Irony

Chapter 29: Caper
1 - Weird Wet Wednesday
2 - Greggs Place
3 - Questions Without Answers
4 - Wilson Goes Down
5 - Roger
6 - In Wilson's Room
7 - Billy Arrives
8 - Brothers
9 - Mixed Bag
10 - Gregg Screws Up
11 - Don't Go!
12 - The Signal
13 - Finding Jules
14 - Houses is Where??
15 - Billy Rides Again
16 - Looking Out For The Cripple
17 - The Cripple Gets Even
18 - Wilson's Boys
19 - I Need You!
20 - Jules and Roger
21 - Me 'n' My Shadow
22 - Crutch Ballet
23 - Wilson Speaks
24 - Whispers
25 - Winners
26 - Business at Hand
27 - All These Men ...
28 - Get Ready... Get Set...
29: Caper
30 - Over The Rainbow
31 - All Over But The Shoutin'!
32 - Irony

by Betz88

Jules drove the Shadow down the quiet, maple-lined suburban streets, past the little Neighborhood Store, making a circle encompassing eight or ten city blocks.  This way, they would pass by the same location infrequently enough to keep anyone who happened to notice them from becoming suspicious.  Jules had removed his head band and Roger had taken off his bright yellow windbreaker.  They both wore New York Yankees baseball hats.  By the time they’d passed the store for the fourth time in an hour, they were both familiar with the outside layout, and were pretty sure of at least part of what it looked like inside.  Roger’s crutches were out of sight on the floor of the back seat.  The two of them, at most, resembled two young guys who were lost on a street where a lot of the houses looked pretty much alike.

 

“You see how the door opens right onto the sidewalk?”  Jules was saying, not really expecting an answer.  Of course Roger had noticed.  He never missed a trick.

 

“The door opens ‘in’,” Roger commented in return.  “Just a regular door … turn the knob and go inside.  I don’t have to worry about some heavy glass thing that’ll push back at me and maybe throw me off balance.  Although that might have its advantages!”  He grinned, and Jules realized his partner was thinking out loud, considering all the contingencies, all the pitfalls, all the exquisitely enticing hidden dangers.

 

“Yeah, but I’m going to be opening the door for you anyway … you know … just a courtesy from one stranger to another.  ‘Looking out for the cripple,’ like Gregg says to Jimmy all the time.”

 

“Yeah, I know, and that’ll work.  Gregg’s a sarcastic bastard, isn’t he?”  Roger was laughing deep in his throat at the thought.  “Some day Jimmy is gonna smack him right up alongside the head.”

 

“Oh right!  When hell freezes over!  Gregg’s the last person Jimmy would ever hit!”

 

Smiling indulgently, Jules turned the corner onto the next street and pulled the Shadow over to the curb.  “The Citibus comes along this way every hour.  You need to get out now, and go sit down on the bench across the street.  I’ve got to get the car out of here and stash it, then double back in time to make it to the store the same time you do.  Be careful walking … don’t rush it … and if anything starts to look the least bit funky, get out of there.  If you’re not headed for the store when I catch up with you, I’ll know something is wrong and I’ll get back to the car and come pick you up.  Okay?”

 

“That’s the plan, bro!”  Roger said.  “You’ve been saying the same words in the same way in the same voice every time we do this … forever … except for the part about the car!  I think I got it by now.  And don’t worry about me.  Like Gregg says:  ‘I’m fine!’”  He pulled the yellow windbreaker back over his shoulders and removed the baseball cap. 

 

Jules removed his cap also, and replaced the white headband.  He reached into the back for the crutches.  Handed them over.  “See you soon,” he said as Roger opened the car door, placed the crutches beneath his arms and started across the street.

 

Jules kept a keen eye on his lover until Roger was safe on the other side, then pulled away from the curb and made a right turn at the next corner.  Roger sat down gingerly on the public bench to await the arrival of the next Citibus.  Ten minutes … give or take.

 

Twenty-five yards down the street from the public bench, a large silver maple tree stood sentinel in the middle of the block.  It was old and sturdy and healthy, and had guarded its position for fifty years or more.  Its crown was luxurious and thick, its leaves dark-veined and wide.  It concealed many abandoned bird nests within its leafy volume, and more than a few which were not abandoned.  It had also served as concealment for many neighborhood kids who’d climbed onto its sturdy branches and made themselves comfortable in one of many wide crotches that attached the branches to the trunk; high off the ground, but still privy to whatever went on below.

 

Straddling one of the lower limbs with his back pressed into the trunk and his feet resting on another branch across from it, Ralph “Jingo” Prozetta watched the goings on in the street below.  He saw the car pull over to the curb, saw the conversation taking place between the two men inside, and watched them take off their baseball hats.  Then the one in the passenger seat put on a bright yellow windbreaker, and the darker-skinned one who was driving, put on a white terrycloth sweatband.  Were they going to park the car and go for a run?  Not likely.  Jingo was sure he’d seen that same car go past Ben and Chris’s little store a couple of times in the past hour or two.  It was older and there weren’t many like it on the street.  Puzzled, he continued to watch.  For a time, nothing happened.

 

In his back pocket, Jingo had a small, cruddy, very old medicine bottle that he’d dug up near the river the day before.  If he hadn’t been instructed by his Mom to get his butt home by 3:30 and not fool around after school, he’d have taken the bottle to Ben then.  Two bucks was two bucks, and Jingo was saving for a new fielder’s mitt.  Those things were pretty dicey nowadays.  Today was a teachers’ in-service day and there was no school.  He’d got up late, fooled around eating breakfast and kidding with his Mom, watching the Cartoon Channel and playing with Chewy the Beagle.  Finally, he’d gotten around to heading over to the store to turn the bottle over to Ben Baker.  But when he got there, he reached into his back pocket and the bottle wasn’t there.

 

Jingo had said “Shit!” seven times, at least.  He’d left the damn bottle sit in the middle of the kitchen table.  He parked his butt on the curb in front of the store, bitching to himself, listening to the freaky old music the brothers sometimes played on their old phonograph, and watched the same car with the same two guys in it come past at least three times while he sat there mad as heck and called himself all kinds of a jerk.

 

After awhile, Jingo picked himself up, brushed off the seat of his pants and walked back home to get his bottle.  He shoved it into his back pocket and slammed back out the door.  He couldn’t resist a few more minutes’ woolgathering in the notch of the old maple tree before setting out again.  He pulled himself up and sat looking around from his lofty perch.  That’s when he saw that same car pull in right across the street.  Of course he watched.

 

A cold shiver of fascinated aversion skittered down Jingo’s eleven-year-old spine when the guy on the passenger side got out of the car and started across the street.  He was on crutches!  Jingo had had a sprained ankle once.  Crutches were ouchy and clumsy and nasty and he hated them.  You couldn’t run or jump or climb trees with crutches and a messed-up foot. He could almost feel sympathy pains for this poor guy as he moved slowly, planting the crutches in front of him, then swinging both legs parallel in a parody of some out-of-sync rhythm, until he was able to plop down on the Citibus bench just up the street.

 

Jingo scrunched up his face, puzzled.  Why would this crippled-up guy get out of a car, for Pete’s sake, and go over to wait for a bus?  That didn’t quite make sense.  Was the driver of the car going someplace the buses didn’t?  Did the driver have to go to work or something and couldn’t take the crippled guy home?  Was the crippled guy going to the doctor?  If so, why couldn’t the guy in the car drive him there?  And why the heck had the two guys circled the car around and around the block in front of Chris and Ben’s little grocery store?   The car’s driver watched to be sure the crippled guy was seated on the bench okay, then pulled away and made a right turn at the next corner.  Jingo watched it out of sight.

 

He looked at the license plate:  CMP-5666.  Easy one!

 

Phooie!   He couldn’t make his mind fit around the puzzle anymore.  So forget it!  It was too much for Jingo’s pre-pubescent brain to contemplate, although he sat on his tree limb and kept on watching … at least until the bus pulled up.  Then he watched the bus driver lower the rear handicap platform so the guy with the crutches could get aboard. 

 

When the bus pulled away, Jingo climbed down from the maple tree and headed in the general direction of the Neighborhood Store once again.  One foot in the gutter, one up on the curb, he shuffle-jump-limped along the rest of the block, unconsciously imitating the poor guy who walked with crutches …

 

Boy, he was sure glad his own foot had got well!

 

The bus driver let Roger off about half a block away from the store.  Roger waved and yelled “thank you!” as the bus pulled away again, and the driver waved back.  Down at the end of the block he could see Jules walking up the street, headed for his position.  He slowed his pace to a pitiful crawl, timing it so the two of them would approach the store from opposite directions and seem to meet by chance in front of the door.  Their timing was meticulous.  Roger turned to go inside just as Jules walked abreast of him and turned to go in with him.

 

Neither man saw the surprised eleven-year-old standing across the street.  Jingo watched the two of them enter the store, scratching his head in bewilderment.

 

Ben and Chris were both at the front counter working on the books when the door to the street was opened by a handsome dark-skinned young man in a blue jogging suit. This man held the door and then stood back out of the way to allow a thin white guy in a bright yellow jacket, and walking with crutches, enough room to enter ahead of him.

 

“Here,” they heard the first man say, “I’ll hold the door, sir.  You go ahead and go on in.”

 

The guy on crutches maneuvered with considerable difficulty through the door and into the room.  “Thank you,” he said softly.  “I appreciate that very much.”  He was a very handsome man, quite tall of stature, although at first glance his hunched posture made his body appear smaller.

 

“Sure.  Any time,” the black guy replied.  He turned to the right and walked slowly down the far aisle where the bottled soda was stored.

 

The crippled guy hitched off haltingly to the left.

 

Ben and Chris watched with trepidation.  The poor man looked barely strong enough to hold himself upright, let alone make a purchase and have the strength to carry anything of bulk out of the place.

 

The black guy had disappeared behind a row of shelves.

 

Chris turned down the music on the phonograph and called to the crippled guy.  “Is there something I can help you with?  I’d be happy to get it for you and bring it up front.”  He moved from behind the counter and followed Roger down one of the aisles.

 

Behind them, Ben came around in front of the counter also, ready to help if needed.

 

Their actions were exactly what Roger had been counting on.  He turned carefully back in Chris’ direction, as though to acknowledge the man’s kind offer.  He let his body wobble pathetically on the crutches, as though in pain but attempting to conceal it.  Roger began to list heavily to the right, up against one of the shelves and not far away from the circle of captain’s chairs near the Johnny stove.  It couldn’t have been more convenient if it had been written as a movie script.

 

When Roger lost his battle with gravity and “fainted”, his crutches flew off to the side  knocking bottles and jars off the shelves, and sending them clattering to the floor.  Both old fellows rushed to his side to help.  Chris and Ben were both certain he had passed out from the pain he’d tried so hard to hide from prying eyes.  When they reached him and knelt down beside him, he had a small bottle of aspirin clutched in one thin hand.

 

Jules heard the commotion as he walked toward the front of the store with a bottle of Dr. Pepper in one hand and a bag of chips in the other.  He smiled to himself and all his forebodings disappeared in one fell swoop.  This was going to be much easier than he had imagined.   Both elderly men were in the aisle with Roger, hovering over him and trying to help, and Roger was, no doubt, playing it for all it was worth.

 

Jules set the soda and chips down on the counter and moved quickly to the cash register.  The proprietors had been doing paperwork and figuring bank statements, and the till was probably very healthy at the moment.  He smiled when he saw the apparent age of the cash register, and shook his head at the old guys’ seeming innocence in the face of treachery. 

 

Jules pressed the “No Sale” key very slowly and reached his hand up to quiet the bell that rang when the catch lifted and the old drawer yawned open.  He withdrew the laundry bag he’d secured to the waistband of his pants and dug the cash out of the register’s drawer, stack by stack.  He pushed the drawer closed again, silently, sneaked out from behind the counter and walked calmly out the front door.  Roger, of course, would know when to “come to” and look around and allow himself to be helped painfully to his feet …

 

Across the street, Ralph Prozetta leaned against a tree and watched Jules LeBeque come back out of the Neighborhood Store.  The sharp-eyed kid did not miss the lumpy white laundry bag the man held in his hand as he turned left and walked for a few steps, then broke into a run and disappeared quickly down the block.  Jingo scrubbed his hands through his mop of thick black hair, looked both ways, then stepped into the street and crossed to the other side.  “Something’s rotten in Denmark,” he muttered, quoting something he’d often heard his grandfather say.

 

Jingo entered the store just as Ben and Chris Baker were assisting Roger Wilson into one of the old captain’s chairs and placing his crutches gently within easy reach.  Jingo walked over to the cash register and leaned on the counter, watching.  The young crippled man was weeping softly into his cupped hands and thanking the old men over and over again for helping him to gather himself.  He was in pain, he said, but he would be all right if he could just rest there for a few more moments … the person he’d been looking for in the neighborhood, he’d just learned from another neighbor … had moved and not left a forwarding address … and blah blah blah blah …

 

Jingo clucked disgustedly in his throat.  What a piece of work this little creep was!  He was certainly not as innocent as he looked.  He had not talked to anyone in the neighborhood, and he was lying through his teeth!  It all looked plausible because the only truth the goofball had going for him was the fact that he really was crippled.  But what a crappy way to use a disability!  He and the black dude were using it to scam two nice old guys so they could rob them blind!  This shit was going to stop.  Now!

 

Boldly, Jingo walked across to the circle of chairs and reached out to snap Roger Wilson on the ear.  “You shitass!”  He was not normally allowed to use that word, but for now he took great pleasure in it.

 

Roger jerked his head up at the sudden sting of pain.  “Ow!  What … ?”

 

Ben and Chris straightened abruptly and turned on Jingo with exclamations of disbelief.  “Jingo?  What are you doing?”

 

Jingo pointed at Roger and pulled a comical “pissed-off-kid” face.  “Better check your cash register, Mister Chris.  I think this twerp’s buddy the black dude, just walked out the door with all your money … ‘cause he took off like a bat down the street a minute ago!”

 

Across from him, Roger’s eyes widened suddenly in alarm.  “That’s not true!”  His distress at what this kid might have seen caused his voice to be much more shrill than he would have liked.

 

“Is so!”  Jingo insisted loudly.   “I saw the whole thing … and I can prove it!”

 

Ben stood planted, but Chris was backing away slowly toward the front of the store.  He hit the “No Sale” button on the cash register, wondering if the kid had been watching too many cop shows.  The bell rang loudly and the cash drawer leapt open.  It was empty.

 

Roger Wilson sat in the captain’s chair bent almost double, angry beyond measure at being found out by someone who was still a child.  His mind was whirling in a desperate attempt to find a way to talk himself out of the dilemma he could see quickly closing around him.  Pathetically he began to rub his legs as though in great pain, and pretended to let his shoulders shake as though he was silently sobbing.  “I don’t know what he’s talking about,” he began.  “I never saw that other man before.  He was just someone who was kind enough to hold the door open for me.  I don’t know who he was or where he went.”

 

Ben Baker leaned over Roger’s hunched body and looked reprovingly across at Jingo.  “Are you sure about this, Jing-boy?  There are serious consequences for lying about something like this.”  He indicated Roger’s thin body.  “How could this man possibly have had anything to do with robbery?  He can barely walk.”

 

“Ain’t nothing wrong with his dirty little mind!”  Jingo insisted.  “He and the other guy were casing your place all morning.  I saw ‘em!  The black dude has a Dodge Shadow, and they were riding around in that.  I know, ‘cause my big sister’s boyfriend has a white one just like it.  They both had Yankees baseball hats on.”

 

“That’s not true!”  Roger shouted.  “What do you want, kid?  Your name in the paper?  Maybe even your picture on the front page … ‘Our Hero’!”   He straightened in the chair, bolder now.  They were all standing there staring at him.  Encouraged, he went on.  “I have Post Polio Syndrome,” he said.  “It’s hard for me to stand, let alone walk.  There’s no way I could do anything to rob anybody.  Can’t you just see me … trying to get away from the scene of a robbery on these things …”   He indicated the crutches with a sad sense of irony.

 

Jingo was not ready to give up, even though he could see with a sinking feeling from the expressions on the faces of Ben and Chris Baker, they were ready to believe the crippled dude.

 

“Liar!”  Jingo shouted.  “You lie!  You’re the decoy!  I saw your buddy let you out of the car over on Madison Street at the bus stop.  Then I saw him drive away.  The next time I saw you was when I was on my way over here to give a bottle I found to Mister Ben.”  Jingo reached into his back pocket and retrieved the little medicine bottle.  “This!  I was right across the street.  You got off the bus right down from me, and you headed straight  for here.  The other dude was coming the other way right toward you.  You even had it figured out so you both met up out front.  That’s why you came in together and why he held the door for you.  You were his decoy!  He hid the car and walked over!”  Jingo stood in front of Roger and looked him in the eyes.  “They can ask the bus driver to tell them where he picked you up, and they’ll know I’m telling the truth.  I even know the license number of the car.”

 

Roger shrank away at that, averting his eyes to the side.

 

Jingo looked back and forth between Ben and Chris, pleading silently for them to believe him.  “What’s the license number, Jingo?”  Chris asked calmly.

 

 Jingo never hesitated.  “It’s CMP-5666!  Can we call the cops and get them to look for it?  Bet he’s somewhere close so he can wait for this jerk to come out and then pick him up.  And besides that, he has a white cloth bag with all your money in it.”  Jingo bent down until he was eye to eye with Roger.  “So there, Schmuck!  You were gonna run off and get with your buddy and go spend my friends’ money.  You’re a shitass nasty cripple, and I hope you both sit on your skinny asses in jail!”

 

Roger turned his head in the direction of the opposite wall.  It was over almost before it began.  He could not escape, and he could not talk his way out of this one.  Sad as it seemed, he and Jules had pulled one little road scam too many.  Even more ironic, the Shadow was registered in Jimmy’s name.  Now Jimmy would be involved in this mess too, and probably Gregg House and indirectly, everyone at the hospital who had been kind and had helped him rehabilitate himself.

 

For one of the few times in his life, Roger felt shame instead of anger and indignation.

 

Chris Baker was walking to the front of the store, to the telephone at the front wall.  “Tell the cops it’s a dark green Dodge Shadow,” Jingo said.  “I don’t know the year.”

 

“I will, Jingo,” Chris assured him.  “And I sincerely apologize for not believing you.”

 

“Me too,” said Ben.  The man reached out a knobby hand for the little medicine bottle that Jingo still clutched in his fist.  “May I?  I guess I have to owe you the money for it, since the contents of our change drawer seems to have been temporarily … misplaced.  Can we offer you a soda in the meantime?”

 

Jingo grinned.  “Oh yeah, man!”  He handed the bottle across and walked over to another of the captain’s chairs and took himself a seat.  He smiled across at Roger with a glint of righteous indignation in his eyes.  “I guess it’s you guys who’ll get your pictures in the paper!”

 

Walking away toward the front of the store, Ben smirked into the sleeve of his old plaid shirt.

 

 

                                                          ********

 

 

James Wilson and Gregory House were sitting in Wilson’s office, and House was just finishing a lengthy diatribe about Wilson hereafter minding his own business and keeping his nose out of House’s … and how would he like to be left lying on a cold, hard gurney in Orthopedics freezing his ass off in a skimpy hospital gown and strong hospital air conditioning and having the pain in his leg make him want to strangle the next person who came anywhere near him … and paybacks were hell … and Wilson was indeed going to pay for having been responsible for House having to wear a brace on his knee again … and he was SO going to pay for the pizzas and the beer at House’s place tonight …. and he was definitely going to have to wait on House hand and foot because House’s leg was now giving him such misery … blah blah blah …

 

The desk phone rang.

 

Wilson picked up and answered in formal mode while smiling calmly, sweetly across the room at House’s bullshit at the same time. 

 

Then the smile disappeared and his eyes widened and his mouth dropped open and he stared into House’s face with a shocked expression that House had never seen there before …

 

*Whaaat??*  

 

 House mouthed the word and stared at his friend as Wilson’s handsome face betrayed a series of emotions that would have done credit to Lionel Barrymore in his heyday, and sudden tears sprang to his eyes and spilled over onto his cheeks.  But still, Wilson only listened and did not speak at all.

 

House pushed himself off the couch and limped heavily across the room to place a hand on his friend’s hunched shoulder.

 

Finally Wilson did speak.  “Yes.  I understand.  I’ll be there within a half hour.  I have a friend who will be coming along.  He’s a colleague and a doctor as well.  Yes.  Thank you.  Goodbye.”  He hung up and sat stunned for a moment before twisting in the chair and looking up at House with dark empty eyes that had lost all their beauty and focus.

“Roger and Jules have been arrested for robbery,” he said softly.  “I have to go to the police station and I said I was bringing you along.  Do you think you’re up to it?”

 

House stared.  He wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting when Wilson finally finished the long telephone conversation, but it sure-as-hell wasn’t that!  “Unhh .. yeah … I’m fine.  Arrested for robbery?!  Aw fuck!”

 

“Couldn’t have put it better myself.”  Wilson smiled wanly, but his shoulders were now shaking with tension.

 

House backed off and remained silent for a change.  Damn!  Was this what he’d been dreading so deeply all these weeks?  Was this the premonition which had held him in a strangle hold almost from the moment he’d been introduced to Roger Wilson and Jules LeBeque?  No.  No one could have forseen this. 

 

Robbery?  How in God’s name could Roger Wilson have been a party to a robbery?  Even with his continuing rehabilitation, he was still barely able to walk, and still not in full control of the pitiful muscles in his legs.  Robbery!  Deep within his dirty black heart, House chortled to himself.  He could hardly wait to hear the story.  House felt nothing except “shitty” for the way James Wilson must be feeling right now, but down inside, his sense of the absurd was running rampant and he found the entire concept a mite hilarious.

 

They rode to the police station in the Envoy.  Gregg insisted on driving Wilson down there for the police interview, but he did not trust himself to straddle the suicide machine with his leg in the strong orthopedic brace.  The Envoy, however, had some fancy aftermarket items that accommodated his disability without making a mockery of him.  It had hand controls and a mounting platform, and his damaged leg was never an issue.  It also had the power of a Sherman tank, the comfort of a Rolls Royce Silver Shadow, and the auditory heaven of satellite radio.

 

House and Wilson left the big SUV in one of the handicap parking spots and walked into the Princeton Police Station at 4:20 p.m.  Captain Ernest J. Ford was waiting for them in a lobby teeming with purposeful people on critical missions.  Ford ploughed through the melee like a quarter horse through a herd of cattle, and crossed over to meet them.  He escorted them both into a room that was strangely reminiscent of PPTH:  the walls were glass from waist level on up, all of them enclosed by heavy metal blinds.  Captain Ford appraised House’s lameness with an understanding nod and asked if he would be all right for an hour in one of the hard office chairs.  House, of course, nodded in the affirmative, hung his cane on the edge of the table and sat down beside Wilson and opposite Ford.

 

The interview was painful for Wilson, having to listen to the list of charges against his brother and his brother’s lover.  He also had to swallow the bitter pill of learning abruptly and shockingly that his kid brother was not the person he’d thought him to be.  The charges against the two men included robbery, burglary, reckless endangerment, endangering the welfare of a child, petty larceny and car theft, since the Shadow they’d driven was not their own.  Wilson was doubly shocked to find out that this was not the first robbery of its kind to be perpetuated by them.  They had blazed a discernable trail across four states, always with the same scam, the same M. O.  They had stolen enough money over the course of a year that they did not have to be homeless.  They had chosen that life for the excitement and the danger.  They had also been sly enough and cagy enough to avoid arrest over and over again.  Only when Roger’s childhood disease had resurfaced, had they run into trouble.  They had never carried weapons, never hurt anyone.  But they had stolen thousands of dollars and were facing some serious charges.

 

And then there was the resourceful eleven-year-old who had brought them to their knees (so to speak,) just by being a kid.

 

“There are other charges pending,” Ford told them, “depending on how the Baker Brothers feel about the whole thing. We apprehended Jules LeBeque in your car at the end of the 600 block of Madison Street, waiting for your brother to appear so he could pick him up.  The kid who discovered the scam is only eleven … but he’s probably going to receive a pretty nice reward for being alert and having the ability to add two and two.  He’s probably also responsible for the fact that there aren’t even more charges being filed.

 

“We recovered all the money LeBeque took from the Baker Brothers’ cash register.  It was right there on the front seat beside him, inside a nylon laundry bag.  And we have the baseball hats the kid said they were wearing. Your Dodge Shadow is across town in the police impound lot, and it’s gonna cost you fifty bucks to get it out.  It’s fine; they didn’t damage it … and your brother is all right.  We had a police department doctor examine him, since he’s physically disabled.  He found nothing wrong over and above Mr. Wilson’s pre-existing handicap.  The other man … they told me they’re life partners … will probably spend some time in jail; how much, I don’t know yet.  Your brother may receive probation because of his condition … or be sent to a penal rehab institution.  He tells me he and his partner have been living with you.  Is any of that likely to change, pending the outcome of the charges?  Do you wish to arrange bail?”

 

Wilson shook his head.  “I don’t know.  Maybe not.  They got themselves into this, and it should be up to them to get themselves out!  I’m not their keeper … just their landlord!”  Wilson’s voice was tinged with hurt and anger.  Beside him Gregg House could hardly believe his ears.

 

Wilson continued.  “I have to talk to them first.  I had no idea they had been doing this.  They’re adults, and I trusted them.  Roger is my brother, for God’s sake!”

 

Ford half smiled.  He understood the dilemmas in which families found themselves when events such as this one occurred.  Dr. House, Wilson’s colleague, Ford noticed, sat stiffly in his chair, a frown on his face, looking neither to the left, nor to the right.  He would have given a week’s pay just to know what was going on in the man’s head right now.  House obviously knew more than he was willing to tell.

 

Ford understood about that also.  He hadn’t fallen off the turnip truck yesterday.  After twenty years on the force, he’d seen what such a shock could do to those close to the perpetrators.  He returned his attention to Dr. Wilson, who, he thought, looked amazingly like his younger sibling.  The young doctor was deep in thought.  “Would you like to go down to see your brother now?”

 

Wilson nodded and glanced up.  “Yes.  Please.”

 

“You need to stay up here, Dr. House,” Ford cautioned when he saw the other doctor struggle to rise.  “Right now just family.  Sorry.”

 

House nodded sourly and sat back down.  His hand went immediately to his thigh.

 

Wilson saw the movement and turned to his friend with concern.  “You okay?”  He asked quietly.

 

House nodded in the affirmative and met his colleague’s gaze briefly.  “Go ahead.  I’m fine.”

 

As they walked out of the room, Ford took a deep breath and expelled it softly.  He’d seen the look on Wilson’s face.  So!  That’s how it was between them.  Whatever worked!  He’d known for many years that the tide of human bonding was opening up and leaning oh-so-gradually in the opposite direction.  One of these days, closets could go back to holding clothes.  He wondered what the institution of marriage might look like a hundred years from now …

 

Roger and Jules were in adjoining cells.  The police had Roger in a padded wheelchair, his legs elevated, shoes removed, clothing replaced by an orange coverall uniform.  He looked small and vulnerable, just as he had when he was brought in that day to PPTH.  His crutches were nowhere to be seen.  Further back, in the next cell, Jules had been relieved of his blue jogging suit, his head band and both shoes.  He too wore an orange one-piece jumpsuit.  He sat slouched on the cell’s narrow bunk, back against the wall, knees drawn up against his body.

 

When James Wilson was escorted into the cell block, neither man could meet his eyes.  There were a couple of hard, straight-back chairs in the corridor across from the cells.  Ford told Wilson to take his choice, but warned him not to go near the bars or come within reaching distance of the prisoners.  He then turned and walked away.  His footfalls echoed hollowly on the concrete passageway, and presently the slam of the outer door announced his departure.  Only a uniformed guard remained to stand sentinel in a far corner.

 

James never thought a member of his family would be referred to as “prisoner”.  But here he was …

 

Wilson pulled one of the chairs over and straddled it, folding both arms across the back and lowering his chin onto them, facing his brother and his brother’s partner.  “Would one of you care to tell me, please … what the hell you thought you were doing?”  His voice was low, and it wavered more than he would have liked. 

 

Neither man moved or spoke.  The surrounding air was heavy with their silence. Wilson leaned further onto the chair back and prepared himself for the long haul.  If they didn’t feel like talking, fine.  He was willing to wait until they did.  Meanwhile, he raked them both with a cold, baleful stare of disappointment.

 

 

Upstairs, Gregg House pushed himself out of the uncomfortable chair and moved gingerly out of the enclosed room.  His muscles were stiff and the brace on his knee was becoming very uncomfortable.  He needed to find a men’s room where he could sit down, remove his jeans and loosen the Velcro fastening.  Judging from the increasing discomfort, he was afraid his knee was beginning to swell, and if it was, he was dumping the damned brace, whether it pissed off Norm Lyons or not. 

 

Most of the weight on his right side was being absorbed by his arm and shoulder again, and they both hurt, along with the muscles in his upper back from the awkward redistribution of his center of gravity.  He’d been facing a no-win scenario lately, and he was sick of it.  His Vicodin use was increasing and its effectiveness decreasing.  He was in need of distraction to get his mind off it before the added pinging of his damaged nerves drove him up a wall.

 

He was back in the busy open area of the station house now, shying away from the constant mainstream of police traffic and searching for someone who did not have that blank look of fateful purpose on his or her face.  There was dark green doctors-office furniture planted here and there along the walls, obviously for people awaiting results of cases or killing time until their complaints had been resolved. 

 

Looking around for someone to inquire after the location of the men’s room, Gregg’s eyes fell on a pair of elderly men sitting on an ugly green sofa against one of the walls.  One old fellow was light, the other dark.  Both were tall and thin and looking to be in their mid-seventies. 

 

House gazed at them and thought:  “Hmmmmm … The Fabulous Baker Boys!”  He clasped his cane a little tighter and ventured in their direction.

 

Both men watched his halting approach, and House could read their minds. 

 

*Oh no!  Not another crippled one!*  

 

He walked over there anyway.  Nodded a preliminary greeting and eased himself down into an ugly green chair that matched the ugly green sofa.

 

“You’re the Baker Brothers?”

 

The men looked at each other for a moment, then glared owlishly up at him.  The white- haired one spoke.  “We are.  May I ask who you are?”

 

“My name is Dr. Gregory House.”

 

They continued to stare.  His name, of course, meant nothing to them.  “Are you with the police?”  The white-haired one inquired politely.  His watery blue eyes were fastened on House’s cane and stretched-out leg.

 

House shook his head.  “No.  I’m here with Dr. James Wilson.  It was his brother and friend who robbed you.  Dr. Wilson’s downstairs talking to them now.  Have the police returned your money?”  He leaned his cane against the chair and began to massage his thigh with both hands.

 

Both men watched him intently.  “No, they haven’t,” said the darker one.  “They’re holding it as evidence for now.  Dr. House, are you in pain?”

 

Gregg nodded.  What the hell … he would probably never see them again.  “Yeah.  I have a bum leg, and right now it hurts like hell.  You gentlemen wouldn’t happen to know where the men’s room is, would you?”

 

The white-haired one nodded and pointed with a gnarled finger.  “Down the hallway to the left … and then make another left.  Are you able to walk that far?”

 

House nodded again, and made to rise.  “Yeah … believe it or not, it’s better sometimes if I keep moving.  I’ll be back shortly … if you’re still here.”

 

“I’m sure we will be.”

 

House limped briskly away, keeping close to the wall to keep from butting heads with anyone.  He found the rest room and strode inside.

 

 

In the basement cell block, James Wilson sat on the hard straight-backed chair and continued to look at the two men across from him.  Neither one had spoken.  Both of them hung their heads in shame … or resentment … he wasn’t sure which.  One thing he’d decided for certain, however:  there would be no bail forthcoming from his bank account!  It had taken enough of a hit when he’d allowed himself to grub-stake them in the first place.  Family was one thing, and compassion was another, but Wilson was finding out that sitting still while his brother and friend committed larceny was an entirely different breed of cat!

 

“I have absolutely no intentions of bailing you guys out, you know!”  He stated bluntly.  “You can both sit in here until your balls fall off.  If you’re not going to talk to me, I’ll leave … and I’ll see you around …”   Wilson stood up and swung around to turn the chair to face the wall.

 

“Jimmy …”  Roger’s voice was beseeching and Wilson steeled himself against it even as he turned slowly around to face him.

 

“Oh … so the cat didn’t steal your tongue after all?”

 

“Jimmy … you can’t leave us here like this …”

 

“I can’t?  Give me a good reason why not!”

 

“I can’t walk …”

 

“And this is supposed to make me take pity on you … how?”

 

“Jimmy, you can’t just walk away!”

 

“Oh yes I can, and I’m going to.  If you were well enough to do what you did, then you’re well enough to take the consequences.  House was right.  He tried to warn me about both of you very soon after you got here.  But I didn’t listen.  Well guess what … I’m listening now.”  Wilson finished backing the chair against the wall.

 

“Guard?”

 

Slowly, the man ambled forward.  “Sir?”

 

“I’m ready to leave now.”

 

They both turned toward the door that led away from the cell block.

 

Behind him, Roger’s plaintive voice faded with distance.  “Jimmy?   Jimmy?   Fuck you, Big Brother!”

 

Wilson sighed raggedly.  Tears burned the corners of his eyes. But House was waiting for him upstairs …

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