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Authors: James Roy

Captain Mack (8 page)

BOOK: Captain Mack
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“Ah,” answered Captain Mack, nodding wisely and tapping the side of his nose. “Understood, lad.”

“So, is next Monday all right then?”

“Aye, right ye are, lad. Monday. See ye then. And don't forget, Snell, there'll be a decoration in this for ye if we pull it off.”

Danny stood tall and saluted, and even though the room was otherwise empty, he had a strange feeling that he wasn't pretending any more. “Thank you, sir. I won't let you down.”

“Where are you going to be waiting?” Danny asked Caleb.

“Where you told us to wait.”

“Yeah, but say it back to me. I need to know that you remembered.”

“Come on, mate, trust me.”

“Tell me,” Danny insisted. “It's important.”

“Oh, all right,” Caleb sighed. “We'll be parked near the stop sign on the corner at six o'clock, just like you said. Happy?”

“Good. And you're sure that your brother's going to be able to make it? Because if he can't, we're stuffed.”

“Yeah, I checked today. Paul's pumped,” said Caleb.

“Well he's getting free car-washes for a month, so he'd better be.”

“You're taking this pretty seriously, aren't you?” Caleb said.

“I have to. I promised Captain Mack I would.”

“All those car-washes — I hope he realises the sacrifice you're making.”

It was tough, but somehow Danny managed to keep his mouth shut. Caleb was a great guy, but he'd never understand. Never ever, and Danny felt a little sorry.

TWELVE

Danny took a deep breath to steady the butterflies and walked towards the front door of Redgrange. He hoped that Captain Mack's mind was clear today, but not so clear that he'd refuse to go through with the plan.

He made a point of saying hello to the receptionist. She was slouched over the desk as she spoke on the phone, but he managed to catch her eye and she almost smiled, which was an improvement on most evenings. He threw his bag casually over his shoulder and strode down the corridor.

Just as he often did, Captain Mack was sitting on the edge of his bed. He had his red tartan dressing gown tied up tightly, and his scarf was already around his neck with the ends tucked inside the gown. He was also wearing a hat.

Fortunately the room was empty. Danny pushed the door shut. He didn't even bother to salute. “What are you doing?” he demanded.

Captain Mack turned and looked at him, smiling broadly. “Hello, lad. Well, let's get this show on the road, eh?”

“You're all dressed up,” Danny pointed out.

“Aye, ready to go.” He pulled back the neck of his gown and his pyjamas to show Danny his shirt underneath. The buttons were done up crooked. “Well, come on, lad, let's not dilly dally,” he said eagerly.

Danny shook his head crossly. “You can't look like you're escaping,” he explained in a loud whisper. “Don't you remember — I'm supposed to be visiting. Quick, take off your scarf and hat and throw them in here,” he said, holding his bag open. “What's that smell?” he asked.

“Aftershave,” Captain Mack announced proudly.

“Aftersh … OK, quick, where's the other stuff you wanted to bring? We've got to pack it all, and we haven't got much time.”

“Don't crease my hat, lad,” Captain Mack fussed.

“Come on!” Danny said impatiently.

Captain Mack started pulling underwear and hankies out of the small cupboard beside his bed. It all made a rather pathetic little pile on the end of his bed. Danny stuffed the lot into his empty bag, glancing towards the door from time to time. All the good intentions in the world wouldn't mean much if they got caught packing to leave at six in the evening.

“Did you remember to make a scene at dinnertime like I said?” he asked as he worked.

“I tried, but they told me to shut up and keep eating.”

Danny managed a quick smile. “That'll do the trick.”

When everything was packed he zipped up the bag. It was pretty fat and full, but that was a risk they were going to have to take. “OK, you right?” he asked.

Captain Mack took a deep breath and sighed. “Aye, lad, I'm ready. What happens now?”

“You walk me to the front desk,” Danny replied, checking his watch. “It's almost six, so we've got to go this minute. Then you go for a walk out on the verandah. Remember, I'll meet you in the bushes at the far end. Got it?”

“Aye,” replied Captain Mack. “But Snell?”

“Yes, sir?”

“What about my pills?”

Danny froze in the doorway. He hadn't thought of the pills. He didn't even know what medications Captain Mack took. In a single moment he'd gone from being completely in control of the situation to having no idea what he should do next.

“Ellie should know what you take, shouldn't she?” he said hopefully.

“Who's Ellie?” Captain Mack asked.

Danny groaned. He'd need to have faith, then. Faith, desperate hope and little else. That all there was to it. “Never mind. Come on,” he said, taking a deep breath and holding the door open for Captain Mack. “And try to act natural.”

They got to the front desk just as the receptionist was gathering her things together and pulling on her jacket.

“Bye, Captain Mack,” Danny said quickly, just loud enough that she'd be sure to hear. “I'll see you later.”

Captain Mack looked confused for a moment, then he remembered. “Aye, lad, see ye shortly.”

“Some time next week,” Danny replied, slowly and deliberately.

“Aye,” repeated Captain Mack.

Danny nodded towards the verandah before he turned to leave.

It was already dark outside, and as soon as he was out the front door Danny trotted across the damp grass to the garden at the end of the verandah. He'd checked it out several times over the last couple of weeks and knew that there was enough shadow at that end of the building to allow him to squat in the bushes without being seen, either from the street or from any of the barred hospital windows.

He burrowed his way into the garden and waited, watching along the length of the verandah. There was no movement for a long time, and he thought that Captain Mack must have forgotten his next move. Then, finally, when Danny was beginning to think about giving it all away, the old man appeared. He was making a noise something like a whistle, and Danny grimaced. He'd never heard Captain Mack whistle before. It certainly wasn't what he'd describe as “acting natural”.

Finally Captain Mack made it to the garden where Danny was crouching. “Are ye there, lad?” he whispered loudly.

“Down here,” Danny replied. “Did anyone see you?”

“I can't say. So what happens now?”

“Can you get under this railing?”

“I think so, Snell. Should I try?”

“Yeah, come on.” There was just the one railing at the top, with nothing to stop anyone slightly flexible from bending under it. Captain Mack wasn't all that flexible, though, and it took quite a lot of guiding and helping and tugging from Danny to get him down into the garden. As it was, once he was in there, his head, shoulders and chest were exposed high above the bushes.

“This is nuts — we've really got to get going,” Danny said, as much to himself as to Captain Mack.

“Watch for the spotlights, lad,” Captain Mack hissed. “Did ye think of that?”

“I've checked,” Danny said. “There aren't any spotlights.”

Captain Mack frowned and twisted his head about, having a good hard look for himself. “The towers, then, where are they?”

“Don't worry about them. The tower guards are all distracted.”

Captain Mack put a hand on Danny's shoulder. “Ye've thought of everything. Ye've done well, lad, no mistake.”

“We haven't gone yet,” Danny said, glancing at his watch. “Come on, Paul and Caleb should be there by now.” And after a bit of a struggle they emerged from the garden and crossed the lawn, heading towards the street.

Paul's dark blue car was waiting by the stop sign, just as Danny and Caleb had arranged. Paul was leaning against the hood looking bored while Caleb sat on the kerb. Paul saw Danny and Captain Mack walking towards them and said something to Caleb as he straightened up.

Caleb turned and saw them. “Aha, the escapees,” he said, getting up.

“Captain Mack, remember Caleb? And this is his brother Paul,” Danny said.

“Hi there,” said Caleb. Paul just nodded.

Captain Mack frowned and muttered to Danny, “If they weren't civilians I'd be wondering where my salute had got to, lad.”

“Well they
are
civilians,” Danny replied. He glanced back in the direction of Redgrange. “Come on, we'd better get going.”

“No trains?” said Captain Mack.

“No trains, like I promised.”

“Good lad.”

Caleb screwed up his nose. “What's that smell?” he said.

Paul pulled over in front of Ellie's house. “There you go,” he said. It was the first thing he'd said since they'd left Redgrange.

“Thank ye, lad. I'll not forget this,” said Captain Mack.

“No worries,” Paul answered.

“So what happens now?” Caleb asked.

Danny shrugged. “I'll go and see Ellie. She'll know what to do. I've got to check about his pills anyway.”

Caleb rolled his eyes. “I hope you know what you're getting yourself into.”

Danny tried to smile. It felt very forced. “It's a bit late for that now.”

Ellie came to the door but didn't open it straightaway. Danny could see her dark shape through the little frosted-glass panels.

“Who is it?” she asked.

“It's Danny. I've got someone here who wants to see you.”

“Hang on,” she said, and then the door opened. “Captain Mack!” she exclaimed as she recognised the old man towering behind Danny. She looked back and forth between them. “What's going on?”

Captain Mack glanced over his shoulder at the empty street. “We shouldn't talk out here. We've just pulled off an escape.”

“An escape?” Now she looked squarely at Danny for an explanation, her face a confused frown. “What's he talking about?”

Danny could feel how sheepish he looked. “Just like he said,” he replied quietly.

“Escaped? From Redgrange?”

Danny nodded. Ellie didn't seem as excited about this as he'd thought she might be. In fact, she was beginning to look kind of cross.

“Can we come in?” Danny asked her. “It's pretty cold out here.”

“Yeah, I guess you'd better.” She took a deep breath and stood back from the doorway. “Has he got any stuff, or did you just lead him out?” she asked.

Danny patted his bulging bag. “All in here. Except his pills. I need to ask you about those.”

“Oh brother,” she said under her breath.

“So what do you think is going to happen now?” Ellie asked sternly when they were all sitting at her kitchen table with cups of tea in front of them. “That's an open question,” she added. “You can both feel free to speak up.”

Captain Mack was busy staring into his cup, and Danny knew it was up to him to explain.

“Um … we thought that maybe Captain Mack could stay with you for a little while. Just until we can arrange for him to go back to Lady Smythe.”

“I'm so glad you checked first,” Ellie said.

“Well, you did say it would be pretty cool —”

Ellie shook her head. “I'm sorry I gave you that impression, Danny, because I think it's a crazy plan, for a couple of reasons. First, he can't stay here because I have to work tomorrow and the next day and the day after that. Let me finish,” she said as Danny opened his mouth to say something. “Second, we're not going to arrange for him to come back to Lady Smythe.”

“Why not?” Danny asked.

“Because it isn't that simple. I thought I made that clear. We can't just say ‘Let's stick him in that bed there because it's empty or because it's as good as any other'. It's complicated, Danny. His son made the decision to move him for reasons of his own, so we have to abide by that.”

“But that's not fair,” Danny argued, barely controlling the whine in his voice. “He's a grown-up — he should be able to decide for himself.”

“Maybe, but that's not up to us, especially you, since you're a minor. Besides, I don't even know what pills he takes. He could be on anything — heart medication or blood pressure tablets or anything.”

Danny said nothing then. There was nothing he could say — not with the lump in his throat. He could feel rage in his chest, and it was the same frustrated rage he'd felt those times he'd been put on detention for stuff that wasn't his fault while the real culprits got away with it.

“I hate this,” he said at last, his voice high and strained. “It's so unfair. Captain Mack hates that place, but there's nothing he can do about it because he's too old, and nothing I can do about it because I'm too young. The people who
can
do something about it won't.”

Ellie took another deep breath and looked down, avoiding Danny's eyes. “Danny, I hope you realise that I'm trapped like you. I'd love to do something, but I really don't think I can. And I definitely can't keep him here after you've just kidnapped him.”

It was then that Captain Mack made a strange noise, something like a choked sniff. Danny and Ellie both looked at him and saw a huge tear making its way down his face.

“Sorry, Captain Mack, we didn't mean to talk about you like you're not here,” Ellie said, resting a hand on his arm.

He looked up at her then, and his good eye was red. “Don't bother about it, young lady. Ye're not the first and ye'll not be the last. I know ye'll have to do what needs to be done, and I'll not hold it against either of ye. I know ye tried to help me, but I can't be helped — that much I understand.” He grabbed the edge of the table as he stood unsteadily. “Ye'd best take me back now, if it's not too much bother.”

“But what about the guards?” Danny asked.

Captain Mack sighed. “They're not guards, lad. Granted sometimes they seem like it, but I guess tonight they're really not.”

Captain Mack's son William was waiting in the empty foyer when Ellie, Danny and Captain Mack got back to Redgrange. He stood up as they walked into the warmth. His bald spot was red and his lips were so tight that they were going thin and white. “What did you think you were doing?” he asked his father angrily.

“I tried to warn ye that we were planning something, son,” Captain Mack said calmly. “But ye didn't want to listen, did ye?”

“I thought you were screwing around,” William said.

“We weren't,” Danny interjected.

William turned and stared at Danny with a cold, angry stare. He was tall, like his father, and at that moment he looked quite terrifying. “You! What have you got to say, you little stinker, taking an old man out in the middle of a winter night like that? What if it had been raining? You could have killed him!”

“I'm not dead, William,” Captain Mack said.

“No, but you could have been!”

“Ye're blathering, lad,” Captain Mack said, shaking his head. “Cease yer blathering.”

One of the nurses came over. “Come on, Mr McAullife,” she said, taking Captain Mack by the arm. “Let's get you back to bed.”

BOOK: Captain Mack
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