The words still came out after the fact, loud in the stillness. Dan blinked at the sudden brightness – it felt like mid-morning – and looked down to see a duck at his feet. It quacked at him, loudly, clearly expecting a handout.
“Oh, quack yourself.”
Disgruntled, the duck waddled off. Dan dug for his cell phone, already looking around. Fortunately, this time it was easy to recognize where he was.
“Dan! Where are you?”
“Golden Gate Park. Can you….”
“On my way.”
Jack picked him up in a police cruiser that smelled strongly of coffee and cigarettes, and he had to help Dan into the seat. The painkillers Dan had taken before bed were definitely wearing off. Every motion sent stabbing, burning pains through each limb, and his jaw and throat were starting to throb. He tried to keep his eyes on the dashboard instead of the scenery zooming by. It was easier on his stomach that way.
Jack pulled into the hospital parking lot, shoved the car into park, and turned to look at Dan, eyebrows raised.
“How many more times is this gonna happen this week?”
“I don’t know. I won’t know until I get a chance to look at some stuff.”
It certainly didn’t feel done yet.
The hospital staff was furious. There was no other way to describe it. They didn’t say anything to him as Jack helped him back into his bed (after the doctor checked, cleaned and re-bandaged his wounds), but he could see them in the hallway, arguing with each other. He could see it in the nurses’ eyes when they came in to check his blood pressure and give him his new painkillers. The nurse who did that even stuck around to make sure he’d swallowed them.
Dan tried not to glare at the implication.
Yes, I survived a guy planning to skin me just so I could escape and sell my painkillers two by two. Excellent plan.
Jack finally banished the irate hospital denizens and came back into the room, hands in his pockets. “I texted Katie. She’ll be in on her lunch break.”
The painkillers were making him sleepy again, but he nodded, rubbing his eyes. He would like to sleep, but…he’d rather have this entire thing done first. Somehow.
“Jack, I have a question.”
“On the news the other night…” The timing was odd, too coincidental. He hadn’t put two and two together until they were halfway back to the hospital and his own words floated back to him out of the past.
I’m from May two-thousand and eight…
“Which Jeremy Kaplan escaped? Was it Jeremy Kaplan, Senior or Jeremy Kaplan, Junior?”
Jack paced the hospital room, frowning out the door before he answered. “Is this another one of those…things?”
“It was Jeremy Kaplan, Senior. They let an eighty year old man escape during a checkup. Now how embarrassing is that?” He shook his head, pacing back towards the bed.
Dan’s hand, absently, wandered up to touch his throat. Jack caught the hand, pulled it away, and pressed it firmly back to the covers.
“Stop that. Don’t dwell.”
Dan obeyed for a second before he pulled the covers off again, swinging his feet over the edge of the mattress. “Alright, alright, I’m not dwelling. But I need you to help me get out of here.”
Jack looked at him, wide-eyed. “Whoa, wait, what? Why? I just got you back in here, got you past all those doctors, and-”
“Because, Jack. I’m not done with the Kaplans yet. I’ll just leave again. And then you’ll have to get me back in here, again.”
“…I was afraid you were going to say that.”
They signed the twenty reams of required paperwork, listened to the lectures and the instructions about the antibiotics and how often to change the bandages, and what, exactly, Dan was allowed to do and not do. Katie was still at work, though Jack texted again to let her know exactly what her husband was doing.
Her return text was not very complimentary towards their intelligence. Dan surreptitiously deleted it before Jack climbed into the cruiser.
And then he drove them home.
“…Jack?” Dan ventured, three minutes later.
“Why are you driving a cruiser?”
“…remember how I told you the Mustang was in the shop? Well, you’re not going to believe this, but…”
“Your car got stolen from the garage?”
“My car got stolen from the garage.”
Dan leaned back in the seat, rubbing his hand over his eyes. “And I have you playing taxi. I’m really sorry…”
Jack waved Dan’s apology off. “I wouldn’t be allowed to actively look for it anyways. I’m too ‘personally involved.’” He took his hands off the dash to make the air-quotes and everything. Dan winced.
At least it explains why he’s being helpful. He’s bored and he wants to be distracted.
“If you say I’m sorry one more time, injured or not, I’m going to have to punch you.”
Dan shut his mouth, and stayed quiet the rest of the ride home.
“So…did Kaplan have help getting out?” Dan asked once they were safely in the house. He’d been banished to the couch with his laptop while Jack dug around in the kitchen, making far more noise than was, perhaps, necessary. “Could it have been Junior? Theoretically?”
“I guess theoretically,” Jack called back, slamming a cabinet door closed. “Junior hasn’t been seen since 2005, since he had his little jailbreak.” He paused, chewing on his lip thoughtfully. “That would give him prior experience in it, though…”
Dan looked up from the computer and his latest search. “Jerry Kaplan was in jail?”
Jack reappeared in the kitchen hall, carrying a bowl of tortilla chips and a pair of beer bottles. He nodded as he flopped down on the chair opposite from Dan, putting his feet on the coffee table.
“Yeah, escaped in 2005, shows up on America’s Most Wanted like once a year, where have you been?”
Dan pinned Jack with a look.
Jack just met his gaze. “What?”
“Look, I told you what I do, right? I go back and I fix stuff. When I fix it, things change. When this all started? Kaplan went down in ‘74.” Jack whistled, eyebrows climbing towards his hair. “So humor me. Assume I don’t know anything about the case after…oh, I don’t know. 1981.”
“Assume you know nothing?” Jack teased, “That should be pretty easy.”
“Sorry.” Jack didn’t look it in the least, but he set his chips down on the cushion next to him, staring at the ceiling. “So, after the F.B.I. took down Kaplan – and sentenced him to about a billion years in jail - the kids that the Court had all got split up, after; put in foster homes and adopted and stuff. Some of the kids where Jerry was placed found out who his daddy was and started raggin’ on him about it. He, uh, took a gun to school.”
He sighed, cracking open the top of his beer and outright ignoring Dan’s pathetic glance. “Not on those painkillers you’re not.” He took a swig before continuing. “Killed fifteen kids and the principal before the police got to him.”
“When was that?” Dan asked.
“1990? ’90 or ’91, I think.”
Dan started to type Hannah Kaplan, 1991 into the search bar when Jack continued. “You wanna hear the weirdest part?”
“One of the people he killed was his own sister.”
“…I thought you said they split the kids up.”
“They did.” Jack shrugged. “She went to find him.”
“That’s some coincidence.”
“You’re tellin’ me.”
The silence that fell was uncomfortable. Dan stared at the search bar, tapping his fingers against the laptop’s keyboard without actually typing anything. Jack took another swig of his beer before Dan asked, “How…how about Dad? Did he write about Kaplan?”
“Yeah, six or seven stories. You’ve…you had them all printed up and put in a notebook with yours or a binder or something for years.” Jack gave him another weird look. “You don’t remember that?” Dan opened his mouth to protest, and Jack shook his head. “Assume you know nothing, right. Dad was one of the few reporters Kaplan trusted to talk to the Court. He had an exclusive line to him for, like…four years, wrote nothing but glowing praise over the peaceful nature of the Court’s members…” Jack shook his head. But then the F.B.I. took him down-”
“In a flawless raid?”
“Flawless raid,” Jack confirmed, “and all the other stuff came to light. Like the bodies in the backyard. Dad took it hard at first, but...he turned it around, took it as a learning experience and wrote the last three stories. One about Brian Fleming, and one about Rachel-”
“Rachel?” Dan tilted his head. “What happened to her?”
“As far as I know, she’s still alive. Lives somewhere up in Washington. Remarried once she finished with the deprogrammers; she had a couple kids. Anyways, though. He wrote about Fleming, wrote about Rachel, and then he wrote a piece about the evils of cults and what their appeal was and…” He shrugged a shoulder. “It won a local Pulitzer, he hit the road a month later, and five years later you called it the kick in the pants you needed to start journalism.”
Dan took a second to process that before he asked the next question. “And…what did I write about him?”
Jack gave a small smile against the mouth of the beer bottle. “A scathing, interview-based character study comparing fathers who walk out to fathers who lead their kids astray. But…no one accused you of projecting or anything, if that’s what you’re wondering. And a lot of people thought it was a pretty good eulogy for Hannah.” He paused. “I could see if you’ve got the binder upstairs or something, if you wanted to see what you wrote…”
“There might not be a point.”
“Well…I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to save Hannah. So if I save Hannah – when I save Hannah – it’ll just change again.”
He took some small measure of amusement from the way Jack’s forehead furrowed in concentration. Then his brother spoke. “So…if you save Hannah…will I forget this whole conversation?”
“At least the parts that have to do with her being dead,” Dan confirmed. Jack blinked, his blue eyes ever so slightly dazed. Dan didn’t bother holding back the chuckle.
“Welcome to my life.”