In the aftermath of the attack, everyone is still on edge.
The next few days were strange. I was still wobbly – enough that nobody would let me use the stairs by myself – and every time I tried to eat anything heavier than chicken broth my stomach put out a flashing neon No Vacancy sign. Dave was depressed, and we were all doing a weird little dance trying to give him space and be supportive at the same time. Hana jumped and chittered every time someone came to the door, and she growled if it was a stranger – I’d have been more worried about that if Barry hadn’t been doing it too. And Joey and Pete were jittery but trying to hide it, and they wouldn’t leave the lab unless Barry or Arthur was there.
Arthur is Dr. Arthur Carter, Barry’s extremely helpful professor and also the head of the zoology department at Central U. Who luckily keeps the antidote for the animal tranq darts in his office, because apparently some of his grad students have had to learn the hard way not to screw around with the field equipment. And Arthur also has the ear of the dean, Dr. Tambor-Ellis, who used to be one of our state representatives in Washington, and word was she was more than pissed. They’d known we were being harassed, they’d even gotten some fallout from it in the past, but this was on a whole different level than what everyone had thought was going on.
This had been attempted murder. An attempted double murder, no less. And an attempted coverup too, but that had ended up not working out so well because Hana’s followers moved faster than the government agents could. They’d given the concierge at the hotel we’d stayed at in New York a heads up, and when an agent had tried to show up there to ‘encourage’ him to back up their story about Hana being violent, he’d surprised them with a plainclothes police detective and a journalist from the Times. Wonderland Market was already having eight kinds of a fit all over their social media accounts before anyone even tried to get tough with them, our friendly reporter from the Christmas trip was put in contact with Hana for an exclusive interview…and her former talent agency almost immediately went on record as saying the man she’d attacked at that convention had been trying to sexually assault her and they’d ‘mishandled the situation’.
They totally threw her former handler under the bus for that, too. So at least something good came out of this whole mess.
Oh, the mutant dino-turkeys? Yeah, they were real, and poor Mrs. Flores really didn’t have anything to do with it – Rick suspects her lawyer might have, but there’s no evidence to back that up. Yet, anyway, he’s working on it. Pete and Joey brought back a live MD-T and it’s in the animal room right now while we work out the specs for the species, which is a really interesting blend of Plymouth Gold turkey and Emperor penguin. Still edible, if anyone was willing to go there, but still really ugly and no doubt more than a little fishy.
Kind of like this whole situation, honestly.
Dave’s dad – also Dr. Montoya, because almost everyone in their family is Dr. Montoya – showed up unannounced on the fourth day after the incident. Joey let him in and yelled for Dave, and after about five minutes the conversation got loud enough that I could hear it in the lab so I slid off my chair and headed out there to see if I could defuse things. Dr. Montoya was pissed, that I could see, and Dave was about to go from upset to pissed on a completely different level. I took a deep breath. “Knock this shit off right now!”
Dave actually jumped. He turned halfway around; his face was red. “Danny…”
I didn’t even look at him. “Dr. Montoya, let me guess: Melissa called up the family.”
He looked absolutely shocked – maybe because I’d yelled at him, I don’t know – but he was still mad. “This is none of your business, this is a family matter.”
“Dave and Joey and Pete are my family,” I told him. In a much calmer voice, because yelling had made my vision go a little fuzzy for a second and I’d had to grab hold of the doorframe just in case so I wouldn’t lose my balance. “And you’re in our lab, and everyone here is just about at the breaking point, so either calm down and be civil or go away and come back when you can be. None of us need this right now, especially not Dave.”
Dr. Montoya blinked, and looked at his son – really looked at him. And he calmed down. “I’m sorry,” he said. “She upset your mother so much. Why didn’t you tell us what was going on?”
Dave took a deep breath. “Because I was afraid you’d have sided with her, not me – Mom did the last time Melissa brought it up, remember? I like my job, Dad – and not just because I make a ton of money, either.”
Realization was dawning. “You didn’t tell her.”
“I didn’t tell her, and she never asked; we’ve always kept our finances separate and paid the bills separately too. I already knew I didn’t want to marry her, but our relationship…I was used to it.” Dave ran a hand through his hair. “I…it wasn’t so bad I felt like I had to break it off, until four days ago. She acted so bad I was ashamed, Dad. And then I got so angry…I got so angry it scared the hell out of me. And I’ll tell you what I told the guys that night: I don’t ever want to feel that way again, so I don’t ever want to see her again. I don’t…I don’t dare.”
That got him hugged and his dad started apologizing, and I slipped back into the lab and went back to my chair. Well, staggered my way back over to the chair and sort of fell into it, but that was okay. I’d probably burned any bridge I’d ever had built with Dr. Montoya, but at least I’d gotten him to listen to Dave. Only one person in this family had ever been disowned, and that was the only person who was ever going to get disowned if I had anything to say about it. I had a thought and picked up my phone, calling Rick. “Hey Rick, got a minute…no, not another emergency, but I have a question. Dave broke it off with his girlfriend and moved out…yeah, I know you were here, but she called up his family, Rick, she’s in wrecking-ball mode. I just want to make sure there’s nothing we need to do to protect Dave in case she tries…yeah, that.” Rick abruptly came to the same realization Dr. Montoya had. “Exactly, and that’s why I’m worried even though according to Dave they were keeping everything separate. Will you look into it for me when you get a chance, just to be on the safe side? Great, thanks. Yeah, you too Rick. Bye.”
Behind me, someone cleared their throat and startled me so badly I dropped my phone. Luckily Joey caught it so it didn’t fall too far. “Afraid she’ll try the girlfriend-alimony thing?”
“If she ever finds out he’s a millionaire? I’m sure she would.” I rubbed my eyes. “Rick’s on it, though. We won’t let her hurt Dave any more than she already has.”
“No, we won’t. Pete already filed a restraining order against her, by the way, she can’t come within 100 yards of the lab or contact us in any way.” He shrugged when I blinked at him. “You said it, Danny – we’re all family.”
“We are.” Dave had come back in. “Restraining order?”
Joey shrugged. “Pete talked to the cop who was here when she was that day, and he talked to a judge who signed right off on it – wasn’t just you or us who thought she was out of line, Dave.”
He looked at me. “Rick?”
I shrugged, rubbing my eyes again. I was tired. “Girlfriend alimony is a thing, and she’s obviously more of a bitch than I originally thought. Rick will make sure it doesn’t get started, though.” I blinked at him. “Why aren’t you out there with your dad?”
“Because his dad’s in here.” I jumped, and Dr. Montoya raised an eyebrow. “Well, you still look like death warmed over. I’d been hoping it was just the light out front.”
“I’m fine.” I stopped myself from rubbing my eyes a third time. “I’m just tired.”
“Because he got tranq’d.” Of course Joey was going to tattle on me, of course he was. “Someone was trying to kill him, they hit him with a dart meant for something about the size of a lion. Hana yanked it out before it could all get in, and a field zoologist we know brought over the antidote…but he’s still really sick.”
Dr. Montoya blinked. “I’m not going to like the answer if I ask what they said in the ER, am I?”
Joey shook his head, but Dave was the one who answered. “They could have gotten to him easier there, Dad – and we wouldn’t have been able to stop them.”
“The government?” This time everyone nodded, and he sighed. “All right, I’m not sharing that with your mother.” He gave me a look. “You’re not in bed sleeping it off why?”
I opened my mouth…and then closed it again because I realized I didn’t know. I rubbed my eyes. “I don’t know, honestly. I just keep getting up and coming down to the lab. We have this MD-T specimen in the back…”
“Normalcy,” Pete interrupted, and I jumped again. He’d been in the back room, checking on said specimen. It’s a weirdly friendly creature and not aggressive at all unless you have fish in your hand, it’s just freaky-looking. “We’ve all been trying to get things back to normal, but…well, it’s not working very well.”
Joey shook his head at that. “It’s only been a few days, Pete.”
Pete just looked at him. “A few days where our worst detractors were forced to admit they’d been deliberately and maliciously lying – slandering us – regarding our supposed involvement in every mod case that comes up everywhere because the rogue scientist from the project that wants to kill Danny called them up and started naming names. A few days of Danny looking like he’s about to keel over every time he stands up, Hana being so nervous she can barely type, and Dave being so depressed we’ve all been watching him to make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid. Oh, and you and I running around like chickens with our heads cut off, scared to death to leave the lab in case they try again.” I opened my mouth; he put his hand over it. “Danny, shut up. We’re all scared shitless, okay? The harassment was one thing, this time they not only tried to kill you…they were going to frame Hana for it so they could kill her. And the dude who tried it has fucking disappeared, and I mean from right inside the jail, and even the cops are freaking out now because they hadn’t been taking what was going on with us seriously before. They even told Rick they thought he should hire a bodyguard. The detective on our case has been calling me twice a day to see if anything else has happened, and he apologizes every damned time he calls. He says all they know is what we already suspected, that it’s some fucked-up little pocket department, most likely running rogue at this point because nobody but nobody is claiming responsibility for them. And he also says Doc has been in touch with him and gave him so much information he doesn’t know what to do with it all – he’s the one who gave the city papers the go-ahead to publish all that stuff about Project Chaney.” He took his hand away, took a deep breath. “He also says he’s almost positive Doc is watching the lab, or having someone watch it for him. I guess Doc said some things…well, he knew a little too much, let’s put it that way.”
“You said it before, I’ll say it again: Birthday. Hooker,” came from Joey. “Every year, a pretty one.”
“I’d agree, but we don’t know where he’s at.” I tried to force myself to feel a little less exhausted, didn’t quite pull it off. “If all he’s doing is watching, though…let it go, guys. He doesn’t have any beef with us except for the fact that we always get called when one of his mods turns up, and the media keeps calling them monsters and saying we must have made them. So I say just don’t worry about it. Doc’s not the one who tried to kill Hana and I, after all. He’s never made a move against us or our lab that I know of…and even though his ethics are a little wiggly by our standards, we’ve yet to find a mod he’s done who didn’t request the service.”
My phone dinged with a text. Joey frowned, opening it…and then paled and held it out to Pete. I took it out of his hand instead.
Danny, my boy, you are a worthy rival indeed.
I came halfway up out of my chair…and then everything just stopped. Okay, I admit it: I fainted. I’m told Pete, Joey and Dave nearly joined me when a second text almost immediately followed the first.
Oh dear, I’m sorry. You did need the rest, though. You really do look like death warmed over.
I’m battling my instincts right now, on multiple levels.
My instinct as a doctor says Danny should be in a hospital, but I understand why that’s not possible even though I don’t like it. So I had the boys put me in touch with the zoology professor who saved his life – just thinking that gives me a shiver – found out what kind of tranq it was, and then called in some prescriptions and shot him full of things to counteract the issues he’s having. He really can’t afford to lose any more weight, we’ve got to get him eating again and fast. I can’t do anything about the scar he’s going to have in the middle of his solar plexus, except make sure the wound was cleaned and stitched properly – it was, Dr. Carter knows what he’s doing – and tell them it’s going to look like a slightly lopsided star once it’s healed. Once it’s healed. It looks like he got stabbed in the chest with a lawn dart right now.
My instinct as a father is telling me to make them pack up this lab and move to Cleveland. All four of them. Today. So many things David hasn’t been sharing because he didn’t want to worry us. The police here not taking all of the threats and harassment seriously. Some government agency making their lives hell and finally trying to kill the face of their company. Their…okay, I don’t even know how to categorize this ‘Doc’ person, but he’s obviously watching and listening to everything that goes on in the building, or at least in the lab; Pete is in there right now going through every inch of that room to try to figure out how he’s doing it, David is helping him, Danny is out like a light upstairs, and Joey is in helping Hana check her room. Make that all five of them; she’s coming too, Marie would just love her. Makes me wish our son’s…relationship hadn’t kept us from meeting her sooner.
I came out to their ‘lobby’ to sit on the couch…and I called my dad. “I don’t know what to do,” I told him after giving him a rundown of what was going on, running a hand through my hair. “This is insane, Dad, it’s just insane.”
He hmmd over that for a minute. “The girlfriend?”
“A bitch.” I practically spat the word. “I’m filing a restraining order of my own to keep her from bothering the family again. This isn’t just a spat, like we originally thought; she made David so angry he’s afraid to even be in the same room with her, that was why he moved out that night and moved into the lab. Danny had already been living in the lab, for a long time, apparently – the government people had been harassing him at his apartment, he was afraid to stay there.”
“Predators do tend to go after the smaller, weaker prey first,” he said, and I had to smile because although Danny might be small, weak isn’t a word you’d use to describe him – it never has been. That wasn’t what he’d meant, though. “David has a strong family behind him, so do the other two. Young Danny, though…well, there’s no one to back him except the other boys and that little girl they took in. I follow her on Facebook,” he said, which shouldn’t have surprised me but it still did. “Cute little thing, shame they haven’t been able to get her voice back. She did what she could, set all her followers to screaming down the establishment, and it did some good – they won’t try that again unless they can make it look like a real accident, I’m sure, and it forced those damned lying news people to admit they’d been slandering the boys on purpose – but that’s not the same as having blood behind you.”
That was true, it wasn’t. And now that I thought about it, most of the slander had focused on Danny – and he’d let it, probably with the reasoning that he didn’t have an extended family who might be hurt by it when it got really nasty. He actually was the weakest of this particular herd, he and Hana both, from that perspective; according to David, her family went back to Korea after she moved to L.A. and she hasn’t heard from them since. “You’re right, I never even thought about it,” I agreed. “I still don’t know what to do, Dad. I know they’re all grown men now, I know they know what they’re doing…but dammit, all I want to do is make them all move to Cleveland where I can keep an eye on them.”
He laughed; it ended in a little cough, and I was forcibly reminded that my son was a year past thirty, Marie and I were in our fifties, and Dad…was really getting up there. “All parents feel that way sometimes,” he assured me. “You think we didn’t worry about you moving halfway across the country with a pregnant wife and a toddler to do your internship, son? Your mother worried every day and so did I…because you were an adult, and we knew you wouldn’t tell us every little thing that might be going wrong, and we were too far away to see it for ourselves. But we never told you that…because being an adult means learning when to yell for help. The boys hadn’t learned that yet, apparently, but they know it now. Next time, David will call you.” He coughed again. “You tell Marie, though…she’s got some apologizing to do to David, she shouldn’t have sided with the girl. And I’d heard her do it myself a few times, so she’s got some backed up there that she’s going to have to get around.”
“I’ll tell her.” I’d already been planning to, actually. I know she’d just been wanting David to settle down and start a family, she wanted him to be happy…but she and I hadn’t asked him what he wanted, so we hadn’t realized that he was already happy with everything in his life except the person he’d settled for. Settled for. That made me shudder. In other circumstances I might have thought I needed to be having a man-to-man talk with David about not getting into those kind of situations…but I was pretty sure his friends had already taken care of that discussion too. I sighed, running a hand through my hair again. “It’s hard to be a parent to a grown man, isn’t it?”
And he laughed. “Each and every day, son, each and every day. Tell my grandson to give me a call once things have settled down, would you? I’d really like those boys to come for a visit sometime, I hear they made a cat-thing that’s hypoallergenic and I want to see it.”
“I’ll tell him, Dad. Thanks.” He hung up, and I sat there and thought about things for a few more minutes before getting back up and heading back into the lab. I probably couldn’t help them look for bugs, but I could check on Danny again and then go out and get some dinner for everyone. I was sure there was someplace nearby that delivered, but I doubted the boys would be comfortable with that right now and given the current situation neither would I. Chinese would be good, I decided, plenty to go around and healthy besides. That was a dad-thing I could do, I could make sure they all had a decent meal today – and that everyone actually ate some of it, especially Danny.
No, that is a dad-thing, not a mom-thing – moms cook food, dads order it. Really, that’s the way it works.