Title of Story: Sacrifices to a Worthy Cause
Author: Joel T. Kant
Date Written: August 2000, heavily modified March 2, 2019
Chapter Title: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
Chapter Number: Eighteen
Copyright: March 2, 2019
The prison cell had a solid steel door and cement walls, not conventional bars. Containing only one prisoner, it was designed to keep him from communicating with other prisoners. The door opened. John woke at the sound. He sat up on the bunk where he'd been lying. Over the past several days, he had spent much time asleep on that bunk. He felt like he had been catching up on three years of lost sleep. If he had still been having his nightmares, he did not recall them on waking anymore. He found this strange as he did not know if the rescue of Iris had been successful or not, so had expected the same or worse nightmares as soon after he had thought she had died before. Having thought for so long she was dead only to discover otherwise, he found now he could not believe she had been harmed. He could tell the poison gas device had been stopped because he knew this cell was in Port City. He knew that from coming to see prisoners in these cells in the past, not from having been a prisoner himself here before until now.
A man in a white frock entered, a stethoscope around his neck. The solid door was shut behind him by a guard.
John had had many visitors. He had repeatedly asked for a lawyer, and never been given one. John guessed the isolation was to prevent him from discussing the events with his brother and friends so they could put together a story that agreed. Likely effective if he and the others had been guilty of some crime, but extremely annoying since they were not.
The day after his arrival, John had been put into nice clothes and without handcuffs had been paraded out so photographers could take pictures of him. He wasn't allowed to say anything to them. He felt like he was a prisoner in a communist country. He had then been led back to the cell.
The new visitor said, "I'm a doctor. I got your medical records from the Port City hospital. You're due to have stitches out today."
John remarked, "I thought doctors haven't made house calls anymore."
"You must have committed a very bad crime not to be brought to the prison clinic."
John snorted and said, "These lovely accommodations are my reward for helping save the city. No good deed goes unpunished."
The doctor had John bend over. He deftly snipped the two stitches and removed them with a tweezers. As he worked, the doctor remarked, "It's healed nicely. You must really hate the government to be here. It must be tempting to join an organization seeking to overthrow the government after being a hero, as you claim, then being treated this way."
John twisted his gaze to look at a small black spot on the wall. It looked like a nail hole, but he was certain it contained a video camera. He knew some modern video cameras could work with an aperture that small. Others might find that paranoid, but he and Fritz had used a camera just like that in a previous case for Entangle.
"I don't hate the government," John replied. He then gave a patriotic speech as if this were the Fourth of July. Initially, the doctor took this seriously and listened with rapt attention, but realized John was going overboard with the Pledge of Allegiance.
"You're making fun of a serious situation," the doctor said.
John innocently responded, "Maybe I am, but maybe not. Where's my lawyer, or are you a lawyer and a doctor? I doubt you even are a real doctor."
"I am," he said indignantly.
"Probably of psychiatry."
By the doctor's change in expression, John knew he'd struck home.
The doctor confirmed this, "Your medical records indicate you have a therapist. He's a psychiatrist too, I see. Want to tell me about that?"
John said, "No. So much for privacy of medical records."
The doctor read some more of the form, then said, "You're seeing a psychiatrist, but the only medication listed is this recent one for the pain in your back."
John remarked, "Isn't that about expired anyway?"
"I could renew it," the doctor said.
"My back's fine now. I don't need or want it," John replied.
The doctor asked, "How come your therapist hasn't prescribed you drugs for whatever condition it is that you won't tell me about?"
"Go find him and ask his medical opinion yourself if you want to know. Maybe he believes in the old-time Talking Cure like Freud and Jung and that crowd. Treatment doesn't all have to be drugs, you know. Isn't his opinion in those medical papers that you aren't supposed to have? How about getting me a lawyer to find out what you are doing with them? Removing stitches is hardly a psychiatrist's job."
The doctor defensively said, "Being a psychiatrist as opposed to a psychologist required going to medical school. I've often removed stitches during my medical training."
"Fine. Here, I'll sing the national anthem to convince you I'm a true American who isn't seeking the violent overthrow of the government."
John started to do just that. The doctor took his scissors and tweezers, then headed to the door.
Just before the doctor left, he declared, "You have a good singing voice, Mr. Falkowsky."
The doctor left and the door was secured behind him. John figured he blew it by being so sarcastic, but he was fuming after being kept here so many days. Singing was not the angry shouting that he had been most tempted to do because of the injustice of this situation, and something his actual psychiatrist had suggested he do more of to relieve stress.
An hour later, a prison guard unlocked the door, "You and your brother are being released."
John asked, "What were the charges anyway? I had a constitutional right to know those and for a lawyer. Nobody would tell me the charges. Nobody let me talk to a lawyer in all these days either."
The guard said, "There are no charges and never been any. You and your brother have been under the protective custody that you both requested. Please come with me."
John didn't bother to tell the guard that this was the first he had heard of this, as he had requested nothing of the sort. The guard stopped at another cell. Fritz came out of that one.
John muttered to Fritz, "I expected to be questioned for a full day, but this many days was ridiculous. What's going on?"
Fritz replied, "I don't know. I've gotten no word about Iris, Christine, Conrad, or Vicky. Have you?"
"I don't even know if they are alive! Last I knew before being locked up, the news blew Iris's cover! I was stopped from reporting it to you guys by gun-toting goons dressed like ninjas who I think are supposed to be on our side. Is she even alive?"
"Yes, all of them are alive and physically fine."
"Whew! It wasn't fun being locked up this long without knowing even that. I figured you were successful at stopping the poison gas device since this isn't a mostly dead city," John said.
Fritz said "I was forced into custody by some goofy ninja-dressed guys with guns just after we deactivated the poison gas device. I did see all the others alive and well and the bad guys subdued before that. Hey, given your love of fast cars, you've got to talk Conrad into letting you take his hot rod onto the race track outside town. It outraced Chief Clymer's squad car as if it were standing still. Unfortunately, it got a little banged up."
"That's great," John said in a monotone, lacking his normal enthusiasm for fast cars. "Tell me how Iris was rescued."
Fritz told John the story.
Soon, they were walking outside the prison. They had their own clothes on again. When they were getting dressed, John had stood in front of a mirror and twisted his head to look at his back. He could barely even find the scar.
Without fanfare and with no mention to the media, the two brothers were released. Outside the prison, a balding man in an impeccable dark gray suit hurried up and walked beside them.
Fritz asked Dr. Ruby, who was the one wearing the gray suit, "What happened to our friends?"
"They were released after a few hours of questioning."
Fritz asked, "Why were John and I held so many days?"
Dr. Ruby explained, "Tomlin claimed you two were also Obliterators. He had planted files in the Port City Police computer supporting that. He'd done that before we got the security hole plugged. Those files were quickly proven to be recent additions and not even in the correct format for genuine police files, but some of the agencies refused to accept that. Beyond that, though, you two are with Entangle. Other agencies are jealous of our success. Holding you so long was sending me a message to stay off their turf. They didn't do this to Gordon Morrow because even they easily could tell he knew practically nothing about our organization."
John remarked, "If we'd stayed out of this case, much of the population of Port City and the President would be dead!"
Dr. Ruby scolded, "You aren't supposed to say that in public. When you get home, go over the newspapers, magazines, and other news sources from the past few days. Stick to what the media reports as if it were true. It's for national security reasons."
John asked, "You're not even getting a briefing from you on what we're supposed to say?"
Dr. Ruby responded, "I don't think that's necessary this time. Just look at some media accounts before talking to others. I think you'll get the idea. Important people do know what you did, and you can be proud of what you did for your country."
Fritz pointed at the prison behind them and remarked, "Those important people have such a nice way of showing their appreciation."
Dr. Ruby reached in a pocket and pulled out two smartphones, saying, "Your phones were dissected by the F.B.I. We're not getting them back. Here are your replacements."
Fritz reached out for one, but John did not.
John said, "No, thank you. I'm sure if the situation is grave enough, you can find a way to contact me without me carrying around a device like that that keeps track of my every move."
Fritz pulled back his hand without holding the phone and asked, "What do you mean?"
"I took photos of Iris Morrow's fingerprints on a payphone with my smart phone, privately taken right after her disappearance. I never passed them on, but Dr. Ruby knew all about it. I mean he knew right away, not after our phones were dissected by this lot that just got done detaining us."
Dr. Ruby remarked, "That sounds a little paranoid, John."
John said, "Sometimes people who seem paranoid are correct."
Fritz looked between the two, then said, "I'll skip the phone too. If you have a new SUV out here, then we'll skip that as well."
Still holding out the two phones, Dr. Ruby said, "You two are making a big decision here."
John glanced around the parking lot. He saw what appeared to be a shiny SUV parked in the distance that looked quite similar to the one that had been blown up, but brand new. He guessed Fritz had noticed right away, then replied, "I am not unaware of that this is a big decision."
Fritz guessed, "I suspect we'll be seeing you around no matter what we say right now, Dr. Ruby. I'm sure you can and will find plenty of other ways to contact us without these phones."
Dr. Ruby said, "This is a one-time offer here."
John laughed bitterly and said, "Dr. Ruby, you said that Fritz and I were just 'sort of agents.' There was nothing fake about what we had to do this time. There was nothing fake when we did in D.C. last year. If that's what your 'sort of agents' have to accomplish, then you need to do a lot better with leading your organization!"
Fritz thought about what John just said, then added in, "I hope letting this attempt get so far along this time that it came this close to succeeding was worth it for your long-term goals of tracking the source of the chemical weapons down or whatever the larger goal was."
Dr. Ruby insisted, "There are much larger goals than you can know."
Very tiredly, John said, "Of course there are. There always are."
Dr. Ruby put away the phones, then got an envelop. He said, "At least take this. Don't worry, it's just paper and not for you two anyway."
Intrigued, Fritz asked, "Who's it for'"
"Conrad Morrow. It's a form to pay to repair for his car."
John took the envelop while saying, "I'll pass it on. I do have something to say to you."
Dr. Ruby tensed up like he expected a rage-filled insult.
Instead, John calmly said, "We've worked for three years as 'sort of agents' for you. Perhaps the rest of the alphabet soup of agencies think of your Entangle organization as a 'sort of agency' in a similar fashion that you think about us. Maybe the others say as little about their version of much larger goals to you as you have to us about yours. Just something I'd like you to consider, please."
Dr. Ruby didn't respond to that. His face looked like he was keeping it in deliberate inexpression, but he clearly did not like being talked to in this fashion. He turned aside and disappeared into a crowd of visitors waiting to get into the prison to see their imprisoned loved ones.
Fritz pointed and said, "I see a taxi stand over there with a line of taxis waiting. Let's go home."
Fritz and John were silent as the taxi from the prison to their home. At the home, no reporters were in front of it. Leaning against the garage was John's motorcycle and helmet, looking in fine shape. Lying in the driveway was a stack of newspapers, each in a protective plastic bag. Fritz and John would have had the paper put on hold if they had known they'd be gone so many days as they usually did on their many long trips over the past three years, but there had been no chance this time. Fritz also got the overflowing mail, which had envelopes, bills, magazines, and ads.
Fritz said, "I guess nobody knows we're back."
"My motorcycle looks repaired, but the rental car is gone," John observed.
Fritz gathered the mail and noticed a handwritten note, "This is from Officer McCormick. He took the liberty of returning our rental car."
"I'm glad it wasn't stolen. The rental fees would have piled up if it'd been sitting here the whole time."
Fritz frowned, "We need a car or SUV again. I hope we don't regret turning down getting a new vehicle from Entangle. I assume you noted that new SUV in the parking lot."
John said, "I'm not willing to pay the price of another 'free' vehicle from them. Are you?"
Fritz shrugged and answered, "I doubt it will make any difference in the long run that we didn't take the phones or SUV. What do you think is the chance that there won't soon be some other great, noble, patriotic, vital task to save a city or president, or maybe the whole world to rope us back into that crazy world?"
"Close to nil," John replied. "Let's go check the media and see what ludicrous nonsense we're supposed to parrot this time for the cause of national security. Must be something else for Dr. Ruby not even to brief us on what we are supposed to say."
Inside the house, Fritz asked his brother, "How well did you sleep since stopping the device?"
John answered, "I didn't know if Iris and the others were even alive so that gave me a few nightmares. Nothing unmanageable, though. Not at all like I was after D.C. Why'd you ask?"
Fritz explained, "Somehow, that nuke we stopped in D.C. never quite seemed real to me. This is our home city that we were born in, so it's different. I know hundreds of people here. At night while in prison, I kept thinking about what would happen to so many of them if we had failed."
John said, "Maybe you understand me a little better now."
"Sorry that I acted like you were weak for seeing that psychiatrist. I thought it revealed a weakness that meant your career with Entangle was over," Fritz said.
John said, "I hope the Entangle part of my life is over, but...close to nil, you know."
As they went through the kitchen, Fritz asked, "Why is there a glass on the counter covered in fingerprint powder?"
John said, "Practice. It'd been a while. I didn't want to screw it up on the payphone."
Later, with both boys sitting in the living room, John read an article in a newspaper. He loudly groaned, then remarked to Fritz, "It seems we're to go with the double amnesia claim for Iris."
Fritz responded, "Such a cliche, but about what I expected. This article says we overheard a conversation by the bombers while they were at the mall. We foolishly confronted them. They laughed and walked away from us. The bombers, with one of their extra bombs, blew up our SUV to warn us to keep quiet. Although we did report it, we were so scared that we pleaded to the police to be taken into protective custody. The police complied. Our supposed one-day death was to better hide us. The police then brought in various government agencies and stopped the bombers, while we were safely hidden away. The bomb, a conventional explosive, was stopped two miles from the convention center by the superb security and its range was only about fifty feet. Thus, the President, various other politicians, and the audience were never in danger. No mention is made of nerve gas."
John said, "Very creative writing. It's also libelous and a malicious attack on our good characters."
"Correct, but it keeps the citizens from Port City from knowing how much danger they were really in."
John argued, "I'm not sure that's a good thing. However, it's for national security and all that rot. Hey, here's something in this paper about Gordon Fink, the real one. He's out of the hospital."
Fritz said, "I don't like him, but I'm glad to hear it."
John tossed the paper he was reading on the stack of newspapers and magazines, then started looking at a tablet computer. He flipped around for a while, then remarked, "Not much different from the actual paper newspapers for what it has about us. Lots and lots of other bad stuff was going on in the world while we were in...ahem...protective custody. Russia, Iran, Iraq, several ugly trials in the U.S., the Middle East, Afghanistan, Venezuela. Based on this other news, I'm revising my answer to you of 'almost nil' to getting roped back in to actually being 'nil'. Maybe a couple weeks as if a real vacation?"
"Might as well have taken the new SUV and phones then," Fritz said.
John waved a hand and said, "Not taking it was a moral victory."
Fritz replied, "A moral victory doesn't get us transportation."
"You've got your own motorcycle in the garage. I bet it still works just like mine."
Fritz remarked, "We can't ride motorcycles in the winter in the state of Maine!"
"It's not winter yet, but you're right," John agreed.
Fritz called Christine. After the call was done, he told John that she was coming by to pick him up. They were going out car shopping.
Fritz asked, "You want to come?"
John answered as he set down the tablet computer on the stack of discarded newspapers and magazines, "Not this time. I think I learned enough about what national security requires us to parrot well enough for now. I have something else to do today."
John went out to his motorcycle. The front tire was new and inflated. A note was taped to the bike's seat, sun faded and water spotted. The note was from Conrad, saying he'd had the front wheel fixed.
"So that's how it got fixed. That was thoughtful," John thought.
John put on his helmet. He climbed aboard the motorcycle. In the distance, he saw Christine driving up in her car. She and Fritz would have much to discuss. John felt their conversation would be better done without him around. This time, he pushed the electric starter. The motorcycle started easily. He rode off just before Christine arrived.
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