Hounds and Hares: Episode Seven

Hounds and Hares

Episode Seven

It was just past noon when Jennifer and Bruce reached the abandoned gas station. They cut across the two empty lots and crept up to the back wall. No windows looked out from the back. They peered around the corner of the building to see what was out front.

"Look at how the front yard is so chewed up," Bruce whispered to her. There were deep ruts everywhere, freshly made in the soft earth of the muddy yard. Booted footprints traced back and forth across the ruts.

"Somebody must be inside," she whispered back.

"Maybe not--might have been some sort of evacuation." He squinted at the tracks. It was hard to get a good look at it from their point of cover, but he said, "It almost looks like an attack or something--lots of men in cars who got out and ran around."

"How do we get in?" she asked. "Just try the front door?"

"There's a lean-to on the other side of the building," he told her. "We can hitch ourselves up on that and come down through roof into the attic. Take off your shoes before you go up."

They crept around the other side. He still had the huge ax in his hands, but he set it down as they unlaced their shoes and hung them round their necks. He put his hands together with the practiced expertise of somebody used to giving his friend a hoist over obstacles. With the same expertise, she swung a foot up into his hands, took the boost, assisted herself with another step off his shoulder, and got up on the roof of the lean-to. He passed the ax up to her and then came up in slightly more clumsy fashion, panting slightly as he got up and rolled past her onto the worn roof.

"See that hole up there?" he asked her, pointing to an opening in the main building's roofing surface. "Be really careful; the whole roof is weak. You want me to go first?"

"No, I'm okay."

She shinnied up past him up the sloping roof and tentatively let her weight rest on the splintered shingling. The entire gas station was nothing more than a husk of warped and worn out wood. The newer gas stations were much more modern; concrete structures with mechanized car lifts, and cash registers rather than money boxes. She felt a momentary pang of sorrow that times had to change and gas stations go out of business. Then she inched forward. Apparently, as long as she kept her weight spread out, it would be okay. It was a little like crawling across thin ice.

With difficulty and time, she got to the hole and managed to lower herself through it into the dim interior of the gas station's attic. He came after, imitating her careful method of keeping his weight spread out, but moving faster. She moved away from his point of entry into the storage space, mindful of the weak and rotting wood.

Without a word, they climbed across rafters until they found a place where the boards beneath them had separated. She pressed herself face down and looked through. Down below in what used to be the work room, there were dark splotches on the bare floor, muddy tracks from boots, bits of rope, and two overturned chairs. She let him take a look. Then they glanced at each other.

"What do you think happened?" he asked. "It looks like somebody was down there--maybe tied up, too. Look at the ropes."

"Is that blood down there?" she asked. "Are they dead?"

He was silent for a long time, with his face hung over their peep hole. She already knew that he had an opinion. He was just deciding whether or not to be perfectly frank with her. Eventually his honesty won out. "I think it is blood. I don't know--awful dark for blood."

"Nobody's down there," she pointed out. "Let's go down and take a closer look. Look, there's a hatch over there."

They crept over to the hatch that led to the room below. It came away from the hinges as they carefully pulled it back. There was no ladder. She carefully went over the edge, hanging onto the rim of wood where it seemed most sound. She hung at full extension for a moment, and then dropped the remaining four feet or so to the floor. It hurt the balls of her feet. She wasn't used to dropping down like that. He followed with better grace and landed beside her, the ax in his belt.

But just as they were ready to kneel by the dark, dried splotches on the floor, they heard the door out front open and bang back. Bruce hurried her back into an alcove that had once been a tool closet. Its door was loosely hanging on a hinge by only two screws. He came in after her and gripped the ax. Pressed back as far behind the door frame as they could get, they both watched through the open doorway.

The creature that they saw was dressed oddly, in garments whose color and cut were hard to define, but the face was pure Arcturean--the whiter than white skin, the stiff upper lip that looked like a mustache made of skin or cartilage. Apparently, in hiding, the Arctureans were much more comfortable in their natural form.

The Arcturean was obviously following a track. He stooped down to the floor and put his face down to the mud, to the chairs, and finally to the blood. He spent a great deal of time with his face hung over the blood. Then on hands and knees he slowly made a track around the blood, the boot tracks, the chairs. He crawled over the chairs again, his face very close to them. Then finally he went over the drops of blood in the same manner.

At long last he paused, face down. His clothing became more distinct, clearly black, an imitation of the Doctor's garb. Then they shifted color again, taking the blue of a policeman's uniform. Was it a pageant of his ideas that they saw, attempts to impersonate this person or that? If so, he discarded his ideas almost as soon as they came to him. Or was it a reflex action, a replay of the message that the blood told him? Jennifer wondered if the memory of a person somehow became etched in his blood. Perhaps the Arctureans could store their memories in their blood.

The Arcturean at last looked up. He stayed on hands and knees, slim, muscular, and deadly, catching scents and thinking. Jennifer stole an anxious glance at the hatch, which was on their side of the room. He had not noticed it, yet--not noticed the small snowfall of dust they had brought with them when they had dropped down to the floor, not yet caught their scents. Whatever the dirt and mud and wreckage on the floor told him, it was not what he expected. She gradually realized that he was perplexed, perhaps unsure.

At long, long last, he stood up and went outside.

She finally dared to breathe, but she did not make a sound. Bruce's back was to her, absolutely rigid. He did not relax for a long time.

At last, when ten minutes had passed, he turned his head and whispered two words: "Let's go."

They crept out, Bruce leading with the ax.

"All clear," he said at last as they came out front into the bright afternoon sunshine. It was exactly one o'clock.

Jennifer had smarted under the Doctor's rebuke for swearing, but she let rip a brisk word and added, "That was the longest hour of my life!"

"We've got to try Hodgson's," he said. "It's the only other place the Doctor knows. And I've got to get rid of this thing."

He strode around the side of the gas station, still leading, and came face to face with the Arcturean. Both of them let out wild yells at sight of each other. But Bruce reacted first, slamming the Arcturean with the heavy butt of the ax, then switching ends with a pivot of his shoulders and crashing the ax head at the enemy.

Jennifer screamed and leaped back, and Bruce shot past her in full retreat as the Arcturean staggered from the blows. "Let's go!" he screamed.

They pelted across the lot.

"Get over the fence! Get over the fence!" he yelled. "While he's stunned!"

They crashed into the old chain link fence that protected the nearest neighborhood from prowlers around the gas station. A single wire of barbs, much rusted and twisted, ran across the top. Neither of them even noticed it. Bruce got to the top first, threw the ax over, and reached down to Jennifer to help her over. They tumbled over the side and landed in the bushes below.

"Come on, quick!" Bruce called and pulled her to her feet. Only then did she see the generous splashes of Arcturean blood across his shirt and neck. They left the ax in the bushes and ran through the fringe of trees to the neighborhood beyond and the comforting maze of yards, fences, and hedges.

"There were two of them," he gasped to her as they tore into the neighborhood.

"The shopping center," she gasped. "We'll pick up the bus, so they can't track us."

He gasped and nodded.

* * * *

There are few things more depressing than a cell in a local jail. It was only mid day, and so the "tank," as it was called, was empty save for the Doctor. He sat on the edge of one of the shelf-like bunks, wondering at the strange turn of events. In initial questioning, McKenna had hammered pretty hard on the location of Jennifer and Bruce. Both he and Sarah had been puzzled and confused. Why had Chucky been left in the tunnels but the older two taken? And why had their own Arcturean captor made no reference to taking the children? Then the sergeant had ordered that he and Sarah be separated and questioned individually.

There was just no point in talking to them about the Arctureans, so there was no point in explaining anything. It had been better just to draw a blank, not answer, or tell McKenna that he did not know what had happened. But he had gleaned from what McKenna had said that it was Chucky who had been left behind, and that the youngest member of the trio of friends had given a confused story of all five of them being kidnapped together by the fake policemen. McKenna obviously doubted it. And the Doctor's request to see Chucky had been his own indictment. He had sensed McKenna's suspicion that somehow Chucky was under his influence, lying to protect him.

Helplessly, the Doctor glanced around and wracked his brains for a way to get out and find Jennifer and Bruce. But just then he was interrupted from his thoughts as three police officers came to the door of the cell. He stood up. Something heavy hung in the air--tension, a touch of deception or uneasiness. One cop opened the door and the two others rushed in and pushed him to the wall.

"All right, old boys, I'm not struggling," he said mildly as they crushed him to the wall. They turned him to face into it, and pulled his hands behind his back. He let them handcuff him, but he realized that things were taking a dangerous turn. They each took an arm and dragged him to the door. "I'm quite willing to walk," he insisted, but they didn't answer him and just dragged him out. In the hallway, instead of following the path that he recognized to the interviewing offices, they took him down the opposite way, opened a door, and pushed him into darkness. Then they dragged him down a flight of steps. He realized that he was in trouble indeed. It was a basement interviewing room

McKenna was waiting for him, his wide belt off and his shirt sleeves rolled up. The few lights were harsh and bright, but the basement was mostly dark.

"Well, I've read about police brutality but never thought I would see it," the Doctor said as they firmly pushed him into a wooden chair.

McKenna had an unlit cigarette in his mouth.

"Beatin' a man has no great favor with me," he told the Doctor around the dangling cigarette. "But I've got two kids missing, and one little boy out of his head who neatly puts you at the scene of a kidnapping. Plus witnesses who saw you with the girl the day before she disappeared." He flipped a thumb at two other policemen who stood by. "These two want to take you apart, my man. They take a dim view of child kidnapping and maybe murder. But I thought I might have a crack at you first and see if I couldn't get you to see reason." He took the belt in his hands.

"Is that your idea of reason?" the Doctor asked him with a nod at the belt. McKenna ignored the question

"Now I'm askin' you once, man to man, where Jennifer Pye and Bruce Golden are. You tell me straight--even if they're dead somewhere, and I'll see to it you don't come to harm while you're in my custody."

"I don't know where they are--" the Doctor began, and the wide, heavy belt struck him across the face. The blow knocked him back, and he nearly started up in response, but the man behind him pushed him back into the chair.

"It's only going to get worse," McKenna told him. "You might as well speak up."

"I told you: I don't know--" and the belt struck him again--a wicked, fast blow from McKenna's seemingly relaxed arms. It raised welts across the Doctor's face.

"What do you take me for--" He began. This time Mckenna hit him several times with the belt.

"Stop hitting me!" the Doctor roared, but the man behind him came down on him, pinning him into the chair, and for the next few minutes, McKenna worked in grim, sweaty silence until the Doctor's head fell back.

When he opened his eyes, now swollen, McKenna's face was close to his, looking at him intently, but he could see that the police sergeant found this distasteful. The Doctor looked keenly at the man, and read a deep fear in him of the wrongdoing of it, offset against the deeper fear of finding the bodies of two children. All fear. And the policeman had determined to meet the fear with sheer doggedness, to do whatever was necessary to save the children. Under all that fear was a bedrock of incomprehending love.

The Doctor painfully swallowed and held McKenna's eye with his own gaze. There began to be a change in the man. He began to doubt the Doctor's guilt. He suspected something in the Doctor's gaze, and yet was then swayed by it even more.

"What do you want?" McKenna asked at last. "You'll have to prove you haven't taken them."

"Bring in the little boy," the Doctor whispered. "Let him talk with both of us. Keep as many guards with me as you like."

McKenna straightened up. Only the Doctor saw the uncertainty and doubt in his face. To his men he was resolute and calm. "Get the little boy back here," he said. "I need to have him make a positive ID."

One of the men began to protest "The court representative said--"

"Get the boy!" McKenna yelled. "Do you think I'm going to beat a man without a positive ID on him?"

One of the men hurried out. The others fell silent and looked down at their shoes. McKenna pulled out a pack of matches and lit the cigarette, still dangling from his mouth. After a moment's hesitation he fished the pack out of his shirt pocket, shook out a cigarette, and offered it to the Doctor.

"Smoke, Mister?"

"No thank you," the Doctor said. Then after a moment he asked, "Any chance of a cup of tea?"

McKenna didn't think to answer him. He let his gaze fall on the Doctor, troubled and perplexed.

* * * *

"All right, young man," Sgt. McKenna said. "There's no doubt that you've been through something unpleasant, and there's no doubt that unpleasant things have been going on all over town, what with man going up in smoke and all sorts of horrible things nearby."

Chucky shifted uneasily. Lying, it turned out, was a very difficult thing to do well, not when adults kept asking questions. McKenna, of course, had the boy in the comfortable office upstairs. But for all of Chucky's discomfort, it might as well have been the room in the basement.

"But I have reason to believe that you've been confused by something, or frightened by something," McKenna told him. "First you're telling me you were all kidnapped, but you never say how, and then you let slip a lot that tells me this Doctor feller is some sort of ringleader. I think you're either powerfully afraid of this man or powerfully confused."

Chucky looked down without answering.

Mckenna leaned back in his desk chair and surveyed this small sample of humanity, who now sat awkwardly in the hard chair, his hands under him, his eyes worried and guilty as sin. His mother looked on in concern, and the court representative fixed the Sergeant with her eye. One wrong word from him, and she would end the session.

The Sergeant's office was a neat and orderly place, pleasantly lit, a coffee pot in one corner; framed black and white photos hung here and there on the walls. It was a room that spoke far more of the comfortable and likable sergeant than the dark room downstairs.

"What if I told you we had the Doctor feller?" McKenna asked Chucky.

The little boy started in dismay. "How did you get him?" he asked, incredulous.

"We got to him in the nick of time you might say," McKenna told him, honestly enough. "Seems like this feller has enemies. We interrupted a nasty little tea party this afternoon."

He fell silent and watched Chucky. After a long moment he pushed the button of the intercom on his desk. "Bring in that package," he said. "Let me have the small one, first."

The door opened. Flanked by a middle-aged police matron on one side and a young male officer on the other, Sarah Jane was brought in. Her hands were handcuffed behind her.

"Sarah!" Chucky exclaimed, and he jumped off the chair and ran to her.

"Chucky, you're safe!" she exclaimed in relief. The two other women in the room stood up, indignant and shocked. With a swift glare, McKenna waved them back down.

"What's happened to Bruce and Jennifer?" she asked. "What's going on?"

Chucky looked from her face to McKenna's in doubt. He glanced back at Sarah and whispered, "Where's the Doctor?"

"Barry, bring in the other one," McKenna said. The Doctor was led in. Both women gasped at the sight of him, for he looked bad enough, in spite of a rapid clean up. Sarah Jane, who had not seen him since they had been brought in under arrest, gave a gasp of surprise. "What's happened to you?" she asked.

Chucky was stunned, too. "Who hit you?" he exclaimed.

The Doctor glanced at him soberly. "It's nothing," he said. "I fell down the steps here at the jail."

McKenna let out a silent breath of relief.

"Chucky," the Doctor said gravely. "You know that Sarah Jane and I are having a spot of trouble. But we've been prepared for trouble, and we know what we're doing. But Bruce and Jennifer are not prepared for trouble like this. If you know where they are, you've got to tell these people."

"I don't know where they are," Chucky said. "They told me to tell the police we were all kidnapped. We woke up and found you gone."

"This is still kidnapping," McKenna exclaimed. "Young man, do you acknowledge that this man and this woman held you against your will down in that tunnel?"

"It wasn't against our wills," Chucky said. "We were trying to help them. They were in trouble."

The Doctor coughed. At the signal, Chucky abruptly stopped talking. McKenna bristled. He thrust himself between the Doctor and Chucky. "I'll have you gagged if I see fit to do so," he said. "You've got this boy under your control; that's obvious."

"Perhaps," the Doctor said gently, "that what he has to say is of a somewhat--delicate nature. I just want to urge discretion, Sergeant," he said. "There are certain things that might cause a panic, as I'm sure you realize."

Sgt. McKenna hesitated, then gave a duck of his head that might have been taken for a nod. "Clear the room," he said. "I want everybody out in the hall."

A storm of protests went up, but the police officers quickly ushered everybody out. After a minute, McKenna called out for Chucky to come in. A minute later, he called for the Doctor.

Still handcuffed, the Doctor entered with an officer, but McKenna waved the man out and told the Doctor to sit down.

"Get that packet of personal belongings to me," McKenna called out to the officer as the man was leaving.

He leaned back in his chair. "All right. I'll have the devil to pay with that court representative," he said. "But now we're in private. And now you'd better be telling me the straight story."

* * * *

"We're a sight to see," Jennifer whispered to Bruce as the last of the other passengers rushed by them to get off the bus. "We can't ride any more. We've got to get off."

She stood up shakily. The cuts from the barbed wire on the fence were starting to smart. Bruce, also shaky, followed her. They had attracted plenty of stares on the bus. As they came down to the street, he made a decision. "Look," he said. "We're out of money. We really stink; and we're dead tired. There's just no place else to run, and no place else to look." He glanced at her. She was amazed at how old her friend looked. "We've lost them," he said helplessly. "We've lost. We've got to go home."

She shook her head. "What do we tell our parents when we show up?" she asked. "What do we tell the police?" She looked at him. "What do I say to my Dad?"

A police car cruised by.

"We just can't go on any more," he told her. "Those two--whoever they are, where ever they've gone, they travel in time and space. But we've got to live like we always have--on a straight line forward into time."

"Not me," she said hotly.

"Both of us!" he exclaimed. "That's all we can do! We have to live in time! There's no getting away from it!"

"Oh a straight line!" She stopped. "All I see down that line is--" She cut herself off in great alarm, "Bruce!" she exclaimed. "Cops!"

They realized too late that the police were on them, all around them.

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