"Are you all right, Dr. Riverside?" the cop asked.
"I'm fine, fine," Stanley said, in his best manly voice, "But see to Dr. Gates, I think he got a little shook up."
Gonzo shook his head with disbelief. Stanley had been panicking a minute before, but with strangers in the room he put on an act. How typical! And after Gonzo had nearly gotten himself killed too, trying to help! The cops got the ropes off, and went off to collect clues, and Gonzo rubbed his wrists gratefully. The kidnappers hadn't been gentle with their knots, and fighting against them, trying to get loose hadn't made him any more comfortable. He turned to check the gas valve, just to be sure it was shut down, and saw that Stanley was bent over his own folded arms, his face tight with pain.
What's wrong, Stan?"
"It's nothing," Stanley said, still trying to maintain the image, although his voice had gone high again. "It's just the circulation coming back."
"Here, let me take a look," Gonzo ordered, turning his chair so he could stay on Stanley's level while he examined him. "Did they keep you tied up the whole time?"
"Uhuh," Stanley nodded, extending one hand. His wrist was a mess, and his fingers were puffy and red. No wonder he hadn't been able to untie Gonzo. After two days of being tied up he probably hadn't even been able to feel his hands.
"How are your feet?"
Stanley swallowed. "They've got pins and needles, but it isn't as bad." He let Gonzo look at the other wrist, tucking the first one back against his belly.
"Anything else wrong? Did they feed you?" Gonzo automatically began to check Stanley's vitals. Pupils okay, pulse fast, respiration fast...
"No. No food. No water." Stanley looked even more unhappy. "Nothing. Gates, do you think they'd mind if I stopped at the restroom?" he whispered the last bit, glancing in the direction of the lady cop.
Gonzo relaxed; Stanley might be hungry and dehydrated, but if he could be mortified and image conscious, he couldn't be in very bad shape. "Don't worry," he said, patting Stanley's knee as he got up. He looked to the male cop, "Inspector Stemm, is there a sink or a bathroom or some place we could clean up a little?"
"Yeah, over by the warehouse offices," Stemm said. "You need a hand?"
"No, we can manage," Gonzo said. He put a hand under Stanley's arm and got him upright. Stanley bit his lip, but he didn't complain, and as they walked, he put his feet down a little more certainly with each step. He led the way to a tiny, greasy facility that smelled worse than any gas station bathroom Gonzo had ever had the misfortune to visit. "Gaah. Come here often?" Gonzo joked, trying to let Stanley know he sympathized.
"Just the once," Stanley replied with a thin smile. "They weren't very considerate."
"Are you going to need help?" Gonzo asked very quietly.
Stanley flexed his fingers thoughtfully, and tested them against the button on his jacket. "I'll let you know," he said, and went into the stall, shutting the door, but not locking it.
Gonzo turned on the water in the sink, scrounged out a thin bar of soap and some paper towels, and kept himself occupied by cleaning the sink and washing his own face and hands until Stanley emerged, pale and tear-marked, but fairly composed.
"Here, Stan, wash up a little. I'm not sure how long the cops are going to have to keep you with questions, and this should hold you until we can get you back to the hospital for a shower."
Stanley started washing obediently. He was still clumsy with his hands, but Gonzo noted gratefully that they were starting to look a little more normal. The circulation couldn't have been completely cut off. "I really wish there was a cup or a glass. I'm so thirsty," Stanley said, looking at the water running over his hands wistfully.
"I wouldn't trust anything in here to be clean unless I'd washed it myself," Gonzo said. "Just use your hands."
Stanley looked at him quizzically, and Gonzo demonstrated the technique, realizing that it was unlikely that Stan had ever had to resort to it before. He was a quick study, though, and Gonzo had to tap him on the shoulder. "Not too much, too fast, Stan, or you'll just throw it all back up."
"Right," Stanley said, taking a last sip before splashing the rest of the water in his hands over his face. He dried off with one of the paper towels and fingercombed his hair as he looked into the dirty mirror. "I look awful," he noted, distressed.
"You got kidnapped, Stan. It's allowed." Gonzo wondered how Stanley thought he should look after being tied up for two days. He steered his friend back out toward the waiting cops. "Did they rough you up any?"
Stanley's forehead wrinkled. "Not really. The old one, the one from the hospital laundry, he poked me with his cane a couple of times, but not like he meant to hurt me. But they said awful things about my father, and they watched me all the time until just before they got you. I'm really sorry about that. You almost got killed because of me."
"It's not your fault, Stan. I volunteered to drop the ransom money, and they must have realized that I recognized the old man. I'm just glad the cops were following."
Stanley shuddered. "Me too." He folded his arms again, tucking his wrists under where he could apply some soothing pressure against the pain. "When I was a kid I used to have nightmares about being kidnapped, but nobody ever came to my rescue in them." He smiled shakily at Gonzo, still trying to find the right mask to cover the lingering fear. "Thank you. I don't think they ever intended to let me go."
"You're probably right, there, Dr. Riverside," Inspector Stemm said, catching the last part of the conversation as they drew nearer. "Once you'd seen their faces, they knew you could identify them."
"There were only the two of them, right?" asked Inspector Johnson.
Stanley radiated what he probably hoped was nonchalance. "Uhm. Yes, that's right. Just... Just the two of them. The old man and his son. They never talked about anyone else."
"That's good. We'll have the lab boys go over this place for supporting evidence, but I think all we'll really need to cinch the case is the statements from each of you. Are you up to making out an affadavit? The sooner the better." She eyed Stanley uncertainly.
He glanced at Gonzo. "I'd rather get it over with," he confessed. "But I really want to call EJ first. My wife," he added for clarity to the cops. "She'll be really worried."
"I'm not sure Ernie's gotten a hold of her yet," Gonzo said. "We weren't sure which convention she was at."
"The number was in my briefcase," Stanley said. "Didn't you find it?"
"Your briefcase?" Inspector Johnson asked. "Where did you leave it?"
"In my car." Stanley realized what he was saying and his shoulders slumped. "My convertible. It probably got stolen."
"We didn't find it," she said, sympathetically. "Come on, you can call her from the station."
"And I'd better call Trapper and Arnold and let them know that you're all right," Gonzo said, putting an arm around Stanley's shoulder as they headed out the door. "We were all pretty worried, you know."
Stanley looked surprised, but pleased as he let himself be herded along. "Really? About me?"
Gonzo finished describing what had happened from the time he had started out with the ransom money, and Stemm nodded with satisfaction. "Nice and clear," he said, nodding at the stenographer. "How long to get it typed up in affadavit form?"
"Ten, fifteen minutes," the steno said. "Long enough for you to grab a cup of coffee if you want."
"No thanks, I'm fine," Gonzo said. "Mind if I go keep an eye on Stan?" he asked.
"Well," Stemm said, putting his pencil behind his ear. "If you do, you've got to remember not to prompt him or say anything that a lawyer might twist into collusion. Once we zap these two with attempted murder charges, they're going to want to go for a jury trial, and I'd hate to see them walk on a technicality."
"I just want to see how he's holding up," Gonzo said. "This affadavit stuff takes longer than I thought it would -- and he hasn't eaten anything since lunchtime on Friday."
Stemm frowned. "I didn't know that. Look, two doors over there's a little chinese place called Wong's that makes a good egg-drop soup, why don't we take a minute to grab some of that and some plain rice. That wouldn't be too much on an empty stomach, would it?"
"Sounds perfect," Gonzo said.
They were back inside of ten minutes, and Stemm led the way to the glassed-in side room where Inspector Johnson was interviewing Stanley. They had almost gotten there when Stemm got called by another cop. "Go ahead, I'll be right with you," he told Gonzo, but Gonzo found himself pausing outside the window to assess things before he knocked.
There was a glass of water and a pitcher on the table, and the crumpled wrappers from a couple of candy bars, but Stanley still looked pretty frayed around the edges. He kept shifting uncomfortably on the chair, and his hair had gotten mussed up again. Gonzo noted the dark circles under Stanley's eyes and wondered if the man had gotten any sleep since Friday. He didn't look like it. But he smiled when Gonzo came in the door and straightened himself up on the chair. "Hi. Are you through already?"
"I didn't have as much to tell," Gonzo said. "Here, I got you some soup." He put the cardboard container down in front of Stan and dug the spoon out from the bottom of the bag.
Stan lit up with genuine enthusiasm at the sight of food. "Oh my. That's wonderful." He looked at the detective and stenographer apologetically. "I hope you don't mind if I eat in front of you," he said, courtesy barely winning out over hunger.
"Not at all," Inspector Johnson said.
Gonzo popped the lid off the soup and handed Stanley the spoon. "Start slow," he reminded Stanley. "Give your stomach a chance to get used to the idea."
"Right," Stanley murmered around the edge of the spoon. "Mmm. This is good. This is really good." He took a couple more spoonfuls and then made himself look back up at the cop. "I'm sorry. Where were we?"
"You were saying that you were never moved from that warehouse."
"That's right. And one or the other of them was with me the whole time, until this morning, when they went to get the ransom money."
"Did they tell you that that was what they were going to do?"
"Kenny did. He told me that I'd better hope that the money was there, because if it wasn't they were going to dump me in the desert. And then he put a dirty rag in my mouth, so I couldn't yell for help while they were gone." Stanley made a face. "It tasted like bad whisky. I think it was the old man's handkerchief."
"What happened when they came back?"
"Kenny tied up Dr. Gates, and Pop came over to show me that they'd gotten the money. He took out the gag."
"Why did he do that?" she wondered.
Stanley shrugged uncomfortably and ate another spoonful of soup before he answered. "He said he wanted me to say 'hello,' to Dr. Gates."
Gonzo nodded, remembering the terrified look in Stanley's eyes as the old man had twisted his shoulders around and waved his cane in the bound man's face. He'd taken a real glee in frightening Stanley, and Gonzo felt a pang of regret for having been so impatient with Stanley for giving in to the threats. After two days of helplessness, Gonzo might have given in too.
"Then what happened?" The cop asked.
"Well, Kenny didn't want to waste time, and he got his father to help him put their things together. Then, when they started to leave, Dr. Gates asked what they were going to do with us." Stanley kept his eyes on the soup. "And when we asked to be let go, he said did we think they were stupid and went and opened up the gas valve. I was scared stiff, but Dr. Gates, he hitched his chair over to mine and tried to untie me as soon as they left. And then the gas started to get to us, and then you came in to the rescue." Gonzo put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed a reassurance, and Stanley gave a small sad smile. "And that's all."
"What about the old man? Did he say anything when Kenny opened the valve?"
"He said, 'goodbye'," Stanley said. "Then he left with Kenny. I think he approved, though. He didn't argue or anything."
"Well, I think this will do for the moment," she said. "We'll get it typed and then you can head home. I'll call you if there are any questions later."
"Try the hospital first," Gonzo said. At Stanley's surprised look he added. "Trapper's orders, Stan. He wants me to make sure you've gotten a complete check up. Besides, when EJ gets Ernie's message and your message, she'll probably call there first."
"True," Stanley said, brightening a little. He had had to leave a message at EJ's hotel instead of speaking to her, and hadn't known what to say beyond that he was all right. It wasn't like he could explain the whole mess to the hotel operator.
"All right," Inspector Johnson said. "Once the affadavit is typed up, you can read it through and sign it, and then we'll be ready to let you go get some rest."
"That would be nice," Stanley admitted. He shifted position again and Gonzo studied him for a moment as the two cops left the room, noticing that Stanley looked like he had lost the weight that he had started to put back on after his marriage. He needed a shave, of course, and his skin was pale. Gonzo reached over and took a wrist pulse and Stanley stopped eating to look at him worriedly.
"It's still a little fast," Gonzo told him, when he'd finished counting. "How's the headache?"
"I've almost gotten used to it," Stanley said. "I'm dehydrated. I know. I've been drinking water." He indicated the pitcher and Gonzo looked. It was almost empty. Gonzo poured what was left into the glass.
"Drink some more," he advised. "Have you checked for tenting?"
Stanley shook his head and extended his hand. Gonzo pinched up a piece of skin over his wrist and they both watched as it collapsed, just a tad too slowly, back to smoothness. Stanley bit his lip. "Well, it didn't stay up," he said, his voice worried.
"It didn't go down as fast as it should have either," Gonzo said. "Face it, buddy, you're a quart short." He put the glass in Stanley's hand. "I'll go get some more." He grabbed the pitcher and stood to go.
"Don't..." Stanley started, his expressive face showing his alarm, and then his fight to control it. "Don't take a long time, okay?"
Gonzo was surprised, but he supposed it made sense for Stanley to want company right now. He pointed through the window to the water cooler. "I'm only going over there; you'll be able to see me the whole way," he said. "It's a cop shop, Stan. Nothing's going to happen here."
"I'm okay," Stanley said, taking a deep breath. "I'm fine."
"Good," Gonzo said, patting him on the shoulder. "I'll be right back."
Gonzo had persuaded Stanley to drink about half the pitcherful by the time that the cops had finished taking them through both depositions for errors. He had finished the soup and rice as well, and his color was a little better, but Gonzo was glad when they were finally done and he could steer Stanley out toward the Titanic, which one of the cops had retrieved for him and parked in the station's parking lot. Stanley was trying to walk normally, but he wasn't succeeding very well.
They got to the RV and Stanley leaned gratefully against it while Gonzo dug out his keys. "I never thought I'd be glad to see the Titanic," Stanley admitted, patting the aluminum siding.
Gonzo got the door open. "I keep telling you it's the perfect living balance of living quarters and vehicle," he teased gently. "I never have to drive myself home. Can you manage the step? You look like you're sort of stiff."
"Too much time in the same position," Stanley said, pulling himself up into the living space with a grunt of discomfort. Gonzo followed him inside and shut the door. Stanley had stopped in the living area to lean against the counter, and rub at the small of his back. "Oh, brother, am I sore. I'd give anything for a shower."
"So take one," Gonzo said. "It's not like anyone's expecting us in the next five minutes. And I've got some sweats that would probably fit you."
Stanley sagged a little at the thought. "Clean clothes. I've been wearing these so long I'm surprised anyone can stand to be in the same room with me."
"Hey, we know it's not your fault," Gonzo said, smiling to show that he was teasing. "Go, on, Stanley. Get cleaned up and I'll give you the once over before we drive back to the hospital."
Stanley had started to take off his coat and tie, but now he hesitated. "Do you have to?"
"I never argue with Trapper when he's right," Gonzo said. "Come on, Stan. Would you rather I gave you an exam in ER with half your staff wandering in to make sure you're okay?"
"Well," Stanley said, uncertainly. He folded his coat and put it on a chair, "I guess not. But won't you need the right equipment?"
Gonzo pulled open the cabinet and flourished a zippered pack. "Field kit I use for the marathon," he said, opening it to display the contents. "Stethoscope, otoscope, sphygmomanometer, tongue depressors, lancets and capillary tubes for blood tests and even..." he tossed the covered plastic cup to Stanley, who fumbled, but managed to catch it in the crook of his elbow, "specimen cups. Not to mention bandages, antiseptics and other doctor necessities." He reached into another cupboard and produced a towel. "Now, get in there and scrape off the mold."
Stanley's smile flickered, but he was relieved by Gonzo's take-charge manner and his preparedness. "Yes, doctor." He took the towel and went into the tiny bathroom.
Gonzo tapped on the door. "I'm turning on the engine, but I'm not moving the Titanic. It's just to make sure you don't run out of hot water."
"All right," came Stanley's reply, and Gonzo nodded. He started the engine and then puttered for a few minutes, finding some old sweats that were so stretched out of shape that they might have fit Trapper in a pinch, much less Stan, making up a pitcher of lemonade from the canister in his freezer, and changing the sheets on the bunk, so he would have a clean surface to work on. He kept an ear cocked, but other than a few grunts, Stanley seemed to be managing okay. It was a relief though, when he emerged, with a towel wrapped around himself and his hair dripping water. "I still need a shave," Stanley apologized, "but I just didn't feel steady enough to do it myself."
"You can go to the barber shop in the lobby," Gonzo said, absently, eying the bruises that crisscrossed Stanley's arms, chest, and legs. The ropes had made those probably, although it wasn't a rope that had left the ugly purplish line on Stanley's shoulder, or the round bruise just below his ribs. Stanley's feet were puffy, and a little blotchy after having been in his shoes for so long, and he was standing as if they hurt. "Why don't you sit down on the bed, and have some lemonade while I shut off the motor?" Gonzo said, but he stayed to watch how Stanley moved and sat and noted the bruises on his back. He handed Stan the glass of lemonade, watching for clumsiness, before he went forward and retrieved the key. By the time he got back to Stanley, the glass was almost empty.
"That tastes good," Stanley said.
"Glad you think so," Gonzo said. He let Stanley finish it and then took the glass and started checking Stanley's vitals. "Your pupils are normal," he reported, and pulled out the blood pressure cuff. He announced each finding, knowing that Stanley would want to know. "Blood pressure is 130 over 90 -- just a little high. So is your pulse rate -- 72. You're a little pale, but not bad. Lie down and I'll see if I can find anything wrong."
Stanley leaned back and muttered yeses and noes to Gonzo's "Does this hurt?s" as the surgeon made his examination. When he rolled over, so Gonzo could check his back, Gonzo flinched at the damage that had been hidden by the towel. Two days of sitting in a hard chair had not been kind to Stanley's muscles. "No wonder you've been walking so awkwardly," he said.
"I don't think there're any actual pressure sores," Stanley said in a voice that was muffled by the pillow he'd wrapped his arms around. "The soap didn't sting."
"No, but another few hours and you'd have had them," Gonzo said. "I'd like to take those creeps and give them a dose of their own medicine."
"Not me," Stanley said, sleepily. "I jus' never want to see them again at all."
Gonzo finished his assesment and applied antiseptic whereever Stanley's skin had been rubbed raw, and then made Stanley sit up long enough to pull on the sweats. By that time, Stanley's eyes were spending more time closed than open.
"Look," the surgeon said. "Instead of sitting up front, why don't you lie down here in the back while I drive to the hospital? Give your muscles a chance to stretch out."
"'Sno seat belt," Stanley objected, sinking back onto the pillow.
"I'll drive carefully," Gonzo promised. He pulled out a blanket and tucked it over Stanley.
"'Snice," Stanley murmered. "I never thought it's so soft."
It took ten minutes to drive to the hospital, with the traffic at that time of day, and Gonzo gave a happy sigh as he caught sight of the familiar building. "All hail the conquering heroes," he said. "We're here, Stan." There was no response. Gonzo, who hadn't really expected one, glanced back at the next stoplight, and saw that Stanley's chest was moving in the slow pattern of sleep. Gonzo shook his head, half amused, half concerned. He turned back to watch the light and noticed that there was a TV news van turning in to the hospital lot two blocks away. "Damn," Gonzo muttered, and turned the Titanic so that he would come in the hospital from around the side. There were two more TV vans near the emergency entrance -- he could see their extended antennas past the other cars. Gonzo found the back entrance and pulled the Titanic in, looking for a break, and saw Gloria Brancusi sitting over a cup of coffee at one of the outdoor cafeteria tables. He pulled alongside the eating area and tapped on the horn to get her attention. She smiled and came to the driver's window, and he slid it open.
"Is he with you?" she asked. "Is he all right?"
"Yeah." Gonzo grinned his relief, "He's not too bad. Tired and thirsty, but nothing's broken. Climb in and you can see for yourself while I get the Titanic into her space."
"Thanks!" she said, beaming. He waited until he heard he closing the door and then started off again for his own parking space.
"Have you gotten ahold of EJ yet?" he asked as he drove.
"Not yet," Gloria answered. She sat on the edge of the bed and braced herself with one hand while she got a wrist pulse with the other. Stanley shifted position and murmured something, but he didn't wake up. "Hey, Dr. Riverside," she said, not too loudly, "Dr. Riverside."
Gonzo parked and came back to join her. "Don't wake him up, Gloria. This is the first sleep he's gotten since they grabbed him. He's exhausted."
"His pulse is sixty four," she said, automatically, putting his arm back down with a little pat. "He looks exhausted. What kind of people would kidnap somebody and then not let them sleep?"
Gonzo shook his head, still not quite believing it himself. "Remember Pop from the hospital laundry?"
"The old man with the cane? The one who drinks? How could he kidnap anyone?"
"He had help," Gonzo said, tucking the blanket back over Stanley's hands. "His son."
"But," Gloria said, unwilling to believe, "but they wouldn't have really hurt Dr. Riverside, would they?"
Gonzo looked at her distressed eyes and thought of the hiss of the gas. "Yeah. Yeah, they would. They tried to kill both of us, Gloria. And if the cops hadn't come to the rescue, they would have succeeded."
"That's awful," she shivered. "Are you all right? They did get caught, didn't they? They won't try again?"
"Yes, they got caught," Gonzo said, but he was distracted and didn't bother to elaborate. He cracked open the curtain to look out. "Oh brother."
"What is it?" Gloria said, coming to look over his shoulder.
"TV crews," Gonzo said. "If we try to get Stan inside now he'll end up on the six o'clock news."
Gloria looked at the sleeping man and compared his present dishevelment to his usual neat appearance. "He'd hate that," she agreed. "So what do we do?"
Gonzo bestowed his best persuasive grin on her. "Well, I was hoping you could stay with him while I get something rigged. I mean, I don't think anyone knows you're in here, so they won't disturb you. And I don't want to leave Stanley by himself in case he wakes up."
"It's been pretty slow," she said, smiling her consent. "But you'll have to let Ernie know where I am."
"First thing," Gonzo promised. "I'll be back before you know it."