assembly, and in short order removed the clevis, the spring clip, and the pull control, testing the tensile strength of each before putting them carefully aside. Upon first awakening from her drug-induced stupor Cam had been able to see nothing in the darkness of the closed bathroom. As her mind cleared and her eyes acclimated to the darkness, however, she was able to make out a faint line of light she assumed was under the door. She made her way carefully over to the door, and put her ear as close as she could to it.
From somewhere in the house, Cam heard muffled male voices, but she could not decipher any of the conversation. She thought she could distinguish more than two voices, but that was all. After several frustrating moments, she carefully scooted back from the door, and began cautiously feeling along the walls for another outlet. She found none. She considered turning the light on to investigate further, but was afraid it might attract attention if someone was guarding the room. Then a thought occurred to her. She located her makeshift toolkit and levered herself up and over into the bathtub.
Facing the wall next to the door, Cam felt along the tiled surface until she located the washerless faucet assembly. She then felt around the edges of the escutcheon plate, locating the handle and the screws holding it to the wall.
Nothing too fancy. They sure didn't splurge on fixtures in this place, could very well be Navy housing. Now let's see if I can locate that setscrew…
A short time later, having made use of her improvised screwdrivers, the intrepid reporter had removed the escutcheon plate and was down to the bare pipe sticking through the wall. Gingerly, she poked the long pull control through the hole, holding her breath as she felt resistance. Peering into the hole, she saw a faint square outlined a few inches from the end of her tool. Ah. The closet trap door. Let's just see how this is secure - and, as she poked at the square, it suddenly fell away with a loud CLUNK, revealing the inside of a small closet. Cam could now clearly hear the voices. One of them, after a short silence, said, "You all hear something fall?"
Omigod Omigod put back plate! Get out of tub!
Cam yanked shut the shower curtain and scrambled, as well as her cast and her need for silence would allow, back to her position by the sink, wrapping her hand hastily in the rope and assuming a prone position, just as the door opened and the light was turned on. She heard someone entering the room and scuffling over to her, then silence. A sandal-clad foot nudged her several times in the ribs. Cam feigned unconsciousness, breathing a few (she hoped) sleepy-sounding moans. After a moment, the feet withdrew and the door was closed. Cam listened, holding her breath, for sounds of a lock, but heard instead what sounded like a block of wood scraping across the floor.
Close, very close, she thought. I better wait a while before trying anything. And, in fact, Cam did feel very spent after her exertions, and thought a short nap would do no harm…
A loudly protesting voice awoke her. With the plumbing trap door removed, Cam could hear much more clearly any noises from the part of the house where her captors were apparently congregated. The voice was complaining, in an aggravated tone,
"Why should I have to stay here? She can't get out, and even if she could, she can't get anywhere with that broken leg. Charlie said they brought her out in a wheelchair! Besides, she's still out if it! I just checked on her ten minutes ago and she was snoring like a buzz saw!"
"Yes, it is a little distressing that she has not regained consciousness after almost 24 hours. Brother Charles may have been careless in brewing this batch of opiates. However, if she does wake up, we must ensure that she stays here with us. We cannot have any more interference!" Brother Gabriel's voice rose as he spoke, so that he was practically shouting as he finished. Cam heard, and puzzled over his words. Interference? In what? Maybe they're from the Times or Dateline or something, and want to scoop me?
Soon, however, she heard the confused sounds of furniture being disarranged, footsteps fading away, and a door in the distance closing. There was no more conversation. Cam waited, and presently she heard the strident sounds of a television.
OK, only one here, need to take a chance, let's do it, come on Cam, get with it, Cam kept up a mental pep talk as she felt around the edges of the door. Laying her head sideways and looking through the crack on the bottom, she saw the method her kidnappers had used to secure the door and once again had to suppress a giggle. A small wooden wedge was placed against the door.
They must be kidding, she thought, as, with a deft shove of her clevis, she dislodged the wedge. Now comes the real question, she thought as she gingerly stood up. Can I walk?
Edging around the corner, using a careful hop-and-drag method of locomotion, Cam finally beheld her victim, or at least part of him. A perfectly bald head could be seen over the top of the sofa, in perfect viewing position of the television, which appeared to be airing a show about an irritable family engaged in a group therapy session while marooned on a desert island. The head appeared to be engrossed in the program. Cam approached cautiously. Good thing all those people are yammering so loud - here goes nothing!
And, balancing as best she could on one foot, and drawing on all of her two years of martial arts training, Cam delivered her first-ever perfect roundhouse kick, just as Brother Paul turned to the side, conveniently presenting her with his temple. Cast met head with a satisfying thunk, twinkly stars began to rotate above Brother Paul's head, his eyes crossed, and he slumped to the floor.
Cam wasted no time. With a puzzled glance at the robed figure's outfit, she drag-and-hopped to the door and let herself out onto the carport. Quickly looking around, she was about to take off through the back yard, but stopped short and yanked open the door of the van, still in the carport. Her bag! Grabbing it, she disappeared into the soggy afternoon.
Continued in Chapter 8
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