The Legends Trilogy Part 2 Ken

Chapter 1

Biderman’s chart of coercion. The beginnings. Know your target and understand their weaknesses.

‘You are a medical consultant asked by a surgical colleague to see a 78 year old woman, now 10 days after abdominal surgery, who has become increasingly short of breath over the last 24 hours. She has also been experiencing what she describes as chest discomfort which is sometimes made worse by taking a deep breath (but sometimes not). Abnormal findings on physical examination are restricted to residual tenderness in the abdomen and scattered crackles at both lung bases. Chest radiograph reveals a small right pleural effusion, but this is the first radiograph since the operation. Arterial blood gases show a PO2 of 70, with a saturation of 92. The electrocardiogram shows only non-specific changes. Hutchinson what would you do next and what is your preliminary diagnosis?’ Dr Freidrich’s voice caught the young blond man unawares and he looked up like a rabbit caught in the headlights of an oncoming car.

‘Oh..um…I…think um….’

‘You think “um”? Oh come on man. Spit it out. You’re supposed to be an up and coming doctor. There’s no time for “um” and “oh”. What’s your opinion?’

Ken Hutchinson cleared his throat and tried to get his thoughts into order. ‘Well, I would …um, has she received any heparin?’

Freidrich nodded. ‘5000 U of heparin twice a day’.

‘Ok, then maybe she has a pulmonary embolus. I would probably request a ventilation-perfusion scan and ask for the result to be reported to the nurse over the phone to avoid delay’.

‘Fine. The report is that it’s "intermediate probability" for PE’ Freidrich pushed. ‘

Then I would order full anticoagulation’

‘Good. Took you a while, but you got there’ Freidrich said and moved on to the next unsuspecting medical student. Ken breathed a sigh of relief, clutched his notes to his chest and moved on, trailing behind the rest of the consultant’s firm. He hated this. Hated the interminable ward rounds where he and a dozen other students followed the professor round the hospital, talking about the patients like they were lumps of meat. Freidrich was old school through and through. He saw beds filled with diagnoses rather than people and constantly referred to “the pulmonary embolism in bed three” or “the mononucleosis in seven”.

It angered and embarrassed the young student to be associated with someone like that, and although he admitted that he’d learned a lot from the man, it still didn’t stop him from wanting to wring the man’s neck at some point of each day. As he walked past the end of the bed, he gave the woman there a warm smile and stopped a moment.

‘How are you feeling?’ he asked quietly.

The “pulmonary embolism in three” smiled gratefully back at him, warmed that the handsome young doctor would take an extra interest. ‘Not feeling too bad today doctor’ she said.

‘Oh..um, I’m not a doctor. Just a medical student. Won’t be a doctor for another two years’ he whispered conspiratorially.

‘Well I’m sure you’ll make a good one’ she smiled back.

A flush bloomed over the young man’s face, starting at his neck and flooding his handsome features like a red hot tide. He mumbled something that sounded like ‘See you later’ and backed quickly away.

He didn’t want to be a doctor. He wanted to help people for sure, but the idea of spending every day doing the same thing repulsed him. It wasn’t that he was scared of sickness, or that he found the studying too difficult. He wasn’t top of his class, but he was better than average. It was the thought of slipping into a white coat each day and hiding behind the mystique of being a medic. He’d seen it so many times before. How an irate, confused or angry patient would turn into the most docile meek lamb just because the consultant had appeared. Or the relative who had been giving the nursing staff a hard time for hours would calm down in seconds and ingratiate themselves to the person they perceived to have the most power.

It wasn’t so much that he’d chosen the wrong profession, more that the wrong profession had been chosen for him. His father, the eminent Dr Richard Hutchinson was a consultant surgeon specializing in Cardiothoracic surgery and was permanently on call to rush anywhere in the country to assist in major, complex surgeries. He’d written paper after paper on surgery, had been awarded countless honors and of course, expected his only son to follow suit. It didn’t matter that Ken’s sister had more aptitude for surgery than he ever would. It didn’t matter that she graduated top of her class in chemistry, biology and physics while he’d managed only fourth place. She was a girl, and in Dr Hutchinson’s eyes, daughters were there for one purpose and one purpose only – to get married and have babies. The Hutchinson line rested fairly and squarely on Ken’s shoulders, and the line could only progress correctly if each successive generation was as successful a doctor as Richard was.

‘You did good’. A voice from behind him startled him, and crystal blue eyes opened wide.


‘You managed to shut the professor up with your answer. You did good’.

Ken smiled warmly at John Farmer, his good friend and fellow student.

‘Just luck. I was boning up about it last night and he just happened to ask the right question’.

‘You mean you weren’t out with the lovely Vanessa?’

Ken made a sour face. ‘Sore point. She likes the idea of me being a doctor. She doesn’t like the idea of me having to study all the hours God sends to actually get there’.

‘You mean you had another argument?’ John asked. He was used to it. Ken and Vanessa had an average of one argument per week, culminating in a real doozy once per month.

‘Shall we just say she registered her displeasure’ Ken grinned and pulled back the cuff of his white coat, showing his friend the livid red scratches which Vanessa’s red painted talons had raked down his forearm.

John whistled softly. ‘Bet she bites too’.

‘Oh yeah! But that’s a whole different ball game’ Ken grinned as they moved off to follow the professor to his next unsuspecting victim.

They entered the room of a relatively young woman. It was quiet and still, only the hiss whoosh of a respirator breaking the silence. Surrounding the young girl’s bed, machinery filled the room and at the back, sitting with quiet dignity was a small, dark eyed woman, looking tired and washed out, dark rings circling her eyes. The professor started to talk about the patient as though neither they, nor the other woman were there.

‘This patient was admitted two days ago with Guillain-Barre Syndrome. She had rapid onset debilities, ending in complete muscle paralysis, including all muscle groups. As you can see, her breathing is being assisted and at this moment she is probably awake, but trapped in her body, unable to speak, breathe, blink, swallow or communicate in any way with the outside world. The situation may or may not be permanent’.

‘Can anyone tell me the primary symptoms of Guillain-Barre Syndrome? Farmer?’

John looked uncomfortably at the woman and the paralysed girl. ‘The first symptoms of this disorder include varying degrees of weakness or tingling sensations in the legs. In many instances, the weakness and abnormal sensations spread to the arms and upper body. These symptoms can increase in intensity until the muscles cannot be used at all and the patient is almost totally paralyzed. In these cases, the disorder is life-threatening and is considered a medical emergency’ he managed to rhyme off quietly.

‘What? Speak up man’ Freidrich muttered tetchily.

‘What’s her name?’ Hutch asked

The professor looked stunned, as though the question was the most stupid thing he’d ever heard. ‘Name? What’s that got to do with anything? Do you want to cure her, or date her Mr Hutchinson?’

One or two of the students laughed politely at the joke, but Ken persisted.

‘I just think it’s important to get to know the person you’re trying to heal’ he said.

‘Well it isn’t’ Freidrich snapped. He turned away and Ken was left staring at the shell of a girl who was once vibrant and alive. He looked at the paralysed body and wondered what it would be like to withstand being a prisoner inside your own flesh. And then to have a doctor talk about your prognosis as though you weren’t there. He shivered in sympathy and his hand trailed over the girl’s hand.

‘Her name’s Amy’ the woman at the bedside said. ‘I’m her mother. Thank you!’

Ken smiled at the woman. Gently he bent down over the body and whispered in her ear.

‘Hello Amy. You’ll be fine, I know you will. He’s an asshole!’

The rest of the day followed the same sort of path, although Freidrich’s earlier friendly demeanor towards the blond had eroded so that for the most part he was ignored. Which was fine by Ken. He was used to it, and as he and John sat exhausted in the locker room at the end of the day, his friend asked him what he was going to do that night.

‘Bury myself in my books. I have a wrestling match for the college team tonight and then its study study study. The end of semester papers are out next week and I still have a shit load of stuff to do. But it’ll be quiet at home’.

‘Your folks gone away again?’ John Farmer was used to his friend telling him his Mom and Dad had gone away. Flown first class to some remote corner of the US to attend an award ceremony or present a new research paper. John’s own family life was so different. The tall, red headed boy from the “wrong” side of Duluth and lived with his Dad in a small rented apartment on a busy road. His Mom had died when he was born and both he and his Dad shared everything, their love shining through all that they did and making Ken envious of his friend’s home life. They had very little money, but John’s Dad had taken a second job to pay for his son’s progress through medical school and John worked extra hard at his studies in order to make his Dad proud of him.

‘Uh huh. Just me and Chancita for supper again’. Ken sighed. It was usually the same. He and his Mom’s Mexican maid alone in the huge kitchen eating fajitas as she taught him some of the choicer Mexican swear words. He was closer to the woman than he was to his own mother and Chancita was always there for him. The middle aged, slightly portly maid had been with the family now for almost all of Ken’s life and she was the one he would run to as a little boy when he fell and grazed his knee, or the one who nursed him through the measles, chicken pox and other childhood ailments. He liked her company and turned to her for the love and affection he’d never received from is blood relatives. It had never been too bad when his sister was at home, but since she’d left to get married to one of Dad’s colleagues’ son, Ken was very much alone. The new Mrs Marissipio lived up in Canada now, her husband being in the front office of the Canadian football team.

‘You want some company?’

Ken grinned. ‘Nah. Wouldn’t want to inflict the Hutchinson fortress on you buddy’. They’d often laughed about the gated community the family lived on and how difficult it could be to actually get into the house in the first place.

Picking up his bag, Ken made for the door. ‘Call me later. By the time I’ve ploughed my way through “segmentation”, the “chime response” and the “functions of Acetyl Co A” I’ll need a shoulder to cry on!’

John chuckled. ‘No problems buddy. See you later’.

Ken walked out of the big stone building on the campus of the medical faculty and slowly walked to his car. His Dad refused to have the vehicle parked outside his house. Ken had enough money to be able to but himself pretty much any car he wanted and Dr Hutchinson had tried all ways to have his son drive a nice little T-bird or Corvette. But the younger Hutchinson saw this as a way he could rebel against his Father’s iron will. Instead of going to the car show rooms and buying a nice little sporty number, he’d gone down to the second hand car lot and become the proud owner of a small, dark blue, rusty Ford Falcon.

Getting in, he picked up the thin wooden wedge and jammed it into the driver’s side door to make it stay closed, put the keys in the ignition and drove out through the gates of the university and off to his house.

As he drove, his mind went back over the day. He hated Professor Freidrich. He hated the hospital. He hated the fact he didn’t now enough to help any of the people he saw day after day and he hated the fact that his Dad had forced him into this position. Ken cursed out loud, slammed his fist against the wheel of the car and wondered what he’d like to do if he didn’t have to go down the medical route.

15 minutes later he parked his car under the shade of some of the big trees overhanging the wall surrounding Hutchinson Palace and thumbed the numbers on the key pad to let himself in. He walked up the long driveway and was stunned to see not only Dr Hutchinson’s gleaming Jaguar parked outside his house, but also a black and white police car. Something must be wrong to have his Dad at home instead of in Alaska doing his talk on God knows what.

Chapter 2

Hurrying, Ken walked inside the big house and found his way to his Dad’s study. Dr Hutchinson was sitting behind his desk in the dark maroon coloured room in deep conversation with a man of perhaps 30 years, dressed in plain, slightly casual clothes. They both stopped as Ken walked into the room.

‘What’s going on?’ he asked as he looked from his Dad to the cop and back.

‘Nothing to concern you’ Dr Hutchinson said, laying down a sheet of paper.

‘Ah…don’t you think he has a right to know?’ the cop said as he turned to look at Ken.

‘A right to know? Know what?’ the young blond demanded.

‘I said it’s nothing to concern you. Scaremongering. That’s all it is. Just pranksters’.

‘Dr Hutchinson, you were concerned enough to call us in. I don’t think you thought it was a hoax did you?’ the man pushed.

‘He doesn’t need to concern himself. It’s not his problem, it’s yours now. He has enough to concern him with his studies’.

‘Dad, what’s he talking about? I’m sick of being treated like a ten year old; like I’m not here. Tell me what’s going on. Is Mom ok? Is she sick, or something?’ Ken strode around until he was on the opposite side of the desk. He saw his father turn a piece of paper over quickly, but before Dr Hutchinson could put it away, Ken snatched it from him and held it up. His hand shook as he read the words on the plain white sheet.

Dr hUtcHINsoN. $1,000,000 iN UnuseD bills BY Noon toMorrow, oR KenNy woN’T Be aRound mUcH longEr.

The note was spelled out in print cut from a newspaper or magazine, the letters mismatched and odd looking. But the sentiment was plain enough and the blond hitched a breath.

‘So this is the hoax huh? When did you get this? This is so unimportant that I didn’t need to know about it? Jesus Dad, feel the love in this room!’

‘Don’t you dare blaspheme in this house young man. Go wash your mouth out now. I didn’t want to tell you because I didn’t want you to worry. It’s all in hand. The police are dealing with it. We should just continue as always. It doesn’t do to pander to these crazy people’.

‘And when were you thinking of letting this little snippet drop into the conversation huh? “Oh son, just to let you know there’s a million dollar price tag on your head. What would you like for supper?”. Dad I’m 21. I’m old enough to make decisions. Another couple of years and I’ll be old enough to be in charge of a patient’s life for Gods sake! Don’t you think I have a right to know that someone out there is blackmailing you?...with my life? So tell me. When did you get this? ’

‘Yesterday, but its past noon and nothing’s happened!’ Dr Hutchinson turned back to the detective. ‘Would you leave us please? I think you have all the information you need. This is another attempt at blackmail and I won’t give in, no matter what. My experimental work on animals means hundreds of human lives are saved and I’m not about to give that up. If you’ll excuse…’

‘Oh forget it’ Ken yelled. ‘You wouldn’t care if it was all for real. All you care about is your next research grant and which award you can run for next. Well don’t let me get in your way. I’m outa here’. He turned on his heel without giving his Father a backwards glance and headed for the door.

‘Sir I really don’t think it’s safe for him to be going out on his own. I could have someone assigned to him now, if that’s easier’.

Dr Hutchinson forced a smile onto his face. He hated his only son showing him up like that in front of strangers. It did nothing for his image and embarrassed him to the point where he wished Ken would just up and leave. He could do no better than settle down with that nice Vanessa girl. She had the right breeding, the right looks and the right face to get Ken noticed by any hospital administrator in the country when the time came. And Dr Hutchinson knew just how important image was when it came to applying for and getting the plum jobs. He and his wife Elizabeth had been very successful in that regard, and although they both led almost separate lives for most of the time, it was good to have her draped elegantly over his arm at social occasions and award ceremonies.

‘Leave him to me. He’ll come back with his tail between his legs when he’s had enough. As I said, I’ve had these notes before. I didn’t give in to their threats then, and I’m not about to start now. So, Detective, I’ll have the maid show you to the door and you can let me know how your investigation is proceeding’.

Both men stood and Hutchinson senior held out a hand. The detective, Hank Netter barely brushed the long, well manicured fingers and left the room. ‘Cold hearted bastard’ he muttered under his breath as a well padded Mexican maid showed him to the front door. He paused.

‘The younger Mr. Hutchinson. Does he have particular friends? Somewhere he might go if he’d had an argument with his Father? Dr Hutchinson mentioned a woman…Vanessa?’

She snorted. ‘If he did, he’d be living there permanently!’ She leaned forward conspiratorially. ‘Try John Farmer. They live over near 6th Avenue. Or there’s that fly woman he’s going out with. Vanessa Hammel. Her family have a property down by the lake’.

‘Does he do this often?’ Netter asked.

‘Well, I shouldn’t speak ill of my employer, but there’s not much love lost in the Hutchinson house’ she said, smiling wanly as she closed the door.

Detective Netter made his way back to his car and drove away a troubled man.

Ken shot out of the house and ran down the drive. His years on the track and field team served him in good stead and his long legs powered him down the gravel and through the gates. Pausing a moment, he stood, hands on hips as he panted and wondered what to do next. A small part of him was afraid. Afraid that his Dad would piss someone off so much that they just might carry out the threat on the note. But the biggest part of him was heartily sick of being treated like a second class citizen, as though he didn’t matter, and as though nothing else in the world mattered apart from the great Dr Hutchinson. Ken was pretty sure that that was really the reason he didn’t want to do medicine. He didn’t want to be constantly compared against his Dad, and that would surely happen. He’d spent his whole life so far in the shadow of that one man and he couldn’t face spending the rest of it in the same way.

Ken walked towards his car, realising belatedly that he hadn’t got his car keys with him. Unable to face going back into the house again, he shrugged fatalistically and set off in an easy, loping stride in the opposite direction. He didn’t see the big brown Ford Galaxie that drew out of the bushes behind him. So angry was the young blond that he didn’t even hear the noise of the engine as the driver revved it in order to start to follow the jogging man.

In the car, two men sat, eyes glued to the lithe form in front of them. ‘D’ya think he got the note?’ the man with the nut brown eyes said.

‘Either he did and he didn’t tell his little boy, or young Kenny there is crazier or braver than we thought’ the other golden haired man muttered. ‘Keep up with him. There are too many people around here. Just tail him till it’s quiet and we have a chance’.

‘Shouldn’t be too long. He’s turning right out into the park. Hold on’.

The big car hung a right and slid through the main iron gates to the big park. Ken came here a lot, to run and think. Physical exercise calmed him. It always had and he prided himself on keeping his 6’1” body in good shape with a daily workout at the university gym and often a jog in the evening.

The park at that time of evening was quiet, just the way he liked it. Early morning and tea time were the best for a proper run. Other times it was full of women taking their poodles for walks and nannies with prams blocking the walkways or sitting on the benches chattering. Now he settled down into his usual gait. Not fast and not slow, but his long legs ate up the yards as he pounded along the wide, hard topped roadway.

Ken heard the sound of the car engine coming up behind him. At first he thought it was the park keeper doing his early evening rounds and he moved over to the side of the road to allow the familiar four by four to pass. He was ready to wave at Jim, the grounds man who’d become a firm friend over the years. Jim was one of those men who enjoyed the company of youngsters and it had been Jim who had first got the young Ken interested in plants, giving him a small plot of land behind the playground for him to till and hoe and plant with radishes and pumpkins and green beans. It had been a haven for the young Hutchinson before his Mother had complained that he was mixing with “the wrong sort” and he’d been forced to leave the older man’s company.

Ken continued to run in the gutter by the side of the road but instead of seeing the big vehicle pass by, the engine noise stayed behind him.

C’mon bozo, get past huh? What’s up with ya Jim? Eyesight going? Ya want even more room?

Speeding up slightly, the blond suddenly felt a sudden wave of unease as the car behind sped up to keep just on his tail. Mentally chastising himself for having been spooked by the presence of the cop in his Dad’s study and the note he had read, Ken ran on allowing the mindless physical activity to calm him. But tonight, for some reason it didn’t and his heart started to hammer in his chest. Not the product of the exercise, but something much more sinister. The car remained just behind him and he looked over his shoulder, seeing two men in the dark brown vehicle. Now he was sure he was being followed. The flaxen haired youth slowed, veering off the road and onto the grass, and still the car kept pace, the two men staring at him as though challenging him to make a move.

Now more than a little concerned, he sped up again and without any indication of what he was going to do, Ken dodged swiftly to one side and ran full speed for the shelter of some of the trees bordering the formal flower beds in the other part of the park. He was a good all round runner, competing in both distance and sprint events and he had a good turn of speed, but it was insufficient to be able to outdistance a 2 liter engine.

The car revved it’s engines and the driver swung the steering wheel right over, ignoring the “keep off the grass” sign which was mowed down under the tires. The big Ford ploughed two furrows across the soft earth and the passenger wound down the window and leaned out, taking careful aim with a small flare type gun. Slowing just enough for his colleague to take careful aim, the driver kept pace with the fleeing blond as one shot rang out into the gathering gloom.

With a yell of pain, Ken clutched at his lower left back. He felt as though he’d been hit by a freight train and his legs felt heavy and leaden. They refused to answer him any more and he staggered to a halt falling onto his knees. Subconsciously he felt the damp on the grass soak into the material of his jeans as the pains knifed through his back. He clawed at the wound as he fell forward, frantic to get away from the footfalls he heard descending on him, but unable to get up.

‘Get away from me’ he yelled, although the sound came out more as a tortured whisper. ‘Get the hell away from me’.

Ken felt hands on his arms, pulling him up into a kneeling position and he looked up through unfocussed eyes into the face of one of his kidnappers; into dark brown eyes which seemed to laugh back at him.

‘Get the stuff’ he heard brown eyes say and had just enough time to turn his head before a cotton rag smelling of chloroform was jammed over his nose and mouth. He was breathing deeply already from the exertion of the run and the effects of the drug quickly overtook him. He felt first dizzy and then queasy and his hands left his back to try to steady himself. It was like the first time he’d had gas at the dentist and he had the same odd, terrifying sound in his ears, as though the world was coming and going around him and the sounds were being distorted. He tried to yell out, hoping that Jim might be doing his rounds, but the more he breathed in, the dizzier he got. Now his sight was failing, the view of the world reduced to a tiny pinpoint of light and then even that winked out as he fell limply between the hands of his assailants.

Ken’s last thoughts as consciousness left him were of his father and how he’d love to be able to tell his Dad just how wrong he’d been about the note. Strange that he should feel somehow vindicated that he’d been shot and kidnapped. That’d serve Dr Hutchinson right!

Swiftly, they lifted the unconscious blond and loaded him into the back of the Ford and as brown eyes got into the drivers seat and drove away, the other man swiftly tied white cotton rope around Ken’s wrists, securing them at the back and linking them to his similarly bound ankles.

Chapter 3

Biderman’s chart of coercion – Second stage. Isolation. Deprives individual of social support, effectively rendering him unable to resist, makes individual dependent upon interrogator.

Ken awoke with a single thought in his head. That there was a woodpecker trying to drill its way out through his back. The pain was insistent and his first reaction was to try to roll over so that he could see what was causing it.

He tried to bring his arm up for leverage, but realised his wrists were somehow linked together. His chloroform clouded mind couldn’t take it all in to begin with and he let out a low moan as he slumped back against the table feeling dizzy and sick. He recognised the symptoms from the time he’d accidentally inhaled chloroform during an experiment in the physics lab at school. He hated the feeling then, and, he decided, he still hated it.

‘He’s coming round’ Ken heard a voice say. It came from behind him and he made a conscious effort to try to wake up sufficiently to tell the person that they were hurting him. The blond man took a deep breath and squeezed his eyes shut, trying to get his thoughts into some sort of order. But the drug continued to befuddle his mind and for a moment he couldn’t make out where he was. Was that his Dad behind him? Where was he? Was Chancita somewhere near? She’d make it stop hurting, she always did.

OK Ken. Shudup and try an’ get yourself under control. Take your time and think. What’s the last thing you remember? Um…. park. A car…SHIT that hurts. Oh my God, I was shot! OK ok. Calm down. Are you in the hospital?

Ken opened crystal blue eyes and took his first proper look around. He was laid on his belly on some sort of operating table and his wrists were tied together below the table top preventing him from getting up or rolling over. He raised his head setting off new pains in his back and down his legs, which also seemed to be immobilized, although whether they were tied, or whether he’d been seriously injured he couldn’t tell. He was in a smallish room which looked a little like an ER, although it didn’t smell quite the same and it sure wasn’t Mercy Hospital, where he was being trained. The room was white tiled and there seemed to be work benches around the walls with equipment laid out on them, but although it seemed familiar it was as though he’d been transported to another world where normal stuff was suddenly either too big or too small. Forceps the size of fire tongues, needles 12” long – it didn’t make sense.

And then he felt the pains in his back again, making him gasp and groan. He felt hands on his back and cool air and realised whoever had him had removed his shirt. The hands that worked over him were strong, confident and not especially gentle, but he didn’t think they were hurting him intentionally either. There were murmured voices, but no-one spoke directly to him, although he could hear them quite plainly. They appeared to be operating on him. Dear God! Did they realise he was awake?

That’s why he was in so much pain!

They were operating and he wasn’t asleep!

He let out another moan through gritted teeth as another sharp pain took his breath away. Something was probing the wound on his back, he could feel cold metal being pushed inside. Shit! They’re looking for the bullet?

He tried to listen carefully to the voices.

‘I thought rubber bullets weren’t supposed to penetrate’.

A chuckle. ‘Well they tested ‘em on cows. He’s obviously not as thick skinned. He’ll make it. Can’t see anything too bad. Just clean it and stitch it. He’ll be fine. But he’ll be hellish sore for a while’.

‘He’s awake’.

‘Lucky him! Finish up here and I’ll ask where he’s going next’.

Ken heard a door open and swing closed as the hands returned to his back. He felt cold fluid being poured into the wound and screamed once as it bit like fire at his open hole. The person ministering to him said nothing.

‘Hey….hurts’ he panted. ‘Can you give me something…..something for the pain….huh?...just stop a while. Need to breathe’.

The person ignored him and now he could feel the wasp sting sensation of a needle biting into his flesh as the two sides of the bullet wound were drawn together. This pain was less than those he’d so far endured, but his nerves were raw and he hissed as the needle dug in again and again.

Ken was confused. Where was he? Why were they patching him up? Why wouldn’t they speak to him? And who were “they”? He gritted his teeth and waited, sweat from the pain trickling into his eyes and stinging them. He decided to conserve what energy he still had in the hope that maybe someone in charge would come along and tell him what was going on.

The hands at his back finally finished their murderous ministrations and Ken felt a dressing being taped down over the wound. He thought then that maybe he’d get some answers and that the person who’d been patching him up would stop and explain everything to him, but instead, the silence continued as instruments clattered on metal receptacles and the door of an autoclave opened and closed.

‘Where am I?’ Ken mumbled. He felt nauseous from being forcibly held on his belly, sore from the work that had been done on his back, confused from the chloroform and waking in a strange place and above all scared. It wasn’t that he was cowardly. Hell, he’d even once won a civic award for jumping into the lake to save a little girl from drowning. He prided himself also on having a clear mind in a crisis. But that was fine when the crisis was happening to someone else. He felt alone and isolated now and the silence was worse than any amount of blows or violence would be. He groaned and tried again, his voice weak and thick from the drugs.

‘Just tell me where I am huh? Please?’

The body in the room with him ignored him and carried on with cleaning up after the operation.

‘I haven’t done anything to you. Why are you doing this? Let me go?’ A nasty thought crossed the blond’s mind and he swallowed hard.

‘Was it you that sent the letter to my father? He won’t pay. He….’ The person moved swiftly across the room and took hold of a handful of silky hair, yanking Ken’s head up and back until his neck was stretched taut and the blood vessels stood out like turgid ropes. His mouth opened involuntarily and an unseen hand pushed wadded up gauze into it, applying a length of white bandage around his head to secure it in place. Ken felt as though he was choking; as though threads of the gauze were invading his throat and he wanted to cough and dislodge them. But he couldn’t get sufficient breath from around the gag to do anything.

The young man’s head fell back onto the table with a thud. The procedure had been carried out once again in silence and he hadn’t even been able to find out whether his captor was male or female as his eyes had been closed. He lay panting slightly, trying to get his heart rate under control for fear of hyperventilating. He could already feel the initial effects of carbon dioxide build up in his body; the panic; the light headedness.

Ken had no idea what to do, so he elected to lie quietly and conserve his energy. Maybe something would turn up. Maybe that cop who’d been at his house would have seen his kidnap. Maybe a whole host of black and whites would be on their way to rescue him now. Maybe he was living in cloud cuckoo land and he was gonna die.

The thought had a sobering effect and he tried to think. Ok, he’d seen a film once. A girl had been kidnapped and she was held for a long time by people who threatened to kill her. And she…..she….Oh c’mon Hutchinson think! She tried to establish a rapport with them; tried to make them see her as a human being and not just leverage.

That’s it. It saved her life right? OK, well fine. How’re ya gonna do that with a mouth full of cotton? Well give 'em time. Maybe…Shuddup with the “maybe’s” huh? Just shudup!

He lay still, shivering now with cold and fear. What were they going to do? Where was he? When would his Dad tell the cops he hadn’t come home?

The door opened and he could feel the cool air around him change. It made his shiver more and the medical student part of his brain told him that he was going into shock. He forced his head up again and looked straight into the big brown eyes of one of his captors.

It was a woman! And she was really quite pretty. Short brown hair, big brown eyes and an olive complexion. He was staring back at him and he wanted desperately for her to talk to him; to explain what was going on. But instead she stood and backed away and the young man felt other hands on his body. Those hands seemed to be untying his wrists from under the table and freeing his legs. He had the impression they were going to let him up. Were they going to let him go?

Ken’s elation was short lived however.

The girl with the big brown eyes told one of the other pairs of hands to hold his arm out and he felt someone take hold of it and pull on it. He had no idea how long he’d been bound on the bed, but his arms had been held immobile all the time he’d been awake and now, as they pulled on it, the muscles protested and sent shock waves through his shoulders and back. Despite trying to keep quiet, Ken screamed through the gag, his body quivering as numbed nerves fired uncontrollably.

And then he felt the needle slide into a vein in the crook of his elbow and he screamed again, this time in forlornness. He wanted to be awake. He needed to be awake because he wanted to know what was happening to him and what they were going to do to him. The idea of these people having total control over his useless body was too much for him to contemplate; too scary to even think about.

Bu fortunately, he didn’t need to think for very long as the drug raced its way through his bloodstream, erasing his consciousness like an eraser took away the marks on a page. The world dimmed and still, he fought against the effects of whatever drug they’d given him, but it was too strong and as the last vestiges of sensation left him, he thought he felt himself being lifted off the table.


‘Sergeant Netter please’ the voice on the telephone sounded low, rich; the sort of voice you didn’t argue with and the woman on the switchboard told him to hold while she connected.

‘Hank, got some guy for you. Didn’t give his name. Shall I put him through?’

‘Uh huh, thanks Hon’. Hank waited for the click signifying he was through. ‘Netter. State your business’.

‘Sergeant Netter, this is Dr Richard Hutchinson. You came to see me last night?’

Netter sat up a little straighter in his car. ‘Sure, I remember. What can I do for you Dr?’ He waited, really wishing that the Dr could hear his thoughts which went more along the lines of How could I forget such a cold hearted bastard? What the hell do you want?

‘I think we may need your services Detective’.


‘It’s my son. He’s missing’.

It was said with no inflection in the voice, no panic, no “Oh God help me find him”. Just a quiet statement of the fact.

‘When did he go missing?’ Netter asked, thinking that maybe the kidnappers may still be in the area. He started the engine of his car and turned it in the direction of the Hutchinson household as he spoke into the mic.

‘I don’t know’.

‘Well gimme a clue. An hour ago? A couple of hours? Did you see anyone strange outside the house?’

‘Kenneth didn’t return from his jog last night’ Hutchinson Senior said stiffly.

‘Last night! You mean you’ve left it over 12 hours to tell me that your son…..the son you got a ransom note about is missing!’

‘Don’t take that tone with me Detective! I don’t hold my son on a leash you know. He’s 21. He’s able to make his own decisions. I’m telling you now. He’s missing and it’s your job to find him’.

‘I’m on my way over to your place now’ Netter said icily.

‘And what good is that may I ask? He isn’t here! What do you hope to establish by coming back here? I want you out on the streets, or whatever you do, looking for the kidnappers. They wanted $1,000.000 for God's sake. And I’m telling you, they won’t get it’.

Netter put the mic. back on the cradle in disgust. Cold hearted son-of-a-bitch! Doesn’t deserve a son. He turned his car in a wide U turn and headed back to his office.

Chapter 4

Biderman’s chart of coercion. Stage 3 - Monopolisation of Perception. Fixes attention upon immediate predicament; fosters introspection, Eliminates stimuli competing with those controlled by captor and frustrates all actions not consistent with compliance

The next time Ken awoke, he was stunned to find himself in a small pen, like somewhere his Grandfather kept pigs or sheep on his farm. It consisted of four concrete walls that were perhaps 5’ high, the front one having a wooden gate affair slotted into the middle of it. There was a small thin mattress on the ground over the rough concrete floor and that was what the blond was laying on now.

Ken’s arms had been pulled above his head and his wrists which were still tied together were secured loosely through a large ring bolt attached to the wall above his head. There was no play in the ropes around his wrists, but the loop of rope that attached him to the wall was perhaps 3 feet long and allowed him now to lever himself up into a sitting position.

His head felt as though it was going to explode and he wondered just what drug they’d given him to knock him out. Judging by the slightly blurred vision, the headache and the mouth that felt like the bottom of a parrot’s cage, probably Nembutal or similar. Not refined, but terribly effective!

Sitting up was marginally less comfortable then lying down, but then, at least sitting up he felt more alert; more in control of the uncontrollable situation. Ken felt a slight tremble in his limbs and was hot, but not sweating. He knew he had a low grade fever and wondered if it came from the wound on his back. There was no way to see what state it was in, although it hurt like hell and he had a bet with himself that there would be a black and blue bruise over the area of the gunshot wound, as well as the stitched bullet wound itself.

He leaned back cautiously against the rough concrete wall and stared about him. Oddly, he felt a little calmer now, but put that down to the remnants of the drug in his blood stream. Looking up, he saw a large, corrugated tin roof and he could hear scuffling from each side of him. The sweet smell of hay and the comforting warmth from animals assailed his senses and suddenly it all made sense. The over sized operating implements, the ER that looked and smelled not quite right. This was no human hospital. He was in some sort of veterinary practice!

Ken slumped back against the mattress, feeling both elated and defeated. Yes, it all made sense. A group calling themselves PACE - People Against Cruelty and Experimentation had been rallying in Duluth for some time and had targeted Dr Hutchinson because he regularly tried out new operational techniques on lab animals. Ken had never really been involved in that side of his Dad’s work. He knew it went on, had challenged Hutchinson senior about it and sympathized with PACE, but was powerless to stop the great man furthering his career. So it was PACE who had him now. It was PACE who’d taken him, dealt with his injury and were holding him to ransom for a million bucks. And they thought Richard Hutchinson would pay? Ken snorted. The blond knew his Dad’s stance on blackmail, but surely even the great Mr. High and Mighty Principles would change his mind once his son had been taken hostage. Ken didn’t want his Dad to pay up, but surely he’d have people out looking for him the minute it was discovered he was missing?

A cow in some byre further up the row started lowing and Ken realised a door had been opened at the end of the barn. He stiffened, hoping against hope that this was salvation, but instead he was faced moments later by three group members standing inside his pen. He pushed himself against the concrete wall as they descended on him and as the two men started to unfasten him from the eyelet in the wall, he stared at the young woman he’d seen earlier.

She was perhaps 5’5” tall with short, dark brown hair and a face that was tanned a natural brown. Someone who was obviously used to outdoor living and her wiry frame agreed with his initial thoughts.

‘I know who you are’ Ken said in a voice which was remarkably steady. ‘He won’t pay. You should let me go now’.

The men pulled him to his feet, and Ken felt the stitches in his back stretching painfully.

‘You won’t get away with this. My father will….’

One of the men slapped him hard across the face. ‘Shuddup’.

It was the first word anyone had said to him since he’d been taken; the first time they’d treated him anything like a human being. The blow stung and left red marks on his fair cheek. He hissed and stared back defiantly at them. Ok, if that’s how they wanted to play it! He could be ornery too.

‘Get your hands off of me’ he yelled as the two men started to drag him out of the pen. He struggled against them, but the drugs, the injuries and his fear made him weak and he was no match for the two big guys. Eventually he reasoned that he was expending more energy in struggling than if he was to follow quietly and so he stopped, allowing himself to be guided out, into a farm yard area, then into a big house. The guards dumped him on a hard backed chair in the middle of a darkened room. They tied his wrists to the base of the chair and his legs to the chair’s front legs and then they stood back as the girl came to stand in front of him.

‘Well what a sorry sight you are’ she said quietly. ‘One of the great Hutchinsons huh? Look at you!’

And indeed when he looked down at himself he saw that his pants were filthy, his shirt was missing and he had streaks of dirt mixed with sweat across his stomach and chest. He guessed the rest of him must look the same, but he said nothing. His crystal blue eyes bored into the woman’s.

‘Poor little rich boy. All on his ownsome now. How’s it feel rich boy? How’s it feel to be away from Daddy huh?’


The answer seemed to shock the woman and her mouth fell open, then closed again as she took a closer look at her captive. The man behind him slapped him again, but from behind and although the blow wasn’t especially painful, Ken hadn’t seen it coming and it took him by surprise. He let out a small yelp and the woman grinned.

‘Oh we can get through that stoicism, can we? We can hurt ya. Maybe just a little more before you’re receptive enough to listen to our ideas?’ She nodded and the two goons set about their task.

As one held the chair upright, the other started punching at the young blond, the pattern differing all the time until he couldn’t brace himself fast enough for where the next blow was coming from. His world seemed full of fists and blood and bruises as time and again they hit out at him. He remembered first trying to remain quiet. He didn’t want them to see how terrified and how hurt he really was. But pretty soon he couldn’t hold back the yelps and cries. But they seemed to fuel the man into hitting harder and faster and soon, Ken’s world had disappeared into a miasma of pain and fear as he screamed once into the darkness.

He was just beginning to wonder how much the human body could take before it passed out when he heard the woman’s voice again as if from a distance.

‘That’s enough. Now hold his head up while I focus’.

Ken wondered what that meant, but then heard the soft click of the shutter of a camera. Oh my God! What sort of sick joke was that? To take a photo of him now? And then it dawned on him – they would send it to his Dad with another demand for the money. He almost grinned to himself through the blaze of pain.

That’ll show the old fool. That’ll show him that they meant what they’d said and then maybe Dr Hutchinson, the proud, oh so clever Dr Hutchinson will remember that this is his own son, his own flesh and blood. Don’t make it harder Dad. Just send someone to come an’ get me huh?


Hank Netter held the photograph in his hand and winced. It showed the young man he’d seen only the day before, but he was a much different sight now. The photograph showed his blond head held up by a disembodied hand. Ken Hutchinson’s previously unmarked, golden face was now a welter of bruises and cuts, blood flowing freely from the corner of his mouth and down onto a chest which was bare and similarly decorated in purple bruises and red gashes.

‘When did you get this, and how?’

‘It was delivered by a Fed Ex courier less than half an hour ago. It came in a plain brown envelope and had this with it. Dr Hutchinson pointed to a tape which was inserted into a player. He pushed the button to play and his face was an impassive mask as Netter listened to the cries, the scream and the sounds of fists hitting flesh. Dr Hutchinson pushed a note across the table to Hank. The cop took it and read it.

I hoPe you wiLl TakE Us moRe seriOUsly now. $1,000.000 in unmarked bills rEAdy in 24 hOurS or he dies. We will be in touch.

‘What do you want to do?’

‘I want you to get them and make them pay. They have no right! This is an outrage. They deserve to be locked up for ever’.

‘Are you going to get the money?’

The doctor looked askance. ‘Get the money? No! Never! You can’t bargain with these people. It sends out completely the wrong message. If was to do that, pretty soon all my colleagues would be subject to similar abuse. No way! This is your job, and if you can’t handle it, I’ll speak to your Chief about getting someone else assigned’.

Netter’s fists clenched beneath the table as he tried to keep a hold of his temper. He’d come across all sorts in his 9 years as a detective. Some who would give their eye teeth to take the place of the one who’d been kidnapped, some who’d re mortgaged everything they owned, just to get that special someone back. But never someone so cold hearted and logical about a member of their family. His blood boiled but he kept a tight grip on his anger.

‘Sir, I have dealt with many kidnappings over the years. And some of the time, I’ve gotten the people back without any money ever changing hands. But I always advise families to have the cash to hand, ready. In case something happens or the blackmailers get suddenly pissed off. I would urge you to reconsider and at least have the ransom money standing by. Your son’s life may depend on it’.

‘My son knows my stance on such things. I will not bargain and I will not even go so far as to think about getting the money. That’s just preposterous. Now, are you going to keep on trying to find Kenneth or shall I telephone your Captain. My son will understand’.

Hank Netter stared at the bloody and beaten figure in the photograph again and wondered. It would take a helluva special kid to understand this.


There was something soft and damp dabbing at his face, but Ken didn’t want to open his eyes and acknowledge it. He was scared that if he did, they’d just start hitting him again. At least here, in his personal darkness he could try to ignore them.

But he couldn’t ignore the pains shooting through his body, especially those in his chest when he breathed. They knifed through him, making him hitch a breath each time he tried to inhale and once, when he tried to move he felt a sickening grating in his side. He knew they’d broken a rib and that he shouldn’t move. And not moving was fine just for the moment because even thinking seemed to give him some pain.

The thing dabbing on his face went away and was replaced by a cool set of fingers. They were gently rubbing at a stinging wound over his right eye and it made his wince. The fingers stopped and he heard a young girl’s voice.

‘Are you awake?’

Ken opened one eye, the other having swollen shut and regarded the earnest face above him. ‘Kinda’.

‘It’s ok, they’ve gone. It’s just me and you. I asked if I could take care of you’ she said. ‘Lie still, you’ve got some cuts on your face and I was wiping them with some antiseptic’.

‘Hurts’ he managed to gasp.

‘I know. I’m sorry. Here, let me get you a drink’ she shuffled away and returned a moment later with a small cup. She put her hand behind the blond’s head and pulled him up. He groaned, but managed to get a sip of the cool water. It felt like liquid velvet on his throat and he sank back down onto the mattress, looking around him.

He was back in the barn but he wasn’t tied this time. Maybe, he thought grimly, because he was in no shape to stand up, let alone try to escape. He concentrated on the girl.

‘What’s your name?’

‘They call me Freedom’.

He arched his brows, then winced as the small movement caused the cut on his head to reopen.

She smiled at him. ‘We all give up our other world names when we join the group’.

‘And the group is called?’

‘We’ll tell you when you’re ready to join us, if you live that long’ a third voice said as one of the older men walked into the bar. ‘That’s enough Freedom. He’ll survive. You can go’.

‘But he’s hurting’ the girl began.

‘I said, you can go. We’ll come back for him in a while. Once we know whether they’re paying or not’.

Ken’s ear pricked. ‘You sent a ransom note?’

The man looked at him and nodded.


‘Your old man’s one stubborn asshole’.

Ken lay back down on the thin mattress and sighed shallowly for fear of hurting his chest more. Yeah, stubborn and not the sort who’ll go to pieces easy. For pities sake Dad. Put your principles to one side an’ just get me outa here, please?

Chapter 5

Biderman’s chart of coercion – Stage 5 - Induce Debility and Exhaustion

Once again, Ken had been pulled to his feet and hauled through the yard and into the house. But now, through pain and weariness his legs refused to work for him, and the two men dragged him, his toes leaving shallow furrows in the dirt of the yard. He was tired, hurting more than he could ever remember and still scared witless of what they were going to do next.

The two men bound him to the same chair again and left him in the semi darkness of the room.

Ken was exhausted. His head hung down until his chin rested on his chest, eyes half closed. It hurt to breathe, it hurt to move, it hurt to think. But thinking wasn’t something he particularly wanted to do. Thinking brought about more panic as his fevered imagination called up pictures of even more tortures this group could inflict on him before they killed him. And Ken was sure that he would wind up dead because he knew his Dad too well. The more you pushed at the great Dr Hutchinson, the more the doctor would dig in his heels and refuse to budge. In a rare moment of friendship, his Dad had once told him that his nickname at college had been Mule for that very reason. He was as ornery as a mule and the young blond knew that more ransom notes would only serve to harden his Dad’s resolve not to pay.

Ken could never remember feeling so alone, so afraid or so abandoned. When the young girl had come to take care of him in the byre, he’d been so pitifully grateful to her that he’d wanted to kiss her, tell her how beautiful he thought she was and how he wished he could buy her the world. When she’d been ordered to leave, he’d felt her absence keenly, even though he’d only exchanged a few words with her and now he longed to see her friendly, pretty face again. Because it represented someone who may just care for him.

The bound man flinched suddenly as he heard the door behind him open. Should he feign sleep or unconsciousness? Why bother? It would only put off the inevitable.

OK Ken, just stare ‘em out and let ‘em do their worst.

‘We meet again’ the girl said.

‘Pleasure’s…..all yours’ Ken answered. It hurt to talk and he didn’t want to waste his energy on small talk.

‘We’re gonna try a different tack today. You’re gonna be ringing your Dad to ask for the money’.

The blond snorted, setting off a hacking cough that’s sent his splintered rib jabbing at his chest. When he stopped and regained his breath he forced his head up to stare at her.

‘Didn’t do….your…homework’ he gasped. ‘Won’t listen t’me….Never pay’.

The woman put her finger under Ken’s chin and lifted his head. He winced and tried to flinch away. ‘Not even when his son’s life is on the line?’

‘Not even’. He managed a small grin, the splits on his lips reopening.

She let his head go. ‘We’ll see. It’d be such a pity to waste you’.

‘Listen….know who you are. I…hate ‘xperiments too. Can’t s stop him….He’s…’

‘He’s your Father! And you say he won’t pay? What sort of Father would let his son die just so as to keep his principles in tact?’ She asked angrily.

‘Mine’. The answer took the woman aback and she saw the sad expression on the young blond’s face. She took a step back and for one brief moment wondered whether they’d done the right thing in kidnapping the young man. But then she thought of all the animals that Dr Hutchinson had used over the years and her heart hardened.

‘Seems like you’re in for a rough ride then’ she muttered. ‘Are you gonna play ball or do we have to get rough again?’

‘Do….what ya…want’. Ken was almost past caring now. At least if they beat him up some more he might finally loose consciousness and that would ease his pains for a while. He had no idea how much longer he could go on anyway. His only hope was that that cop – what was his name? Nott…Nitt…Netter would be able to work some magic and find him.

The woman nodded to the men standing at the back of the room. ‘Bring the phone’.

Moments later the room was set up and the woman stood in front of the bound blond with a piece of paper. She held it up for Ken to read through. ‘Are you going to co-operate? All we need you to do is to read this into the telephone. We’ll do the rest’.

The young man started at the white paper. It seemed to swim before his eyes, which were blurry and tired. He screwed them up and tried to shake his head, but that hurt too much. He stopped and tried to focus on the print on the page.

‘Never work’ he mumbled, his chin falling to his chest again.

‘You mean you won’t read it, or the message won’t get through to your old man?’

Ken’s face split into a painful grin. ‘Both’ he rasped.

The man at his back knelt by the side of the chair and took a hold of the index finger on Hutch’s left hand. The woman stared impassively back at him.

‘Do you enjoy pain?’ she asked as she dialed a number and waited.


Dr Hutchinson jumped as the telephone by his right elbow rang. He cursed quietly and composed himself before glancing at his watch. 12:07. exactly 24 hours since he’d received the second ransom note. They were punctual if nothing else. And now they’d resorted to making telephone calls. He looked levelly at the cop sitting across the table from him.

‘Answer it. Be calm, try not to piss ‘em off. Make careful notes about their demands and demand to speak to your son. We need to make sure he’s still alive’.

‘You mean they might have…’

‘We don’t know. The only way to find out is to talk to him. You ok with this?’

Dr Hutchinson nodded and reached for the telephone but was stopped by a strong hand over his. Netter’s eyes drilled into him. ‘This is your son’s life we’re dealing with. Don’t make them angry huh?’

Hutchinson senior whipped his hand away and grasped the receiver. He took a deep breath.

‘Dr Hutchinson’ he announced into the phone and listened to the reply as Netter listened in on the extension.

‘Dr Hutchinson, you don’t know us, but we have your son. You got our notes I take it?’ the female voice sounded sure and steady.


‘We expect you to meet us in one hour outside the A Charles Weiss Inn on East Superior Street. Bring the money or else Kenny dies’.

The doctor winced. ‘I need to speak to him. I want to speak to Kenneth now’ he said as calmly as he could.

‘Why? Don’t you believe us Doctor?’ the woman asked icily.

‘Would you trust someone who blackmailed you?’ Richard Hutchinson asked coldly. ‘Let me speak to him now, so that I know he’s ok. After that we can discuss the money’.

There was a small pause and the sounds of muttering before he heard the phone receiver brushing against something. And then an indistinct and rasping voice sounded over the phone.


‘Kenneth, is that you?’

‘D don’t give ‘em the mo……arrrrrrgh’ Ken’s words were cut off by an agonised shriek which shook his father to the core and had Netter’s brows knit in horror.

‘Just a small warning Dr. Next time, it’ll be his neck we break. The money, East Superior. One hour’ and the phone went dead.

The older man put the phone carefully back on the cradle, his face once more composed. Years of working on complex and nerve wracking operations had steadied his nerves so that ice water rather than blood flowed through his veins at times like this. He stared at the cop. ‘What now?’

‘Well at least we know he’s alive. The next move is yours. Are you gonna get the money. You have a little less than an hour’.

‘I don’t know how many times I have to say this, Detective. I do now give in to blackmail. It sends out all the wrong messages. I know you think I’m being harsh, but on this I stand firm. No money will change hands. You know where they want to meet. Aren’t you going to stake it out, or whatever you call it?’

Netter sighed and ran a hand over his face. He understood where Hutchinson was coming from. He would never advocate paying a blackmailer either, but this was a boy’s life they were playing fast and loose with. Not some unknown boy. Hutchinson’s son, for Gods’ sake. Didn’t the man have any feelings at all?

‘OK, so you don’t want to get the money. Maybe a bag that looks like it has money in then? If you go and wait where they say, I’ll have a better chance of eyeballing whoever is behind this’.

But the doctor was shaking his head. ‘It’s 12:10. I have surgery scheduled in 90 minutes and my patient the Senator will not take kindly to having it delayed. In fact he’ll die if I don’t operate. You have the meeting place. You’re the police. This is your field of expertise. Find the bastards, lock them up and bring my son back’. With that, the big man stood behind the desk and held out his hand to shake Netter’s, effectively dismissing the cop.

Netter stood, turned on his heel and walked out of the room, unable to bring himself to share any more “pleasantries”. As he headed for the front door, it burst open and a tall, slim young woman with long dark brown hair burst in. She had a pleasant, almost beautiful face and large green eyes that reminded him of a cat’s eyes. They had the same piercing quality to them although right now, they ignored him as she ran headlong into the doctor’s office.

‘Mr Hutchinson, I’ve just heard about Ken. Is he alright? Is he hurt? Where is he? Who has him?’ Vanessa asked in a rush.

Netter closed the door behind him as he heard Hutchinson Senior start to explain what was going on. Maybe the young woman might be able to bring the old fool to his senses.

He headed back to his car and radioed in his progress, or lack of it. Hank was pretty sure that the folks who had Ken wouldn’t show themselves until they saw the Dr waiting with the bag full of money by the hotel. He’d go there, and he’d watch and wait, but he didn’t hold out much hope of getting any closer to an identification. Idly he toyed with the idea of trying to get someone who looked even vaguely like the Doctor to pose outside, but looking at his watch he realised he had barely enough time to get to the Lakeside himself, without being able to organize doppelgangers too.

Wearily he put the stick into drive and set off, the last scream he heard on the phone ringing in his ears. God, what that boy must be going through! His blood ran cold as he thought about other bodies of other victims that he hadn’t been able to save over the years. None of them were very pretty when they’d been found, if indeed they had. But he suspected that a good few bodies still lay, weighted down with lumps of concrete at the bottom of the lake. Whether they had been alive or dead when they were thrown into their watery grave was anyone’s guess.


Back at PACE headquarters, the woman grabbed a handful of sweat soaked golden hair and pulled Ken’s head back. His eyes fluttered, but remained closed and a low, almost animal groan escaped from his throat. The broken index finger stood out at an obscene angle and was already turning black from tip to way past the wrist.

Letting the golden head fall back she grinned.

‘Take him back and secure him. We don’t want to take any chances. I think the good doctor has had enough time. Get down to East Superior and bring the money back. After that, he can have his precious little bundle back and we’re out of here’.

Chapter 6

The old Inn stood large and foursquare on its plot of land on East Superior Street. Its white walls and solid wooden windows gave it an air of grace and favour, an echo of a bygone era when things seemed more civilised and less dangerous.

Hank Netter sat quietly in his car and stared at the old building, his mind wandering away to the turn of the century, when, as his Mother was fond of saying “men were men and women were glad of it”. He tried to imagine what it would have been like to live back then when the house had been built. Was there still a need for a law man? He supposed so. Would that lawman be dealing with blackmail and kidnap? Wryly, he considered. Wherever there was money, there would be people trying to get it by fair means or foul. So yes, he guessed there would have been some old hack, probably sitting on his horse, staking out a place somewhere around here as he tried to catch his own particular kind of bad guy.

At this time of day the road running past the Inn was busy. People were scurrying into and out of the Inn’s entrance, but all seemed to be legitimate travellers and trades people, coming and going quietly and with purpose. There were a few parked cars dotted around the parking lot and the street corner but nothing noteworthy. Netter looked at his watch. Almost one o’clock. They’d said one hour and that was at 12:07. He sighed. His dealings with this sort of people over the years had led him to realise that they were punctual if nothing else. He lifted his eyes and scanned the surroundings for the hundredth time. Nothing. No men lurking in the shadows, no cars parked with the engine left running. Just wholesome down-home folks busying themselves with their own mundane lives, unaware that somewhere a young blond man was hurt, alone, scared and living with the threat of losing his life.

The minutes ticked by as the fingers on Netter’s watch crawled around their allotted circuit. 1:05 came and went. 1:07 and then 1:10 and still nothing. No signs of the kidnappers. They were either lying about the location, or they were tardy. And in Netter’s book, tardiness and ransom deadlines didn’t equate.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a flash of dark blue metal as the thin shark fin of a tailgate set off from the side of the Inn in a racing start. The car was just one amongst many with no discernable distinguishing features, but Hank cursed under his breath for not having marked it as a possible target earlier.

Now that he was sure it was the car the kidnappers were using, Netter started the engine, slammed the stick into drive and pushed his foot to the floor in a roar of engine. He sent unsuspecting pedestrians diving for cover as he fishtailed out of his parking space and started to chase after the blue sedan as it sped away down the street.

The noise caused by his hurried departure must have alerted the driver of the target vehicle because suddenly it surged forward, heading for downtown Duluth. Netter kept it in his view as he nursed his own car through the steadily increasing traffic. One eye on the road, the other on the blue sedan, he felt cold sweat break out over his body and trickle annoyingly down his spine. This was it. His hunch had been right. Now he needed to keep the car in sight because to lose it now would mean certain death for Ken Hutchinson. The kidnappers knew now that Hutchinson senior wasn’t going to cough up the money and their only alternative was to get rid of their useless “guest” and hightail it out of the area.

The sedan was using every trick in the book; finding trucks to hide behind; making sudden turns to left or right and leaving a trail of chaos in its wake as cars skidded to a halt and pedestrians backed up against the walls of the buildings. But Netter had been on the force long enough to have done some high speed chases of his own. He stuck tight to his target, never taking his eyes off the blazing break lights which flared angrily at each tight turn, but whilst he didn’t lose the car, he couldn’t seem to close the gap either.

Now into the city itself, with its bigger buildings and more highly populated streets, Netter had to slow. While he didn’t want to hurt any innocent bystanders, the lead car had no such concern and Hank yelled curse words into the solitary interior of the car as he saw men, women and children diving for cover in the wake of the sedan. He made a swift right turn and was just in time to see the tailgate of the blue car hanging a left up ahead. Netter raced to the junction and set his own car in a tyre squealing turn of its own. Up ahead, a busy intersection loomed and he saw the big blue vehicle aiming for it with no signs of slowing down. Hank pushed his foot to the metal and urged his car on, but as he got within 100 yards of his target, the sedan ran the intersection, narrowly missing a school bus, which slammed on its breaks and slewed sideways across the road as a red car ran headfirst into its side. Another car behind the red one veered drunkenly at the last minute and hit a motor bike, which in turn hit a guy on the sidewalk. There was silence for a split second before horns started to blare and people started to scream.

Netter brought his car to a halt. There was no way he could get around the intersection and no way he could pick up the trail of the blue sedan. He slammed his hands against the steering wheel and cursed long and hard. He looked at the carnage the kidnappers had left in their wake. The children on the school bus were all clambering to get out, passers by were hysterical and the motor cyclist and pedestrian lay unmoving on the ground as a crowd started to form around them. And somewhere far off, a young blond man’s fate had also been sealed. For Hank Netter was convinced that now the kidnappers knew he was onto them and that they were not about to get the money, they would kill their hostage and leave.

Wearily, he picked up the mic. and called through to his precinct asking for more black and whites, ambulances and maybe a coroners wagon. Replacing the mic. on its cradle, he got out of the car and plodded towards the knot of people to try and get some semblance of order.

An hour and a half later, Hank made his way back to his car. He’d tried desperately to save the life of the motor cyclist who had sustained breaks to both legs and an horrific graze right down the side of his body. A rib had punctured a lung too and Netter had stayed with the man until the ambulance had got there, before moving on to crowd control and a handover to the uniformed officer who came along to co-ordinate the cleanup. Now, he stood by the side of his car, one hand on the roof, the other arm resting on the open door as he asked for a patch through to the Hutchinson house. Blood caked his hands and he felt dirty, sweaty and more tired than he had in a long time. And now he was going to have to tell the Doctor in as polite a way as he could that through the Hutchinson’s stubbornness, he thought the young man would lose his life. Sometimes, Hank Netter thought, life sucked big time!

He straightened as he heard the click of the patch through and heard the telephone at the other end pick up.

‘Hutchinson residence’ he heard a heavily accented female voice respond.

‘Hi, this is Hank Netter. Could I speak to Dr Hutchinson please?’ he asked, recognising the voice of the Mexican maid.

‘I’m sorry Senior Netter. Dr Hutchinson is in surgery right now and Mrs Hutchinson has been gone for an hour or so. May I take a message?’ there was hope in the voice and Netter felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude to the portly woman. At least someone in that cold, frigid household cared for the welfare of Ken.

‘I lost ‘em’ Netter ground out. ‘I had them in my sights and the bastards got away from me’.

‘And Senior Kenneth?’ Chancita asked, a quiver in her voice.

Netter gripped the mic harder. He hated this part. The part where he had to tell someone that there was little hope left. The part where he told the ones left behind that their nearest and (usually) dearest was a lost cause. But the difference here was that instead of giving the news to some distraught and weeping mother or father, he was having to deliver those depressing words to the only woman who seemed to care – the maid.

‘I don’t think its good news for him. They’ll know we didn’t deliver the ransom money. And a hostage without payment is useless. They…’ he couldn’t bring himself to say the words and he heard a quiet moan on the other end of the phone before the woman pulled herself together. ‘I’ll keep on it. I’ll keep looking but….’

‘Gracias Senior’ Chancita’s voice was calm and quiet and it tugged at his heart more than if he’d had a hundred kind words from someone else.

‘De nada’ Netter replied with a heavy heart. ‘Trate de no preocuparse’. He put the mic. down and got into his car, trying to think what to do next. He took out the last ransom note from his pocket and looked at the carefully cut and pasted letters which made up the words as though somehow they would leap off the page and whisper their answers into his ear. Was there a clue there? Maybe forensics would be able to decide which paper or magazine they were cut from. Sighing heavily he switched on the engine, backed his car up and turned it round to head back to the precinct. Perhaps a fresh pair of eyes would help. But if not…… Hank Netter was pretty sure he wouldn’t be seeing Ken Hutchinson alive any more.


In a dark blue sedan fleeing from the scene of the chaos that they had caused, the woman and man sat stony faced.

‘He told me his Dad wouldn’t pay up. I was sure he was only saying it to try and stop us’ Hillary French said as she stared out of the window at the rapidly passing scenery. ‘Which other loving family would stand back and let a group take their son without lifting a finger to help?’

‘Seems like this Hutchinson guy is one tough cookie’ Damon Beck agreed. ‘Shit I thought that cop had us nailed though. We need to get rid of him right now. D’ya think he got a good look at us? He sure followed quick enough’.

‘I don’t think he got a good enough look. Maybe he could ID the car, but as its stolen anyway, where’s that gonna lead him? But I agree with you. I think he’s gonna have to be wasted. Shame. I wanted this to be clean and simple. We take little blondie, we get the money, we let him go’.

‘So what’re we gonna do with baby blue eyes now?’ Damon asked.

Hillary smiled coldly. ‘He aint much use to us now that Daddy’s not playin’ Maybe Johnny will want to have a little fun before we dump the body huh?’

‘You’re gonna get rid of him?’

‘I know it’s a waste. After all the time we took to set this up. But we haven’t got the money and I don’t think, with the best will in the world that we’d convert him to the cause. So I’m afraid we give him to Johnny and throw the remains in the lake’. Hilary sighed as she settled back into the seat. Sometimes it paid to have plan B formulated well in advance.

Chapter 7

Biderman’s chart of coercion Step 5 - Devaluing the Individual. Creates fear of freedom and dependence upon captors, creates feelings of helplessness and develops lack of faith in individual capabilities. Abusive leaders are frequently uncannily able to pick out traits that their captives are proud of and to use those very traits against them. Unwillingness to allow captives to make use of their best traits undermines a captive’s confidence and further entrenches the captive’s reliance on the leader.

Hillary walked back into the byre and stared down at the bloody, bruised body on the floor. Ken hadn’t moved much since Johnny and Damon had dumped him after the fateful telephone call. His once clean clothes were now grimy and covered in blood. Sweat stains covered the chest and back of his shirt and his formerly silky, flaxen hair was matted and turned dark gold, damp with sweat as he shivered uncontrollably.

The woman hardened her heart and entered the small stall, tapping at the inert body with the toe of her shoe. Ken uttered a low groan and his body twitched, but he made no attempt to sit up.

‘I know you’re not sleeping so quit the charade’ Hillary said quietly.

Slowly one red rimmed crystal blue eye fluttered open and regarded her with a mixture of defiance and fear.

‘What d’ya want with me? I told you he’d never pay. That’s it, isn’t it? He didn’t give you the money’.

‘Well you didn’t exactly stick with the game plan did you?’ she asked. ‘”don’t give them the money Dad” wasn’t exactly the script we had set out for you. Maybe if you’d stuck to the original lines you’d be outa here by now’.

Ken shuffled himself around until he could sit up a little with the stone wall at his back. In the past hour he’d had coughing fit after wracking coughing fit and had ended by spitting bright frothy red blood onto the floor. He knew his broken rib had punctured his lung. He could feel the jagged edges of the bone grating together when he breathed or moved. And he could also feel the telltale shortness of breath and dizziness. If he didn’t get help real soon, he didn’t like to think of the consequences.

‘Listen to me’ he panted, one arm wrapped protectively around his middle as he tried to hold his chest together. ‘I know that even if you got the money, I’ve seen too much. You’re gonna kill me anyways, so why not get it over with? Huh? Why not do it now and save us all some time?’

Hillary stared at him a slight grin on her face. ‘So wonderfully brave! Quite the little hero aren’t you blue eyes? So stoical. Be careful what you wish for, it might come true’.

‘I should be so lucky. I wished for you to be gone, but you’re still here’ the blond grunted.

‘Is that any way to talk to a lady?’

‘When there’s one around, I’ll ask’. Ken tried to duck away as he saw the foot kicking out at him. He managed to deflect the blow from his chest the boot caught the tip of his elbow and he yelped.

‘Did I say brave. I meant stupid’ Hillary shouted. ‘You’re attitude needs some adjustment! But maybe if your Dad won’t pay the money, we can still have some fun huh? How d’you think the great Dr Hutchinson would like to have a brainwashed boy back into the fold. With the right treatment we could have you plant a bomb, shoot him in his sleep. It’s amazing what new drugs there are around to help these days’.

‘Go to hell lady! There aint no drug on earth can make me do anything I don’t want to’ Ken yelled, his stomach turning somersaults at the thoughts of what the woman proposed. The shout set off another coughing fit and he bent, wrapping his arms around his chest to try to stop the horrible crepitus he felt there. The cough took away his breath and when it did stop and he looked up, Hillary could see fresh blood staining the blond’s lips and setting up a jarring discord with his too pale face. She knew then that he’d never stand more of the treatment she had in store for him. He’d be dead before they had him at breaking point; at the point where he’d be open to any suggestion she cared to implant in his head. Either way, he was of no further use to them.

Swiftly she turned away and hurried from the byre. If he was going to die, it had better be now so that they had enough time to make a clean getaway. Hillary walked back to the big house and closed the door behind her. Damon looked up as she came into the kitchen and sat down heavily on the chair by the big square table.

‘Where’s Johnny?’

Damon grinned. ‘Is it show time?’

‘Uh huh. He’s almost past caring anyway. Get packed up. By the time we’re ready to get outa here, I want him and the cop both dead. Tell Johnny he can do what he wants, but it’ll have to be quick’.

‘Johnny boy won’t like that. He don’t like folks to rush his work. He’s an artist. He takes pride in his work’ Damon said, getting up from the table.

‘I don’t give a fuck what he is. I’ve hired him to do the dirty work. Now get to it’.

‘Can I help him?’ Damon asked. Hillary was reminded of a small dog sitting up and begging for its bone.

‘You can do whatever you want so long as you’re back here with a body count of two in the next hour. Now get Johnny and get outa here’.

The woman watched as the big man headed for the door with a face like a kid let loose in a candy store. She smiled an ugly kind of smile. It never failed to amaze her how easily her men were satisfied. Give them a small job like this and they’d be happy for days. Quickly she set about getting together her belongings and erasing her and their presence from the house she’d rented as a business let. They’d been lucky to find the place all set up as a veterinary hospital. Now the PACE members would have to find somewhere else to start over, but there were other Dr Hutchinsons out there ready to give her money for the right kind of persuasion.


Johnny and Damon eyed the injured young blond. Ken eyed them back, knowing their appearance did not bode well for him. He knew he knew too much to get out of this alive and although the thought terrified him, in a strange way he wanted to see his Mom and Dad one more time to tell them that he loved them and that he knew they loved him in their own stilted way. And he wished he could see his sister one more too also. She had been the one he had turned to when things got rough at home and she was the one who had managed to get out of Duluth and from beneath the clutches of her parents.

He was still half sitting where Hillary had left him, not half an hour ago. Movement was painful in the extreme and he’d managed to arrange himself into something half way towards comfort, ignoring the hard stony wall that dug into his back.

‘What are you gonna do?’ Ken asked. He remembered from his psychology classes at medical school that sometimes engaging with a person with a mental problem could help, and these two goons sure looked like they had some sort of problem. Maybe he could utilize some of the knowledge he’d garnered over the past two years.

OK Ken, go for it. Starts talkin’. Make ‘em realise you’re another human being – one that don’t particularly want to wind up at the bottom of the lake.

‘You don’t wanna do this’ he started. ‘You don’t wanna kill me. What’s that gonna achieve huh? Dad wouldn’t pay the money when I was alive. Is he gonna stump up if I’m dead? Just lemme….’

Johnny grinned at him and pulled the young man to his feet. Ken hissed in pain both from his rib and also the injury to his back. The other cuts and bruises like his broken finger were minor hurts in comparison. Ken tried to say something else, but the breath was crushed from his body as Johnny swung his ham like fist into his stomach. The breath whistled through Ken’s teeth and he folded over, sagging to his knees, his arms wrapped around his chest. Another blow, this time a kick to his side which wrung a scream from him sent him sprawling onto the ground where Damon joined in the fun.

From then on, Ken’s world folded in upon itself until each kick and fist fall merged agonizingly with the next. He lost count of the number of times he felt a boot or a hand connect with his body and he lost count of the times he screamed. Towards the end, when his sight had blurred and his head pounded with pain, he even took to begging the men to stop. Anything to defer from the next strike, and soon he wished death would take him as he felt more ribs snap and bones break under the never ending onslaught.

Johnny and Damon desisted only when there was no more noise coming from their human punchbag. The big man delivered one more vicious kick to Ken’s back, then stood back, both men panting heavily with exertion as they looked at the bloody heap on the floor.

‘Get him bagged. We’ll take him down to the boat and get rid of him. If he’s weighted down, there’ll be no way they’ll recognise him by the time he’s washed ashore’ Damon grunted. He produced a large, heavy sack and together the two proceeded to stuff Ken’s broken and limp form into it, tying the neck of the sack closed with bailer twine. The took a hold and hauled their cargo out and into their waiting truck before heading down to the lake side.

A quarter of an hour later saw them on a small motor boat a hundred yards from shore with the sack in the bottom between the gunwales at their feet.

‘You sure this is far enough out?’ Damon asked. He looked at the shore which seemed some way away, but was still unconvinced.

‘It’ll have to do. We need the water to finish him off’ Johnny grunted. In the last two minutes, the tied sack had started to twitch, showing that the beating hadn’t quite finished off their victim.

‘Damn but he’s tough’ Damon said. ‘Ok we do it here then, no time to go further. We got that cop to find before we can clear outa here’.

Johnny grinned. ‘Shit I aint had so much fun for months! We got no money, but a shedload of fun with those two. That’s what I like. A twofer!’

Damon snickered. ‘You’re so damned easy to please’.

‘Uh huh. A man of simple tastes’. He looked down at the struggling form at his feet. ‘Shame we couldn’t just have a little more time. I hate to be sloppy in my work’.

‘The lake’ll finish the job. Gimme a hand’.

Ken wondered where he was. His injured body was pretzelled into such a confined space. He couldn’t see, couldn’t breathe and couldn’t find his way out of wherever he was. But he heard the men’s voices although he couldn’t make out what they were saying.

‘Help me’ he tried to yell, but his voice had no power and it came out as a weak and feeble sigh. He closed his eyes. So this was what it was like to die huh? Shit, he never thought it would be like this. He wanted to die in action, maybe saving someone’s life from a robber or a murderer. Not like this. Strangely he wanted to laugh. Odd that afer all the arguments he’d had with his Dad about not having a career in medicine that something like this should make his wish come true. How was that for a curved ball?

He felt hands about him now and the sensation of being lifted and swung. The he felt himself flying through the air and as the first kiss off the icy cold water touch his skin he realised that drowning was not the way he’d have wished to die.

Chapter 8

Johnny and Damon turned the boat and made their way back to the shore, mooring further up the bank from where they’d launched and walking back along the road to their truck. Getting in, they took a final look at Ken’s watery final resting place and without a second thought, they gunned the engine and turned back towards the city centre. Next on their hit list was the cop who’d chased them through the streets earlier. Get him, kill him and hightail it out of Duluth and they’d be home scot-free.

They cruised through the town, eyes open for the cop’s car, but it was like looking for a needle in a haystack and finally they decided that it would be better to go right back to beginnings and start back at the precinct.

Meanwhile, Hank Netter was still dealing with the forensic guys back at headquarters. He’d handed the ransom note to Jed, the head of that department and stood back as the scientist and his team started to run a battery of tests on the crumpled piece of paper. Starting with absorption tests, dirt count, K&N Ink smear, porosity and Sutherland Ink tests, they then went on to look at the size, density and composition of each of the letters cut from newspapers and magazines in turn. There was a lot of humming and hawing before two hours later, Jed was able to come back with some results.

During that time, Netter went quietly back to his office, got a coffee from the wending machine in the hallway and eased his aching body into his chair. Leaning back, he put first one foot and then the other up onto the desk top and tipped the chair so that it rested on its two back legs. It had been a long day. Well, if truth had it, it had been a long few months during which he’d become almost an expert on kidnappers and their victims. The last case he’d dealt with had been the kidnap of the Mayor’s daughter. The girl was 14 and the ransom note had been typical – give us the money or she dies.

In that particular case, Netter had managed to negotiate and the sight of the Mayor and his wife’s faces when he returned the young girl safe and well was the best repayment he could have wished for. Completely different from the Hutchinson family he was currently dealing with. He could not believe that the doctor had had threatening notes before and had chosen to ignore them. Although not a family man himself, Netter felt sure that if he did have a child, he would want to keep them as safe and sound as he possibly could and he couldn’t shake the feeling that Hutchinson senior had played fast and loose with his son’s life. And he also had the almost certain knowledge that that son’s life was about to come to an end, if it hadn’t already.

At 36 Netter had had girlfriend after girlfriend but no-one he felt ready to settle down with. His 6’2” muscular frame topped by a head of thick almost black hair was attractive to the opposite sex for sure, but Netter was a man married to his job and deep down he felt that time for families would come later. He had worked with a partner for the past 4 years, but after Dan had been mown down by a getaway vehicle and had been killed, he’d fought against working as a duo again, unable to come to terms with the loss of his friend and certain he couldn’t go through that grieving process a second time. It was lonely working alone, and he missed Dan’s huge comforting presence watching his back. The big Hawaiian had been a friend, partner and part of Hank’s life for so long that he felt as though his right arm had been severed when he’d been killed. But he felt grateful that he’d had the chance to have a partnership like that. They came only once in a lifetime and Netter felt sorry that Ken Hutchinson had had so little love from his family. He hoped that if the young blond did survive, one day Ken too would have a deep and lasting friendship. The Lord knew that with a family as dysfunctional as the Hutchinsons the flaxen haired man needed all the love he could get.

His ruminations were shattered by Jed bursting back into the quiet room and Hanks chair almost slipped over backwards as the big cop jumped at the sudden intrusion.

‘I think we might be getting somewhere’ Jed said excitedly as he dumped down a sheaf of papers on the desk.

‘Where exactly?’

‘It’s the print they used for the note. We got nothing from the paper the letters were pasted onto. Standard heavy weight velum paper with a standard watermark. Even the paste they used was none descript, although interestingly it all fits with the information we got later. Most paste is derived from animals. Companies boil up hooves and the like to make sticky stuff. But this paste was different. It was vegetable based’.

‘And?’ Hank asked, trying not to sound too irritated. He loved a man who loved his work, but sometimes Jed was a little too passionate.

‘The letters were all cut from either The Veterinary Times or the magazine Veterinarian Today. It fits. The vegetable paste, the animal centred magazines and the fact that Dr Richard Hutchinson is one of the leading specialist surgeons because he practices his techniques on animals’.

‘So you’re telling me we’re looking for an animal rights organisation? They’re the ones who took Ken Hutchinson?’

Jed looked pleased enough to burst. ‘I can go one better and tell you exactly who to look for. My daughter came home from school with a leaflet someone had handed her at the school gate. A group calling themselves PACE. People Against Cruelty and Experimentation. I think that’s who you need to be targeting’.

Netter snatched the report from Jed’s hands and ran a cursory eye down the numbers, his mind working overtime. Yes it made sense now that Jed had spelled it out. But where were they? Where was the group?’

‘I don’t suppose your daughter happened to find out where PACE hung out?’ he asked, not really expecting an answer.

Jed’s face was a picture as he nodded briefly. ‘One step ahead of ya Pal. Although there was nothing on the leaflet Sarah brought home, I did a little research of my own. You hear too many scare stories of cult membership these days. A Dad needs to be careful. Anyhow, I did some digging and it seems that a certain Hillary French rented a recently refurbished veterinary hospital out to the east of town. I went one step further and checked with the letting agents. She told them this morning that she wouldn’t be needing it further. If you’re real quick, I think you might still find them there’.

Netter ran from the building and back out to his car. He’d asked Jed to notify his Captain that he would be going out to the east side and had asked the forensics man to give out the address. Although he worked alone, he knew he’d need backup for this particular affair. He jumped into the vehicle, started the engine and fishtailed out of the parking lot and into the traffic. It slowed him down and he toyed with the idea of slamming the mars light onto the roof and running the traffic, but decided against it for fear of alerting the group to his arrival too quickly. Instead he sat behind the wheel and cursed as slow moving cars blocked his path and buses pulled out in front of him. So intent was Netter on the stuff going on n front of his car that he failed to notice the truck that fell in neatly behind him and stuck to him like glue through all the traffic of the busy city.

Johnny nursed the truck through the bends, weaving in and out of the other cars calmly so as not to draw attention to themselves. They needed to nail the cop, but this was too crowded a place to be able to do it. So the duo bided their time and followed closely, but not too closely behind until they were out of the main drag and motoring out into the quieter suburbs. As the traffic started the thin and office blocks and stores gave way to residential housing, he pushed the pedal and started to close the gap between them and Hank’s car.

‘Slow an’ easy man’ Damon urged his friend. ‘It’s still too crowded around here. We don’t wanna make him suspicious just yet’.

‘What’s your problem bro? We’re gonna waste him anyways. What difference does it make whether we shoot him or run him off of the road?’

‘At least with a gun I can make sure he’s dead. Run him off the road and we wouldn’t be sure whether he’s survive or not’ Damon explained. Johnny may have been big on brawn but there were very few brain cells residing between those big ears.

‘Believe me. If I’m gonna do a number on him, he’ll be dead’.

‘Just drive, man. Let me do the shootin’ when the time’s right’.

Netter drove quickly and carefully out of the city limits and up towards the address he’d taken from Jed’s information sheet. He wasn’t to familiar with this side of town, although he had been here before and as the houses started to thin, he started looking for the turning that would take him out to the big farmstead. He kept his fingers crossed that he wasn’t too late and now that there were fewer vehicles on the road, he pushed the pedal to the metal and sped up. Glancing in the rear view mirror he saw a truck behind him and wound his window down flagging them past. He didn’t want anyone behind him in case he needed to make a swift turn.

The truck, however, stayed where it was, about 50 yards behind him and he signalled again, cursing the driver’s stupidity under his breath. The truck closed the gap a little but made no attempt to overtake. Instead it settled in about 10 yards behind him and in his mirror, Netter saw the two men, both big and well built and both intent on his car. Shit! How the hell had they got behind him? Had they followed him out from the city? Netter was fairly sure that these were the same two men who he’d followed through the city streets earlier and a cold trickle of sweat started to roll down his spine as he gunned the engine ever faster.

The were driving at almost break neck speed down the highway now, all thoughts of looking for the farmstead gone from Hank’s head as he concentrated on trying to loose his tail. But out here, on this long, straight road it was difficult. In the city he could ustilise his knowledge and turn down small back streets and alleyways in an attempt to loose them, but here, out in the pen there was no place to hide. And the truck, with it’s more powerful engine was keeping up with him effortlessly.

Netter chanced another look in the rear view mirror and ducked as he saw a gun levelled at him. A shot rang out, shattering the rear window and punching a hole through his wind shield. Another followed, smashing the rest of the glass. Hank could feel shards of glass sting at his face as he tried to wheedle every last ounce of speed from his car. For a moment it looked as though he may succeed in drawing away from the tailing truck, but them a shot rang out and he felt an almighty blow to the side of his head. The world went black and he had the sickening sensation of slewing sideways across the roadway before the car turned over onto it’s side, it’s roof and finally came to a rest on it’s opposite side in a cloud of dust, the wheels continuing to turn even though there was no road for them to bite at.

Johnny was about to pull over to the side of the road to check that they had indeed killed the cop when he saw in the distance another car coming in the opposite direction. He pushed his foot to the floor and as Damon peered through his side window at the wreck of the car and the body of the big cop sprawled half out of the open door, the truck powered away into the distance.

In the quiet that followed the attack, Netter’s radio crackled to life.

‘Ocean 4, Ocean 4, be advised. Truck seen tailing you out onto freeway. Please proceed with extreme caution’.

Chapter 9

Hank Netter slowly opened his eyes and looked up at a bright light above him. For a moment he wondered exactly where he was before he remembered the kindly woman’s face looking down at him earlier.

Bobby Helman and his wife Netty were making their way back to town from the weekend spent with their daughter when they swerved to avoid a large truck coming at them down the freeway almost in the middle of the road. Bobby cursed and swung the wheel over almost losing control of his own car before righting it and slowly getting back on track. It wasn’t until they’d driven a few more hundred yards that they’d seen the car upturned at the side of the road and had stopped to investigate.

Netty, an ex nurse quietly took control of the situation and as Bobby bent down and crawled into the car to get the microphone to call for an ambulance, Netty set about assessing the damage.

The man who had been behind the wheel of the car had been thrown partially clear and now Netter lay with his legs still inside the vehicle and the upper half of his body clear and on the bare dirt ground. He had a bloody wound on the side of his head, but as Netty’s practiced fingers gently explored the wound, she realised that her patient had been incredibly lucky and the bullet had merely creased him. She felt sure he would be concussed and have the mother of all headaches, but that he should make a full recovery from that particular wound. Exploring the rest of his body, she was amazed to find that other than a tenderness and swelling over his right ribs, nothing else appeared to be broken, although she knew enough to not try to move him.

And so Hank awoke briefly to see her smiling, worried face looking down at him.

‘Hi there. Just rest. You’re going to be just fine’ she reassured him. He tried to sit up, but she held him down without too much trouble. ‘We called for an ambulance from your car radio. Just lie still till they get here hmm?’

‘Need t’radio in’ Netter ground out, his teeth set against the pain in his head.

‘You need to rest’.

‘No…don’t understand…..Need to radio……Metro…..boys life’ he managed to grunt.

‘Ok, ok, but then rest’ Netty said and passed him the mic. She held Hanks head as he spoke into the device.

‘This is…..Ocean 4….need patch through…..Captain Wilby’.

There was a pause and some crackling before another voice could be heard responding. Netter shut it up dead ‘Cap…Netter. Truck….got away….hurt, I…..’ his eyes closed and the mic slipped from his hand as Netty took hold of it. Uncertainly she spoke into the handset.

‘Um…this is Netty Helman. I’m with your officer. I sent for an ambulance. He’s hurt but not too badly I don’t think. The crew should take him to Mercy hospital, I think’.

And the disembodied voice of the Captain had thanked her and taken details.

And now, goodness knew how much later, Hank awoke again, the pains in his head subsiding from a constant drilling to a dull ache which worsened each time he moved, breathed or thought. Gritting his teeth, he levered himself up until he was resting on his elbows on the narrow examination bed and looked around.

A nurse moved over to him and put her hands on his shoulders.

‘Well good afternoon’ she smiled warmly at him. ‘And how do you feel?’

‘Like my head’s gonna blow off. Am I ok? Can I go?’

‘Tell me your name’ she asked as she busied herself with a thermometer and BP cuff.

‘Hank Netter’.

‘And where do you work Mr Netter?’

‘It’s just Hank. Mr Netter was my Dad, an’ I’m a detective at DPD. The year is 1968, its December, I live in Duluth and the president is Richard Nixon. See, I still have all my marbles. Can I go now please?’

The pretty nurse smiled back at him. ‘Maybe when the ER doctor has seen you. You took quite a fall there Mister. We can’t be too careful. Just lie back and consider this a well earned rest for a while huh? Or do I need to cuff you to the gurney?’

Hank winked one mischievous eye at her, his pans telling him he should do as she told him. ‘Now you’re talking sweetheart!’ he joked as he settled back onto the pillow.


Ted Mankiewitz and his friend Harry walked down to the small fishing boat they had moored on the lakeside. It was early afternoon and they’d had the morning to get their fishing tackle together and have a beer or two at the bar. Retired, and with the whole of the afternoon to go fishing, both men were happy, mellow and relaxed. As they walked over the pier and lowered their equipment carefully into the small row boat, two men bustled past them, carrying a heavy sack between them. So big was their burden that Harry almost toppled off the pier and into the water and Ted yelled at the rapidly departing men to watch their backs and be more careful in future. The larger of the two men yelled some curses back at him and they got into a motor boat at the end of the pier.

Harry got his balance back and looked at the two other men who were now climbing into the boat, the sack on the floor of the small craft between them.

‘Hey isn’t that old Andy’s boat?’ he asked as he squinted at the brightly painted hull.

‘Be damned if I know’ Ted replied, but he took a good look as the motor boat pushed off from the pier and headed out into the lake. ‘But I aint never seen those two bozos before. And believe me, with their attitude I hope I never see ‘em again’.

‘Well what the hell are they doin’ with Andy’s boat?’

‘Maybe he loaned it to ‘em. Who cares? There’s fish out there just waitin’ to be caught. I can feel it. C’mon Harry. Time’s a’wastin’ as they say’.

Harry took a final look at the departing boat and clambered into the small row boat. Ted untied to mooring line and with long, powerful strokes, he pulled on the oars, pulling them out into the lake. Over Ted’s shoulder, Harry kept his eye on the motor boat which seemed for some reason to have stopped about 100 yards from the shore. He picked up his binoculars and focussed on the two big men who were now standing unsteadily in the middle of the launch. As he watched, he saw them stoop and pick up the big sack, which seemed to be moving some in way now.

Harry hated cruelty to animals and over the years had seen several people take a litter of puppies or kittens out onto the lake to get rid of them. He put down the binoculars.

‘Pull for the launch Ted. They’re dropping something overboard an’ I want to rescue it’.

Ted snickered. ‘You and that soft heart! Is Lucy really gonna want another shed load of pups to deal with. Let it go buddy. Think of something else’.

Harry gave him a withering look. ‘Just row huh? Let me worry about Lucy. Be quick, they’ve dumped it and they’re pulling away. If we have luck on our side, the air in the sack’ll keep it afloat till we get there’.

Ted grunted, but leaned his back into the strokes and within a minute they were pulling up at the spot Harry had fixed as where the men had dumped the sack. They cast around looking at the surface of the lake, but in the early afternoon breeze, the water was ruffled and broken, small waves encrusting the surface. It was difficult to see anything.

‘It was round here, I know it was’ Harry grunted. ‘I fixed the spot!’

‘Well it aint here now buddy. Just give it up huh?’

‘No! Just gimme a minute. It was round here, I’m sure. It was a big, heavy s…over there, look, just going down!’

Ted looked in the direction Harry was pointing and saw the final few fibres of the sack disappearing beneath the surface. He took up the oars again and pulled over to the spot as Harry leaned over and pushed his hand elbow deep into the cold lake, fishing around until his fingers closed around the sodden fabric. He pulled, surprised at just how heavy the sack was, the boat in danger of tipping over as he leaned precariously over the side.

‘Help me up huh? Shit what are they dumping? What kinda puppie’d weigh so much? Great Danes? Talk about a weight!’

Ted lent his weight to the procedure and pulled at the fabric which came up to the surface of the lake. Carefully, as though landing the biggest fish they’d ever caught, the old friends gave a concerted effort and pulled the sack and its contents onto the floor of their row boat.

Water rushed from the semi inflated sacking to puddle in the bottom of the boat and both men sat back. Several years of retirement had left them soft and under exercised and they panted with their exertions as they looked at their sodden prize. It lay between them, unmoving and for a moment Harry thought he may have been too late.

He rooted around in his fishing bag and pulled out a wickedly sharp bladed knife, inserting it into the ties at the top of the sack and cutting through them as though they were warm butter. He continued down the heavy rough fabric a ways until he could pull the material back. But when he did, his heart skipped a beat.

He was hoping to see some bundles of furry energy maybe curled up together. He was ready to pick up each of the small furry bodies and breathe life back into them, rubbing them dry on his shirt as he’d done before. He was not ready to see a blood soaked tangle of dark golden hair and a face which appeared to be black and blue and swollen out of all proportion.

Harry staggered backwards, almost falling over the wooden seat in the boat.

‘What the hell? Oh my God, it’s a boy’.

Ted peered at the curled up body still confined in part of the sacking. Ken’s face had a bluish cast to it and bruises and cuts showed lividly over his pale face. Other bruises showed on his chest and arms and further down into the depths of his fabric coffin.

‘Is he alive?’ Ted asked quietly.

Tentatively Harry reached out and put a hand against Ken’s neck. It felt cold and waxy beneath his fingers, but there, very faint was a weak heartbeat although he couldn’t see any signs of the young man breathing.

‘Here. help me get him outa there. We need to get some air into him’ he said, taking hold of Ken’s shoulders.

‘Um….aren’t we supposed to not move him, in case anything’s broken?’

Harry gave his friend a disparaging look. ‘And if he dies of asphyxiation will it really matter if we disturb a broken bone? Besides, he looks like he has plenty broken. They worked him over real well’.

Together the two men started to pull the blond’s body from the sacking, laying him out as best they could in the narrow confines of the boat. It was hard going and there was very little room, but finally Harry managed to get into position. He sealed up his patient’s nose, straightened the long blond neck back and blew into Ken’s mouth, hoping he was doing the procedure right. He’d taken a first aid course once, but had never actually had to do anything like this for real. It felt wrong and dangerous, but he desperately wanted this young man to live.

Repeating the procedure again he asked Ted to watch to see if the chest rose any and was about to breathe another breath into the body when he felt it convulse beneath him and a trickle of dirty lake water ran out of the corner of the bloody mouth. He turned the boy over on his side, hardening his heart to the terrible groan that the movement elicited and as he sat with the young body propped against his knee, Ted rowed for home with a speed which would have put Olympic oarsmen to shame.

Chapter 10

Netter was drifting on a happy cloud of morphia when the commotion shook him awake. It took him another moment to remember where he was and it was only the unusually bright light above and the smell of antiseptic in his nostrils that made him remember that he was laying on a gurney in the ER of the Mercy hospital. The voices that had shaken him awake were coming closer now and he could hear what they were shouting.

‘Get him into the ER now’.

‘Sats are low’

‘BP 80 over 40. He needs fluids now’.

‘Get me FBC, Us and Es, MCV, ESR and get 3 units of O neg. Type and cross match him’.

‘Get the x-rays down here. I want head, chest and abdo plates stat’.

‘His GCS was 8 and has since gone down to 6. He’s got a bleed somewhere’.

‘OK ok everyone out who doesn’t need to be here. We need all the room we can get. Someone cut his clothes off and mind that leg and his arm huh?’

Netter wondered what poor devil was in such a state that even the hardbitten ER doctors sounded worried and couldn’t help but be thankful that he’d got off with only a graze to his thick skull. He could hear curtains swishing and lower voices now as the nurses and doctors started to work over their patient.

‘Anyone know his name?’

‘No, he’s a John Doe. He was pulled out of the lake by two old guys. They’re waiting in reception. They’re pretty shaken up. Christine’s given them tea and sympathy. They saved his life for sure’.

‘John Doe huh? Ok well, no relatives to notify for the moment. Jeez he’s taken some beating! I can’t get any breath sounds on the right side. He has a pneumothorax. I can feel crepitus. Get me a chest tube and needle. The chest cutters are busy in theatre’.

Hank heard more shuffling behind the curtain and then the clink clink of equipment being placed into a metal tray. The voices softened and quietened as he thought they’d started the procedure. But Netter wasn’t really listening any more. His mind was working overtime now that he had some quiet. What had the doctor said? A John Doe pulled from the lake at lunchtime. A John Doe who had taken a severe beating? It couldn’t be, could it? Well sure, the kidnappers would try to get rid of their captive, but the chances of him ending up in the next bed to the cop were slim to none.

Disconnecting himself from the sphyg. tube, but leaving the black cuff around his arm, Hank eased himself off the gurney, thankful that the usually over zealous nurses at least allowed him to retain his underpants beneath the thin, short gown. He’d had too many embarrassing experiences with the little night gowns in the past to enjoy them. He pulled the curtain between the two cubicles back slightly and peered around at the action taking place next door.

He saw two nurses, gowned and with masks over their mouths and noses and a doctor similarly attired and with a long metal needle just about to plunge it into the side of his patient under his axilla. But what staggered Netter more than the length of the needle or the deathly quiet in the cubicle was the sight of the matted, blood soaked previously flaxen blond hair.

He hitched a deep breath. Oh my God it was him! It was Ken Hutchinson, although he was hardly recognisable beneath all the blood and bruises. The young man was deathly pale and looked so much younger than his 21 years as he lay so still and limp on the table. He was about to say something to the doctor when his nurse entered his cubicle again. He turned, a look on his face which suggested he was a Weightwatcher caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

‘Hank, you shouldn’t be up’ the nurse admonished. You need to rest for a while. That bullet may have only grazed you, but your body still needs time to adjust to the shock. What’re you doing there anyway?’

‘The guy next door. In the next door cubicle. Has anyone identified him properly?’

The nurse – Carole, he read from the badge on her top pocket – tutted. ‘That’s no concern of yours. And no, he had no ID on him when he was brought in’. She steered him back to the gurney and pushed him down until he was sitting on the edge, legs dangling. Deciding that was the best result she was going to get from the recalcitrant cop, she reattached the tube to the sphyg. and pumped it up to measure his blood pressure.

‘I know who he is’ Hank said quietly. ‘I need to see him properly to make absolutely sure, but if it is who I think it is, we need to tell his family’.

Carole looked perturbed. ‘You think you can identify him? I’ll tell the doctor as soon as I can, but right now they’re fighting to stabilise him. He’s in a bad way’.

‘I know, I saw’ Hank grinned sheepishly. ‘How long d’you think they’ll be?’

She raised her eyebrows. ‘Honestly? I can’t say. He’s badly injured and they’ll have to stabilise his vitals before they can send him to the OR. Is he a friend?’ she asked softly.

‘What? Friend? Oh no. I mean, I knew him….knew the family…..but we weren’t close. I don’t think anyone’s close’.

Carole gave him a sympathetic look. ‘If you promise to stay put and stop taking constitutionals around my ER I’ll tell the doctor as soon as I can’.

Hank put a hand on her arm. ‘Thanks honey. I think he’s gonna need all the friends he can get’.

Netter lay himself gingerly back down on the gurney and closed his eyes.

Shit what a mess he’s in. You should’a got to him earlier, you fool. But how could you? You did your best. Well best aint good enough buddy. Look at the poor guy now. Hey, at least he’s alive! In kidnapping circles that’s a result. Yeah I know, but there’s results an’ results and right now I’d have preferred my “result” to be in one piece. Jeez you’re hard on yourself Netter. Yup, that’s what’s kept me alive!

The noises from the next door cubicle started up again. All had been relatively quiet for a while, but now nurses were calling numbers again and although Hank was no medic, he’d spent enough time in emergency rooms to understand that things were beginning to look up for young Hutchinson.

‘Sats are up. 69 percent and rising’.

‘He’s had one unit of O neg.

‘BP still low. 90 on 70 but holding’.

‘Is the OR free yet?’

‘Five minutes more and we can get him up there’.

And then Netter heard Carole’s voice low and intense. He waited and a moment later, the doctor, blood down the front of his gown and on the gloves still covering his hands. He smiled tiredly at the cop.

‘My nurse tells me you may know who the man in the next bed is’ he said.

‘Yeah. I’m a cop. I was investigating a…..well. It doesn’t matter. Most important is, I think he was involved with a case I was working’.

The doctor’s eyebrows rose. ‘He’s a criminal?’

‘Oh no no no. I was investigating a kidnap. I think he’s the victim, but I need to see him properly to make the ID. Can I?’

‘He’s in a bad way. He’s been pretty badly injured and I need to get him up to OR. He’s unconscious at the moment, but we could use an ID. If you feel up to it….?’

Hank slipped off the gurney and padded behind the doctor to the next cubicle. The detritus of the procedures littered the floor, blood stained swabs and items of clothing left where they’d been cast down as the doctor fought to save the life of his young patient. Netter neatly stepped over the still wet shirt and stood by the side of the bed.

Ken was almost unrecognisable. The once handsome golden tanned face was a welter of cuts and bruises. Both eyes were swollen closed and dark blue bruises showed over both them and the left cheek. There was a large cut over the cheek and another leading from lip to chin. Further down, more bruises decorated the muscled chest which was now marred by the catheter leading from chest wall to vacuum jar dangling at the side of the bed. Both arms were punctured by needles feeding Ringers Lactate and another unit of blood into the injured body. It was obvious the left arm was broken, the wrist and forearm at odd angles to each other and both legs also appeared to be fractured. Ominously a trickle of blood ran from Ken’s left ear to stain the white pillow ruby red.

Netter gasped, tears pricking at the back of his eyes. He angrily wiped a hand over his face.

Pull it together Netter! You’ve seen these sorts of injuries before. Yeah, but not on one so young!

Gently Hank reached out and put his hand on Ken’s right arm, flinching as he saw that each of the fingers of the right hand had been broken. Bending forward he leaned on the gurney so that he could talk quietly to the young man.

‘Ken? I don’t know if you can hear me. You’re safe. You’re in the hospital and the Doc is gonna do everything he can for you. It’s me, Hank Netter. The cop you saw at your house? I’m gonna let your Mom and Dad know you’re safe ok? You’re gonna make it kid, you just need to hang on. Ok? Just hang on’.

Surprisingly he felt a tiny answering squeeze on his hand although Ken was unable to open either eye. But it was enough to let Netter know that there was life in young Hutchinson yet.

‘Ok Ken. You have to go with the doctors now. They’re gonna make you feel better; take your pain away. Just hang in there kid and I’ll speak to your Mom and Dad. Promise me you’ll fight?’ For some inexplicable reason Hank found that he needed to get that promise from the blond. He needed to let Ken know that there was someone there with him who knew him and who cared for him. He put his hand up to the cut and bruised forehead and gently stroked the matted flaxen hair. ‘Just rest easy Ken. It’s gonna be fine’ he said as the orderlies came to wheel the gurney away.

The doctor stood by Netter’s side. ‘So he’s Ken. Ken who?’

‘Ken Hutchinson. He was a kidnap victim. I was investigating. Is he gonna be ok?’

‘He has multiple injuries and its early days. But he has youth on his side. He should pull through, given time. Ken Hutchinson you say? Not the son of Dr Richard Hutchinson?’

Netter nodded his head, grunted at the sudden dizziness and made a mad grab for the chair to stop himself falling. He took a steadying breath.

‘Uh huh. That’s him. And I need to ring the Hutchinsons. They’ll be mad with worry’.

The doctor out a hand on the cop’s shoulder. ‘No need to ring. Dr Hutchinson is here today. He has a full operating list. I’ll go and tell him myself. You stay here and rest. I’ll be back as quickly as I can’.

Netter sat down on the chair in the small cubicle, the exertions of the past days finally taking their toll. He felt dizzy and weak and sick, but also relieved beyond all measure that Ken had been found alive if not well. Now all he needed to do was to call in to his Captain and request another couple of days sick leave, go back and finish up the paperwork, and go on to the next job.

Chapter 11 - my thanks to Eli for the Spanish lessons in this chapter!

Netter paced the confines of the visitors waiting area. In the past five hours he’d called in to the Metro and explained what had gone on. He’d personally gone down to see Ted and Harry, the two guys who’d brought Ken into the hospital and he’d had someone bring him some clothes into the hospital.

Now washed and dressed once again in his usual blue jeans, white shirt and dark blue jacket, he felt normal. If it hadn’t been for the pounding headache and the fireworks that exploded behind his eyes each time he moved his head, he’d be well enough to go back to work. But instead of going home to his soft bed and comfortable pillows, he chose to wait for more news of Ken.

There were very few cases that touched Netter on such a personal level. He had no idea whether it was because of the man’s age, his physical looks or the way his family treated him,. There was just something about Ken Hutchinson that had hooked the grizzled, streetwise cop like few other cases had done before. He knew it was crazy to get so attached. He knew it was even crazier to be hanging around the ward like a little lap dog. Jeez he wasn’t family; they probably wouldn’t even let him in! But something kept Netter at the hospital and he was used to going with his gut feelings.

Nurses wandered in and out of the room that he’d seen the gurney moved to and finally the doctor came out and looked around. ‘Family for Hutchinson?’

‘Um, I’m not family but I’m a close friend’ Netter lied. ‘Is he ok? Is he gonna make it? His dad is working here today’.

‘Yes, I know. Dr Hutchinson will be down later once he’s finished his operating list. You are?’

‘Netter. Hank Netter. Can I see him? Is he ok? He repeated.

‘Ken is a very lucky young man to be alive. You can sit by him if you like but we’ve induced a medical coma. His injuries are quite severe’. The doctor indicated for Hank to go into the small private room.

Inside, the usual sickly pale green walls were at least decorated with one or two tasteful pictures, but the room was taken over by the bed, it’s patient and the myriad of machines surrounding him. Netter walked behind the doctor to the foot of the bed and couldn’t hide the wince at the sight in front of him. He dragged his attention back to the doctor, who was rhyming off a list of injuries.

‘He has 4 broken ribs, one of which punctured his right lung. The ER doctor dealt with that and the lung is now re-inflated. We’ve strapped up his chest and will monitor it closely. Sometimes the pneumothoraxe has a habit of recurring spontaneously. He has a serious concussion. He was bleeding into his head when he arrived, but we’ve x-rayed and made an exploratory incision and we found nothing too sinister and we managed to stop the bleed. He was severely beaten around the head and his brain has swelled so we’re keeping him in a coma to give his body time to start healing. Both legs have been broken, the left above the knee and the right below the knee and his left arm is broken at the wrist. The fingers of his right hand have also all be broken and we suspect some nerve damage, but only time will tell on that one.

Other than that, he escaped any major internal injuries although his kidneys have been badly bruised. He’ll be unconscious for a few days yet. You can stay with him for a while and on a subconscious level he may even know you’re here, but don’t expect any responses. Because of the coma, we have him on a respirator. Don’t worry. The machines are looking after him’.

Hank thanked the doctor. ‘Are his family coming?’

‘His Father will be here once he’s finished operating. His Mom is on her way’.

Netter smiled and moved up the bed. He sat down on the chair by the bedside and looked at the young man. Ken looked incredibly fragile lying on the white sheeted bed. There was no colour to his face other than the evil blue of the bruises and everywhere Netter looked there were fresh white bandages, needles and tubes. The hiss whoosh of the respirator filled the air with its rhythmic life giving noise and Ken’s chest rose in time with the sounds of the machine. Gently Hank put his hand out and rested it on Ken’s bare shoulder.

‘It’s gonna be Ok kid. I’m sorry I didn’t get to ya. I tried. Honest I did, but they were too quick. I’m so sorry. But I’m here now. I won’t leave you alone till your folks get here. I’m right here…..not going anywhere. Right here by your side’.

Netter continued his quiet words for the next hour. He didn’t really know what he as saying, or whether he was making any sense. But he understood that on some fundamental level, Ken needed to know that he wasn’t alone in his ordeal and that he had at least one friend looking out for him.

An hour or so later, the door to the small room opened, making Hank jump slightly. He’d been concentrating so hard on the body on the bed that he’d hardly noticed the nurses coming in an out to take readings and adjust the machines. They commented that Ken was fighting hard and that they were surprised at just how well he was doing, but mostly they left the two men alone. Now the tall figure of Dr Hutchinson walked into the room, Mrs Hutchinson following close behind.

Netter had seen several tearful occasions, sometimes in hospital, when families had been reunited. Usually tears flowed and words were spoken, but this was so different. Instead of going direct to the bed Ken’s father stood to one side, questioning the doctor in charge of his son's treatments and what had gone on in theatre. While Dr Hutchinson dispassionately discussed his son’s life with one of his colleagues, Mr Hutchinson hovered by the side of the bed. Hank stood and offered her the chair, conscious that he was, after all, a stranger. She shook her head and stood, her hand hovering over her son’s injured body as if she knew she should touch it and give the boy her love, but unsure how to go about it. Finally she withdrew her hand and merely watched as the respirator breathed life into Ken’s chest.

‘He’s gonna be ok’ Hank said, misinterpreting Mrs Hutchinson’s lack of contact for fear that she would hurt her son.

The woman looked at him, straightened her shoulders and smiled. ‘You’re Detective Netter? Thank you so much for investigating the blackmail. So kind’ she said quietly.

‘Just doing my job Ma’am. Ken’s gonna do fine I know he is’.

‘I’m sure of it’ she said, walking back to join her husband. They talked for a little while longer with the other doctor before he left and they turned back to the bed. Dr Hutchinson examined the respirator, the chart at he foot of the bed and the various drips before finally he looked at his son. He reached out a hand to Ken’s forehead, but instead of caressing his firstborn and telling him he was going to be ok, he took out a penlight and raised Ken’s eyelids to measure pupil reaction. Netter looked away in disgust.

Finally the two parents looked at Hank. ‘Thanks you for taking the time to come and visit’ Dr Hutchinson said. ‘The doctor in the ER said that you too had been injured. How are you feeling?’

‘I’m good. I’m more concerned with Ken.

‘He should make a full recovery in time. And right now he needs his rest. Thank you Detective, but you need your rest too’.

Taking the words as a dismissal, Hank stood. ‘If you’re staying, I’d ask for a different chair. That one digs into your back’ he said.

‘Hmm? Oh that’s ok. Mrs Hutchinson and I have to fly down to Atlanta tonight. Some boring award ceremony you know. We’ll be back in two days’.

Netter’s patience snapped. He’d thought that maybe now that Ken’s life hung in the balance he’d see a different side to the Hutchinson family. He hoped against hope that this would be the catalyst they needed to see just how precious their son was to them. But instead he was met by a show of such utter indifference, that his rage boiled over.

‘You mean you’re gonna go and just leave him here on his own?’ he asked, his voice low and dangerous.

‘Mr Netter. Ken is in a medically induced coma. He has no idea whether we’re here or not. By the time we get back, he may be coming out of it, but until then there is no reason for anyone to waste their time in sitting by his bedside. I assure you, he’ll be well looked after here’.

‘Waste their time? Is that what you think it would be.? A waste of time to sit by your son? The son you helped put here? If you’d have lowered your goddamned principles for one goddamned minute and got the money ready, he might not be here right now. Surely the least you can do is be with him now, when he needs you the most’. Hank stared back at the impassive face.

‘You’re overwrought. I’ll forgive your outburst this once Detective as you’re injured and tired. But let me make this plain. It was your job to see that my son was safely returned. You’re the law. I’m just here to pick up the pieces when the law get it wrong. Now. You may stay here if you like. I can’t stop you. But I want no more snide comments about my or my wife’s parenting skills, is that clear? Any more of your verbal abuse and I’ll have you removed from the hospital. My wife and I will carry on with our business content in the knowledge that our son is being looked after by Duluth’s finest. And we will be home in two days. Goodbye’. And with that, the two Hutchinsons turned and departed without a backwards glance.

Hank stared after them, unable to understand what he’d just heard. How could any parent be so cold hearted? How could any mother see her son in such a state and not want to pick him up and hold him and sooth away his hurts and fears. But instead, Ken’s mother seemed hardly to know how to touch her son, let alone give him the comfort he so needed at the moment. Hank put his head in his hands. How could anyone leave their nearest and dearest like this? Almost as much as medical care, Ken needed love and understanding right now and while Netter knew right then that he didn’t want to leave the young blond on his own, he also knew he couldn’t do this all by himself.

Wearily he got up from the worlds most uncomfortable chair and leaned over the unconscious form on the bed. He had a plan.

‘I’m gonna go for just a little while kid. But I’ll be back. You aren’t alone, ok. I’ll be back real soon’.

Netter headed out of the door just as one of the nurses into the room to make more checks.

‘I’ll be back’ he said as he headed for the front of the hospital.

An hour later, driving a black and white as his own car was considered a write off, Netter made his way back to Mercy Hospital. He walked slowly and stiffly back up to the small private ward and entered the quiet softly lit room. he walked to the bedside and put his hand softly on Ken’s shoulder.

‘Hey kid. I said I’d be back. And I’ve brought someone else. Together we’re gonna make sure you’re not on your own’. Hank stood to one side as Chancita wiped away a tear and leaned to kiss the bloody, cracked lips, whispering words of endearment under her breath.

‘Estoy aquí, mi niño querido. No voy a irme de tu lado. Chancita está aquí, y todo va a ir bien’

Chapter 12

For two whole days Ken floated on a sea of pain and confusion. He had no idea where he was and no idea how he’d gotten there. His last real memory was of the fists and feet driving into his body like a freight train and then the icy cold water soaking through the sacking he was encased in.

It was the coldness of the lake that brought him around sufficiently to understand that far from being beaten to death, he was, in fact, going to drown. And that thought had filled him with terror. It had been bad enough to endure the beating with no hope of rescue, but this? This was more than he could bear. As the water soaked through the material hugging his body, Ken had tried to fight his way out of the sack, but the water rose higher and higher and the more he struggled, the more his chest hurt, stopping him from breathing. As the water got to his chin, he tried to take one final deep breath and he clamped his mouth shut as he felt himself slide beneath the choppy waves of the lake. He knew it was futile to hold his breath. It was merely putting off the evil moment when his oxygen starved body would force him to try and take another breath. And then all he would suck in would be water.

Someone had once told him that drowning was quite a peaceful way to die. At the time he’d snickered and said he’d believe that when someone came back to confirm it, and now he realised how untrue that really was. His lungs burned with the overriding need to suck in another lungful of air and he fought the urge to breathe deeply. His body trembled with the exertion of holding his breath until his limbs started to shake violently. His eyes shut, he felt the sensation of sinking and his legs wanted to jerk to kick him up to the surface again. But as he tried to move his limbs, the agonising pains from the breaks finally did what his brain had been unable to do. They caused his mouth to open in a silent scream and flood his lungs with the cold, dirty lake water.

There had been a moment of panic. A moment when every light seemed the brightest it had ever been, each gurgling noise in his ears the loudest he’d ever heard and then a feeling of serenity. His body was closing down and it no longer mattered. His pains were receding and he felt warm and comfortable and no longer afraid. In one of his last lucid moments he wondered how long he’d remain in the water before some unsuspecting person found his body. And then that no longer mattered either. He was settling into this calm headspace when suddenly, he felt his body being tugged upwards.

So, this is what it’s like to die, he’d thought. Funny. He’d always believed it would feel more like flying. Now all he felt was something hard digging into his back, a set of hands around his middle squeezing his broken ribs and his body feeling heavier than he could ever recall. He tried to breathe in, but his waterlogged body refused to obey, but through his closed eyelids he could see a brighter light.

A being was running a warm hand over his face. An angel? The hand was replaced by tender lips that covered his mouth. Did angels kiss? He felt air flow into his lungs and coughed water up into his mouth. The kiss returned for a moment and Ken tried his best to open his eyes to look into the beautiful face of the heavenly being that had transported him to Nirvana. Slowly he forced his eyelids open and looked straight up into the worried, wrinkled face of an old man.

And silently he chuckled to himself. Great Hutchinson. Only with your luck would you be saved by the only geriatric angel in God’s rescue squad!

After that there was more pain, more panic and finally a rest of sorts. For a while now he’d been conscious of lying on his back and of pains throughout his body. Surmising that he was not in heaven, Ken decided that he should probably try to open his eyes and find out exactly where he was. Although he was a little afraid of what he might find. What if he was still back in the byre at the farm? What if they hadn’t finished with him and they were going to start all over again? That thought was enough to keep his eyes closed for a while longer. But eventually he felt the need to answer the questions floating around inside his head and very carefully he opened his eyes.

Hank Netter sat by the side of Chancita, chatting comfortably about homes, vacations, anything to while away the time spent by the side of the young man. The Mexican maid hadn’t questioned why Hank, a near stranger, had seen fit to stand watch over her employer’s son. At one point she did hint that she felt the blond had a certain magic to him and all those who came into contact with him fell immediately under his spell. And Netter agreed. Ken was young, tall, handsome, athletic and personable and despite the lack of affection he’d received in his family life, he was ready to give affection to others at the drop of a hat.

That morning the doctor had been back to see his patient and had declared Ken fit enough for him to start being roused from his coma. The respirator tube was taken away and one of the drips discontinued and the doctor told the two visitors that some time during the afternoon, he may begin to show signs of life.

Now both people heard a low, rasping groan from the young man in the bed. With Chancita on one side and Hank on the other, they both stood holding onto Ken’s arms as he carefully cracked open crystal blue eyes and stared at the ceiling.

‘Mom?’ he rasped.

‘No, I’m here Rayito de Luz. It’s me Chancita’.

Ken carefully turned his head and a ghost of a smile flashed across his face. Much of the swelling had gone down over the past 48 hours and now he could at least open both eyes although there was still extensive bruising.

‘Where?’ the blond whispered.

‘You’re in the hospital. Senior Netter found you. You’re going to be fine. Try to lie still and rest’ the maid said softly, brushing a stray flaxen strand from Ken’s forehead. His eyes closed and he slept again, exhausted but comforted that he was safe and with people he trusted.


Two days previously.

‘What do you mean you ran him off the road?’ Hillary French yelled at the two men. ‘You ran him off the road and you didn’t even check to see he was dead?’

‘We shot him. How much deader can he be?’ Johnny asked defensively. He was still shaken by the appearance of the other car on the road that afternoon although neither he nor Damon had mentioned that little titbit to the woman.

She crossed the room staring up into the big man’s face and he cowered back from her. Her face was full of venom as she spat at him. ‘I don’t know how you could be so stupid! Fine you shot at him and great, his car swerved off the road. But you didn’t stop. You didn’t check! Now what do we do if someone found him?’

Johnny paled, thinking about the car. He was pretty damned sure that the driver would pull over to investigate the wreckage. And what if the cop wasn’t dead? What then?

Over the next day, as they drove from motel room to motel room, Johnny and Damon listened to the radio and finally at the end of day two, they heard the news they’d been dreading. The room was quiet. Hillary had gone to buy provisions from the store across the street and the news headlines blared out.

‘Good afternoon Duluth! This is KWB coming across the airwaves with the news at 3:00pm.

Police are still hunting the kidnappers of Ken Hutchinson, son of the eminent surgeon Dr Richard Hutchinson. Ken was found dumped in the Lake a little after noon two days ago and enquiries are still being made as to the group responsible. Police Sergeant Hank Netter, who is heading the investigation, asks that if anyone saw anything the feel may be important down by the lake front on Tuesday they should come forward. He’s also asking for any information on a group calling themselves PACE. He can be contacted on 555 2845.

In other news…..’

Johnny turned the dial on the radio, switching it off. ‘The fuckin’ pig survived! Now what’re we gonna do?’

Damon grinned and picked up the phone.

‘I have a plan. If my gut feeling is right….’

He started ringing the numbers of the hospitals in the area, thumbing down the telephone directory pages as he picked out the locations he needed and had tried two before he telephoned Mercy Hospital. He asked to be put through to Ken Hutchinson’s room saying he was a friend. In the other two hospitals, the answer had come back that there was no patient of that name. This time, however, he was told that Mr Hutchinson would be unable to take calls at the moment. Would he care to be put through to Detective Netter? Damon put the phone down.

‘I got him. Mercy Hospital. He’s staying with the kid. We can either wait outside and hope we catch him when he comes out. Or’ an evil grin spread across his face ‘We get him inside the hospital. Maybe finish the Hutchinson brat off at the same time huh?’

Johnny grinned. ‘No time like the present. And I hate sloppy work. It pisses me off that they both survived. Must be losing my touch. C’mon. You got a plan?’

An hour later, Johnny and Damon found themselves in the linen store of the hospital. They’d parked their truck a way away and had simply walked into the ER and through into the main body of the hospital. Now, clad in dark blue scrubs and with masks dangling from their necks, the two men tucked their guns down the waistbands of their pants and walked out into the corridor. It didn’t take them too long to discover from a vacant nurses’ station that Ken Hutchinson was in room 502 on the fifth floor and they took the elevator, standing back as two doctors got in discussing a problem patient.

Exiting at floor five, Johnny pulled Damon to one side.

‘Are ya sayin’ we just go in there, shoot and get out?’

‘We see who’s around. If we’re lucky they’ll both be alone in the room. We get in quick and surprise ‘em. Use a pillow to silence your gun. I’ll go for the kid, you take out Mr Cop. Then we hightail it outa here and the boss will give us a bonus’.

Johnny grinned. ‘What sort’a bonus do you want from our fiery little Hillary then?’

‘Oh for fuck’s sake. Get your mind outa your pants huh? Concentrate on the job. We fucked up once. It aint gonna happen again’.

They started to walk stealthily down the corridor, peeping into the various rooms left and right until finally they came to a stop outside a larger one at the end. Dressed in scrubs and with their masks now pulled up over their nose and mouths they attracted no extra attention and no-one challenged two orderlies going about their business.

‘Just like a doctor’s son. Always gets the biggest room and preferential treatment’ Damon snickered. He poked his head round the door and saw Netter sitting by the bed bound blond. Ken was awake again and they were talking quietly.

‘Is that it?’ Johnny hissed.

Damon snapped his head back. ‘Shuddup! Yeah, this is it. Got your gun? Ok. They’re alone in there. Now’s as good a time as any. Ready?’

They drew their guns and on the count of three, both men burst into the quiet side room, guns pointing at the cop and the injured blond in the bed.

Chapter 13

Dr Richard Hutchinson walked calmly down the corridor, greeting work colleagues as he went past and graciously accepting the well wishes of the various men and women who had heard his son was in the hospital, or had cared for the young blond. He didn’t rush. He and his wife were feeling relaxed and mellow. The conference in Atlanta had gone well and after his keynote speech to a group of eminent surgeons and rich industrialist, he’d managed to secure a grant of $2million for Mercy Hospital to further his research into something he called keyhole surgery. He was in no hurry. He was noted for not hurrying. Although some said that ice water rather than blood flowed through Dr Hutchinson’s veins, those same people admired him greatly for his skill as a surgeon and his ability to keep himself calm and collected when all around him may be panicking.

The doctor and his wife turned the corner of the corridor and headed down to Ken’s room. They’d been kept appraised of his progress by telephone calls from the doctor in charge and were pleased that Ken was now off the respirator and had come round sufficiently to be able to utter a few words. Things were progressing well in Hutchinson Senior’s eyes and he felt that even with the massive injuries the blond had sustained, he’d be back at his medical studies in reasonably quick time.

He saw the two dark blue uniformed orderlies go into Ken’s room, thinking that maybe they were going to turn the young man. Even the great Richard Hutchinson however, was unprepared for the sound of three shots ringing out and reverberating down the corridor.

Quick as a shot he yelled for security and pushed his way through the stunned people in the narrow corridor to get to Ken’s room.

Hank Netter heard the door to the room open. No big deal with that. There was always some doctor or nurse coming into the room to check on their young patient. In fact he wondered how they expected Ken to get any sleep at all with the number of times they interrupted him day and night. It was like the old hospital joke where the nurse wakes her patient to see if he wants a sleeping pill.

So the cop didn’t look around. He continued his quiet, virtually one way conversation with the healing blond. Ken had woken periodically through the day and each time he seemed a little stronger. But the injuries to his chest and the bruises across his abdomen made talking hurt, and so Netter babbled on while the crystal blue eyes watched him contentedly. Now, those same baby blues looked up momentarily. But instead of the usual calm acceptance that another needle was about to be plunged into him, Netter saw a look of shock and fear.

The cop swirled around quickly, taking in the sight of the two men, guns pointing at him and his new friend. Like a python striking at a mongoose Netter’s hand went for the gun he carried wedged into the waistband at the back of his jeans. He dived forward as the first shot rang out, blocking the path to Ken’s bed and his finger squeezed reflexively on his own trigger as first Johnny gasped and fell backwards and then Damon clasped his upper chest and staggered back from the room.

Dr Hutchinson bolted into the room just as one of the hospital’s security guards bore Damon to the ground in the corridor and kept him there. The doctor ran into the room, his usually cool calm exterior gone for a moment as he looked at the sight in front of him.

Ken lay still in the bed, his chest covered in blood. On the ground by the door, Johnny’s body gave one final twitch before the light of life fled from his staring, shocked eyes, and Hank Netter lay sprawled across the bed where he had flung himself to protect Ken.

Hutchinson senior crossed the room in two strides coming to a stop by the side of the bed. He looked down at his blood soaked son and was relieved to see that Ken’s eyes were open and staring back at him. The blood down his naked chest was not Ken’s

‘Hank’ Ken whispered and put his hand on the cop’s back. Gently Richard pulled Hank’s limp body from its resting place over Ken’s legs and gasped at the bloom of ruby red blood staining the front of Netter’s shirt.

In the heat of the moment, as he’d seen Johnny aim straight at the bed bound blond, Hank had taken aim and fired. At the same time, he’d launched himself in front of the speeding slug. As Johnny fell to the floor in his death throes, Hank collapsed over Ken’s broken legs and remained still.

Dr Hutchinson gently pulled back Hank’s shirt from the bloody wound on his chest. The neat, round, burn marked hole looked precariously close to the cop’s heart and even Ken could see the ominous blue tinge to Netter’s lips and eyelids. Dr Richardson pulled those eyelids up and looked into the rapidly glazing eyes.

‘Dad?’ Ken whispered. ‘Save him….please Dad. Please s save him. He’s m my friend’.

Hutchinson senior gave his son a questioning look then slipped back effortlessly into his surgeon’s persona.

‘Lets get this man into OR now. He’s need bloods and make sure Khan is here. I want him to assist. Come on people move! Every second counts’

A nurse bustled into the room, neatly stepping over the thugs’ body at the door without a second look. Hutchinson looked at her. ‘Keep pressure on that and….. damn, he’s arrested! Get me a gurney and a crash cart stat’.

Ken lay amidst the noise and chaos in the room, his heart in his mouth. Although from his own studies he knew what was going on, his injuries meant he could do nothing but lie still and watch as the professionals went about their business.

An orderly wheeled a gurney into the room as another pulled Johnny’s dead body to one side. Together the men pulled Netter’s limp body onto the gurney as anther technician brought in the crash trolley and started getting the machine ready. Hutchinson ripped open Netter’s shirt and placed gel pads on his chest.

‘Charging to 200. Clear’. There was a zap and a fizz as Netter’s body arched off the trolley then settled back. A nurse pushed a mask over his mouth and continued giving the cop breaths as Hutchinson searched for a beat on the oscilloscope.

‘Again people. Charging 200. Clear’. Again the body arched and dropped back, but this time there was a reassuring bleep on the monitor and everyone relaxed marginally.

‘Sinus rhythm restored’ the nurse reported quietly.

Dr Hutchinson looked around. ‘We’ve got him back. Now let’s get him up to theatre. He isn’t out of the woods yet’.

As the nurse and orderly started to wheel the gurney away, Ken looked at his Dad with imploring eyes. ‘S save him?’ he whispered.

‘I’ll do whatever I can, son’ the doctor said as he followed the gurney out of the room.

There was silence for a moment. No-one spoke. The chaos of the past few minutes seemed like a blur now, but eventually Chancita, who had been coming into the hospital when Netter had been shot walked to Ken’s bedside.

‘It will be OK Muchachita. Your father is a very clever man. If anyone can save Hank he can. Try not to worry Nino. He’ll be as good as new. See, you’re Mother is here’. The maid stood to one side as a pale and shaking Mrs Hutchinson stood unsteadily by the bed.

The exertions of the past moments had worn down the young blond’s small reserves of energy and now he’d fallen into semi consciousness. He moaned softly, his head rolling on the pillow and sweat started to bead on his forehead. His eyes were closed and he moaned quietly, the words making little sense.

‘Mmmnn…..no….don’t…..no more, please?...Hank…..Hank nooo….oh God….’

Ken’s mother looked at her son, unable seemingly to know what to do. Her hand twitched by her side as though she wanted to reach out and comfort her boy, but she resisted at the last moment. Finally she seemed to reach a compromise and leaned closer.

‘I’m sure it’ll be OK Kenneth. Just um…..try to sleep’ she said before turning to the maid. ‘Are you going to stay with him?’ she asked.

Chancita kept her face impassive. Years of watching the awkward interactions between Mrs Hutchinson and her offspring had made her immune to the woman’s seeming cold heartedness. They had always provided for both Ken and his sister in a monetary way, but any emotions were kept strictly private.

‘Si Seniora. I will stay’ she said softly as Mrs Hutchinson left with barely disguised relief on her face.

The maid leaned over the feverish body on the bed and gently stroked his golden head.

‘Sssh mi niño. Chancita está aquí, y todo va a ir bien’ she crooned and slowly, Ken stopped his fevered thrashing and seemed to listen to her familiar voice. Throughout the rest of the day, she stayed by his side as his eyes flashed open occasionally, locking onto hers before he relaxed and drifted back into his sleep.

Four hours later, Dr Hutchinson reappeared at the room his face lined with deep furrows and grey with exhaustion. He smiled at the woman by the bed.

‘How is Senior Netter?’ Chancita asked softly. She and the cop had become firm friends in the days when they sat by Ken’s bedside and she hated the thought that Hank may have given his life to save her boy.

‘I think he’ll make it’ Dr Hutchinson grunted. ‘It was touch and go. I was able to…well, details don’t matter. Suffice it to say he lost a lot of blood but he should make a good recovery’. He looked at the sweat soaked head on the bed. Ken was once again asleep, tossing fitfully on the soft pillow.

Richard Hutchinson raised a hand and placed it against Ken’s cheek and forehead, not as a Father might do to connect with his son, but as a medic assessing the condition of a patient. Cold, calculating, aloof. He sighed. ‘His fever’s up. I’ll get someone to come and adjust his medication. There’s no need for you stay Chancita. He’s being well looked after here’.

The maid smiled wanly. ‘I have been here since he came to the hospital Senior. If you don’t mind, I’d like to stay. I don’t like to think of him being alone’. She said it pointedly but the sentiment was wasted on the older man.

‘So be it. Stay as long as you feel necessary. I’ll telephone tonight to enquire after him and I’ll be back to see him tomorrow’.

‘I’ll be sure to tell him that’ the woman said, settling back down to watch over her charge. As Hutchinson senior walked out of the room she started to mutter in Spanish under her breath. Never in all her working life had she hated the doctor and his wife quite so much as she did at that moment.

Chapter 14

For the next two days, Ken hovered between sleep and waking, his body having taken a backwards step in its healing process. His fever raged one moment and waned the next, and thought it all, his parents came for brief periods and Chancita the maid stayed the whole time, only going for brief periods of rest when the nurses made her.

But on the morning of the third day she was napping, her head resting on her hands on the bedside by the side of the blond when she felt a pressure on her head, weak fingers carding through her thick, black hair. She stirred and looked up to see that Ken’s eyes were once more open and did not have the preternatural brightness of fever. She smiled at him.

‘How are Muchachita?’

‘Dunno…. Thirsty’ he rasped, his voice weak and breathy.

She hurried out into the corridor and returned a moment later with a cup of ice chips. She fed one to the young man and he let the liquid beauty melt on his tongue. To Ken, it was the most delicious, satisfying thing he’d ever had.

‘Do you have pain?’ Chancita asked.

Ken considered. His body hurt all over with a dull ache, but the knifing pains he remembered having in his chest had gone and he could breathe fairly easily, which made life far more comfortable.

‘Not m much’. He rested back on the pillow and there was a quiet moment in the room until suddenly the blond’s body stiffened. ‘Hank! Where’s Hank? Is he ok? D did Dad….’

The maid laid her hand on her patient’s shoulder. ‘Senior Netter is doing well. Your Father operated on him. His heart was hurt, but he is recovering.

‘I wanna see him’.

‘You can’t Nino. You aren’t well enough. You asked for him in your fever’.

I need t to see him. N need to say thank you’. Ken started to struggle weakly on the bed.

‘You can see him in a few days. Maybe when you are both stronger? But right now, I’m just glad to see you are feeling so well’. Chancita slipped another ice chip into his mouth and watched in satisfaction as Ken fell silently back to sleep.


4 days later.

The stunningly beautiful woman walked on her stiletto heels into the small side room, hesitating only briefly at the door. As she entered she smiled very briefly and coldly at Chancita. ‘You can go for a while’ she said imperiously, dismissing the woman who had cared for her boyfriend for the past week.

The maid looked at Ken who nodded and squeezed her hand. ‘Don’t tire him’ she said to Vanessa as she left. The young woman scowled at her departing back.

‘Who does she think she is, telling me what to do?’ Van came to sit at the side of the bed, carefully avoiding the various casts surrounding Ken’s legs, arm and hand. ‘I have so much to tell you. I missed you so much’.

Ken gazed at the beautiful woman. He’d in truth not though about Van very much. His mind was still taken up with his kidnap, the shock of the brutal treatment he’d received and the events that had taken place in his hospital room. But he smiled warmly at his girl.

‘I missed you too Hon’.

Van launched into a description of the shopping trip she’d been on, explaining that she’d met a rich fashion designer from LA who was looking for models for his new range of clothes. He’d asked Van whether she wanted to take a job in Hollywood and Van had agreed immediately. At the news, Ken’s eyebrows raised, but he said nothing. Van continued to prattle on about the new set of clothes she’d bought, the shoes, the friends who were envious of her and her parents who had given their consent for her to go.

‘What about us?’ he asked quietly.

‘Us? We can still be together. You’re always studying anyway so you won’t miss me too much. Long distance relationships can work too’ she said and quietly her hand slipped under the sheet, reaching for his familiar body.

Ken held his breath. Her hands felt so good on his stomach and legs, but he wanted her to caress him, to stroke and gentle him and to tell him how much she loved him. She’d never once asked how he was or told him how bad she felt at his injuries. Instead, her conversation was all of Van and her life. And now, despite the tiredness in his eyes and the pain lines etching deep furrows into his pale face, Van was once seeking her own gratification. Ken felt her hands dip to his groin and circle his cock, stroking it and trying to bring it to life. Ken’s body responded not with pleasure but with pain as bruised muscles reacted to the familiar stimulus. He placed his left, uninjured hand over hers and stopped her movements.

‘Van, I hurt too much honey’ he said softly. ‘M’sorry’.

Her eyes flashed dangerously. ‘Don’t you love me any more?’

‘Of course I do! It’s just….I hurt too much. Just gimme a week or so an’ I’ll be back on form….Van…..VAN’.

But the woman had retrieved her hand from the tangle of sheets and had stood quickly, almost knocking the chair backwards in her haste.

‘Don’t make excuses Ken. I understand. Is there some pretty nurse maybe. Does she give a good bed bath? Huh? Is that it? She can give you what I can’t!’

‘No, no you don’t understand. Van…..look’ Ken flicked the sheet back displaying his chest and abdomen. Even just over a week after the beating, his body was still black and blue, some of the bruises still retaining the shape of knuckles and boots. ‘Van, I just hurt, that’s all’.

Van looked back once, but seemed unable to acknowledge the injuries. Instead she gave one final flick of her long auburn hair, turned on her heel and walked to the door. ‘Maybe when you’re sick of her, you’ll come back to me’ she spat and left

When Chancita returned to the room half an hour later, she could see that her boy had shed tears. She knew what Vanessa could be like. She’d never liked the woman, thinking her shallow and selfish. Chancita rushed to Ken’s side and without thinking, put her arms around him, hugging him to her as, for the first time in his life, Ken shed tears of pain and self pity. Finally, minutes later, the maid helped to lay the flaxen haired man back on the bed. She looked down at his pain worn face.

‘I have a treat for you’ she said.

‘Yeah?’ Ken mumbled, his eyes empty and lifeless.

‘While you were busy, I spoke to the nurses. This afternoon, the bed in the corner is going to be occupied’.

‘I don’t want anyone. I just w want to be left alone’ Ken said raggedly.

‘Not even if your friend was to share your room?’

The blond head turned on the pillow. ‘Hank?’

‘Uh huh. This afternoon. The staff thought it would do you both good’.


During the next two weeks, the two men recovered together. At first they were quiet, both adjusting to their injuries and healing quietly together. But as both got stronger they started to talk about life in general and careers in particular.

There was one particularly low day when both received news which shattered them, leaving them quiet and morose. That morning, Netter’s doctor had come to see him, along with Captain Wilby, Netter’s Captain. The cop eyed the two visitors cautiously.

The doctor came to stand by the bed, while Wilby stood by the door, self consciously playing with the hem of his jacket and refusing to meet Netter’s questioning eyes.

‘Hank, I have the results of your latest ECG. Its um….the news isn’t good. I um…’

Hank met the doctor with a level gaze - he'd been expecting results and had mentally braced himself. ‘Just spit it out Doc. what’re ya tryin’ to say?’

Wilby came forward. ‘What he’s trying to say Hank is that the bullet damaged your heart quite badly. Badly enough that you won’t be able to get back to active duty. They’re pensioning you off Hank. I’m sorry’.

Netter started at both men, then let his head fall back onto the pillow. ‘Pension? Shit! Hell, I didn’t know it was so bad. I just thought….You sure? About the prognosis?’

The doctor nodded his head sadly, waiting for the outburst that never came. Instead there was a calm and dignified acceptance.

‘S’ok. I guessed as much when you wouldn’t let me up outa bed. How bad is it Doc?’

‘You want it sugar coated?’

‘Nope. Right between the eyes’.

‘Ok. You have sufficient heart damage to give you angina. You won’t be able to take a lot of exercise and you’ll find your energy levels will drop. It’s not fatal, but it’s significant’.

Netter puffed out his cheeks. ‘Thanks Doc. I um….I’d like to be on my own for a while huh? I just need a while to get my head around all this. See you later Cap?’

Wilby nodded. ‘Anything you need Hank. You know where I am’.

‘Hows about a new heart huh?’ Netter muttered and closed his eyes.

The two men left and Ken looked over at the older man. The cop had his eyes closed, his breathing quick and shallow.

‘I’m sorry’ the blond said quietly.

Hank shook himself mentally. ‘Sorry? What for?’

‘Coz if it hadn’t been for me you’d never be here. And if you hadn’t been here you’d never have got shot. And I’m sorry my Dad didn’t do a better job’.

‘Your Dad? Hey, kid. He saved my life. And the way I figure it, a live ex cop is better than a dead one huh? I’ve been wondering about quitting the force for a while now. Maybe this is the push I needed’.

‘Quitting? That’s weird. I’ve been thinking since this whole thing began that I want to be a cop. I just feel I could help more people that way than by sitting behind some desk taking fat checks to deal with rich guy’s hernias and ulcers’.

Netter turned sideways. ‘A cop? Are you serious?’

‘Yeah, why? Don’t you think I’d make it?’

Hank chuckled. ‘Well at least wait till you heal kid. But yeah, I think you’d make a great Cop. Just one thing. What would your Dad say? And that little vixen of a girl you’ve got?’

Ken’s face dropped. ‘I dunno. But one thing I’m sure of. I’m not going back to college. I’ve had it with doing what everyone else wanted. I figure after this that I don’t owe my Mom or Dad much. It’s time Ken Hutchinson became his own man’.

‘Good for you kid’ Hank flipped a salute to him.

‘What about you?’ Ken asked

Netter shrugged his shoulders, winced at the pain from his wound and grinned. ‘Hey, the world’s my oyster. On a cop’s pension I should just about be able to afford to eat. Don’t worry about me kid. I have a brother in LA. Maybe I’ll go stay with him for a while’.


That afternoon, the doctor looking after Ken appeared, with Dr Hutchinson close on his heels. They walked into the room and closed the curtain around the blond’s bed. Ken looked at them expectantly. He knew something was wrong. He’d felt spacey and dizzy since he’d recovered consciousness and although his injuries were healing well, he didn’t feel himself.

‘How are you feeling today?’ the doctor asked.

‘Not b bad unless you’re gonna tell me d different’.

Dr Hutchinson looked down at his feet and remained silent. Ken’s doctor continued to look at the flaxen haired man’s chart.

‘Ken, we’ve got the last of your test results back. It seems that the injuries you received to your head have created some um….changes’.

‘You mean I’ve got b brain damage?’ Ken asked, his mouth suddenly dry with fear.

‘Not damage exactly’ the doctor said quickly. ‘But we have noticed you’ve been slightly off balance when you’ve been sitting up’.

‘Well that’s only to be expected right? I mean I’ve b been laid down for an age’.

Dr Hutchinson sat down on the bed and in a rare moment of compassion he took hold of his son’s hand. ‘What the doctor is trying to say is that the injuries to your head have resulted in a mild form of dyspraxia. It’s not bad, but you’ll notice when you get back on your feet that you’ll be slightly more clumsy than you were, maybe lose your balance when you’re tired, or drop things more easily’

‘Swell! Any more g good news you wanna run my way?’ Ken asked, his heart rate suddenly twice it’s normal.

‘There’s the question of the stammer too’ Richard Hutchinson said gently. ‘We thought it might just be a result of coming round from the coma. But it hasn’t gone in the three weeks since you were admitted. The doctor and I have discussed and scheduled you for some surgery tomorrow. Maybe we can lessen the symptoms. We can’t have a budding surgeon who drops instruments and stutters at his clients. Completely the wrong impression’.

Ken stared at his Dad. ‘Surgery? And when were you thinking of discussing this with me?’

‘Discussing? There’s nothing to discuss. It’s the best thing for you. In your current state you’ll never make it as a top quality surgeon. I’m just trying to protect your career’.

‘No, you’re just trying to p protect your d dream Dad. If I d don’t have the surgery, will I g get and b better?’

The other doctor looked at the chart and considered. ‘The dyspraxia and the stammer are related and should eventually settle down. You would probably only get symptoms in times of stress or excitement’.

‘Like if you were operating son. See reason Ken. You’ve studied hard. It would be such a waste to put your career in jeopardy now’.

‘I’m not having the surgery Dad’.

‘Of course you are. You’re just a little shocked. It’s scheduled for tomorrow. You’ll be fine. I have….’

‘Dad, I’m not having some b bozo fiddling around with my grey matter. It d doesn’t matter. I’m not gonna be a d doctor anyway’.

Richard Hutchinson looked as though he’d been slapped in the face. ‘Not going to….Ken you don’t know what you’re saying. You’re overwrought. Just take a while to reconsider’.

‘I’ve spent the last three weeks reconsidering D dad. There’s not a lot else to d do while I’m led here. When I’m fit I’m g gonna try out for the police. I want to b be a cop’.

‘Don’t be ridiculous. What sort of a career is that? I absolutely forbid it’.

Ken smiled calmly at his father. ‘I’m 21. I can d do what I want. I have nothing to lose. I hate medicine. It’s not for me. I want to help p people. Properly. I want to get rid of crime. I want my own life Dad’.

Hutchinson senior stood angrily. ‘If you insist on this route, you’ll go it alone young man. No money, no support, no inheritance. You have your trust fund, but see how far that gets you’.

Ken sat up straighter in bed. ‘Dad. Don’t d do this. Let me b be who I want to be. You’ve already said that the low lives who b beat me to a pulp d damaged something. I d don’t want someone cutting into my head, so without that, I’m never g gonna make the grade as a surgeon. Just b be happy for me. I have plans. Can’t you at least acknowledge that I’m in charge of my own d destiny?’

‘A plan without medicine is no plan at all. If you continue with this crazy idea you’re no son of mine’.

‘Fine’ Ken said quietly. ‘If that’s what you think….I'm not changing my mind’.

Dr Hutchinson walked stiffly towards the door. ‘Your mother and I will come to say goodbye when you’re discharged’ he said and left without a backwards look. Ken stared after him, both terrified that he’d finally stood up to the great surgeon, and deliriously happy that he was finally free of his Dad’s clutches and aspirations.

As the doctor stood, placed the chart back at the foot of the bed and drew the curtain back, Netter applauded.

‘Nice one Kid. You really told him!’

Ken grinned. ‘Yeah. Now all I need is money, a house and a job and I’ll be fine’.



The two men sat on the airplane waiting to take off.

‘No regrets kid?’ Netter asked.

‘None at all’ Ken grinned. With his legs newly out of their casts and his arm in a sling he was far from fit. But with the promise of a roof over his head in Bay City LA with Netter and his brother, and Van’s promise that he could soon move into her apartment with her, he felt happier than he had in a long time.

He’d said a fond farewell to his friend John Farmer, one of only a handful of friends who understood his decision and had packed his few belongings from home. While Dr Hutchinson had been tight lipped and surly, his Mom had, for one of the few times in his life, wrapped her arms around him and kissed him before turning away so that the tears wouldn’t spoil her perfect makeup. Only Chancita openly wept for her Ken, although he promised that once he’d progressed through the Academy he’d send money for a ticket for her to visit.

And now, as the plane took off, Ken Hutchinson felt as though he’d left his old life behind him. A new life was about to start. A life as a cop in California. How good could it get? And maybe once he’d earned his badge, he’d be partnered with someone as special as Dan had been to Hank. He could only hope. But in the meantime, he had some more healing to do in the warm southern sunshine and a whole new life to look forward to.

Ken sighed.

‘Hey. You ok kid?’ Netter asked.

‘Yeah. I was just thinking. New start...new life! New...time for new everythin' and tat includes names. I always did hate “Ken”. I really d don’t like “Kid”. New life, new name’. He held his hand out for Netter to shake. ‘Hi, nice to meet ya. The names Hutch’.