“...I can’t believe you got shot in the past.”
Dan glared up at Jack over the end of the couch as Katie paced back and forth, back and forth, back and forth in the foyer, making phone call after phone call. The first aid kit he and Katie had picked up after they realized the journeying wasn’t going to just go away was disassembled, spread in front of him like a halo of bandages and antiseptics; the dishtowel Jack pressed firmly against his shoulder was spotted with blood. They’d already forced him to take his pain medications, so at least the fresh pain and the old pain had both faded to a muted throb.
“Shut up,” he grumbled, “It happens more often than you think.” It was something of a relief to be able to say things like that to Jack; to know that his older brother didn’t really think he was going insane anymore.
Either that, or he’s decided he’s nuts too.
Jack barked a laugh that did nothing to help Dan decide which option it was. “With you? I don’t doubt it.”
“Hey!” Dan protested, “I’ve only been shot once before, and that was….”
The almost-relief, almost-fun dropped out from beneath the painkillers about then, like the air leaking from a balloon, sucked away by the rapid flash of unwanted memories behind his eyelids.
Jack finished the sentence for him. “…right here. Aw, man, I’m sorry. I shoulda kept my mouth shut.”
Dan let his eyes drift half-open, leaning his head against the couch’s arm-rest, fighting his way free of the thoughts with some difficulty. “Don’t worry, I’m used to it by now…”
If Jack had a response, Dan didn’t hear it. The painkillers blurred the passage of time. It might have been five minutes, might have been an hour before Jack shifted his grip and Dan’s eyes fluttered open to see Katie hang up the phone and hurry back into the living room.
“Ok, I found someone who I think possibly shouldn’t ask questions?” She said, scrubbing her hand through her messy curls. She blew out a breath and continued. “I hope? I feel…really weird. This feels criminal. Is it criminal?”
“What, this? Nooo,” Jack hurried to reassure her, though Dan almost thought he looked kind-of worried about it himself. “We just…tell the good doc that it was an…accident? And we pay them off and they never mention it and…”
“Jack,” Katie looked vaguely stricken for a second. Jack just rambled on.
“…and we all go our merry way and they forget it ever-”
“Jack, I had to call Theresa.”
“…oh. My. God. I’m doomed.”
“Hush. You’re lucky this was just a graze.”
Theresa eyed him like she expected him to go insane and start biting at any moment as she sewed up the new gash on his shoulder. Jack had fled the couch the moment his girlfriend pulled out the needles and thread, his eyes as wide as a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming semi.
She had given him a look, and he froze in his tracks, before he could make his escape.
“You know I have to report this, right?”
Jack’s eyes flicked to Dan’s. Dan tried to ignore the pointed metal buried in his shoulder, tried not to pay attention to the angry, pregnant lady digging it in.
“Can you get me the laptop?” he asked, and Theresa glowered at him. He let his mouth snap shut when she continued.
“This is a gunshot wound, Jack. I have to tell the police.”
Jack shifted in the doorway. “Theresa, I am the police.”
“You’re also not stable when it comes to your brother,” Theresa pointed out dryly, pulling the needle through again. It had the feel of an old, familiar argument somehow.
“…you know,” Dan drawled, equally dryly as he met her dark eyes, “I am right here.” He caught a glimpse of black, bristling thread and hurriedly looked away again.
Theresa paused, looking vaguely sheepish. “No offense.”
“Oh, none taken.”
Jack fled before Theresa could continue, but he returned moments later with the laptop. Theresa let Dan boot it up while she worked – mostly because it soon became apparent he wouldn’t sit still much longer, otherwise.
Jeremy Kaplan and school shooting had over a thousand results when he searched. There had only been one death, the principle, instead of the much larger death count before he’d traveled the first time. Jeremy had been arrested, tried for the murder and sentenced to twenty-five years in prison.
He’d still escaped in 2005.
Dan sighed, feeling his eyes aching. He started to lift his hand, absently, without thinking, the drugs still numbing the pain. Theresa let out a wordless noise that, nonetheless, sounded an awful lot like no, though she didn’t go quite as far as to smack his hand down. He lowered his free hand again, and typed in Hannah Kaplan with the other.
The early ‘90s articles about her painted the young woman as a selfless hero, recklessly throwing herself at Jeremy to save the lives of the students. They spoke about her undergrad work at Berkley, her grad work specializing in child and adolescent psychology. There were papers by her, thesis work, mentions of experiments and theories and practices spreading throughout the decade…
But there were no records of Doctor Hannah Kaplan existing after 2001.
“There,” Theresa said, drawing Dan from his reading. “All done…” She tied the last stitch off, snipped the thread and started to peel off her gloves all in one smooth motion. She happened to glance at the computer screen as she did so, and paused.
“Hannah Kaplan. I remember her…”
“Really?” Dan cocked his head. “What do you know about her?”
“I just know she was some big, up-and-coming practitioner. And that some people didn’t like where she came from, you know?” she eyed Dan’s bandages as if she wanted to ask something, but thought better of it. “She disappeared, I guess, after enough people made a big enough stink. Everyone thought she killed herself or something…” She finished pulling off her gloves, bundling one into the other in a neat clump. “What’s so important about her?”
I’m not sure yet.
Dan woke with a start, his heart pounding in his neck and his ears.
The breeze blowing in through the open window was warm, soothing against his skin. There was still sun streaming through the window, casting glowing pathways on the floor. The clock above the television said 3:50. He lay on the blanket-covered couch for a moment, trying to figure out what had woken him in the first place, or even if there was a reason he’d woken up, other than nerves.
The house was completely silent, other than the sound of someone fiddling around in the kitchen. A moment later, Jack came into the living room, carrying a piece of pizza and another bottle of beer.
“It lives!” He said with a grin, flopping down on the end of the couch, narrowly missing Dan’s feet. Dan thought idly of kicking him, but decided that would take too much effort and settled for a baleful glower instead. “How you feeling?”
“Like I wound up on the wrong side of a hedge trimmer,” Dan said, slowly pushing himself up into a seated position. “How long was I out?”
Jack folded his pizza, took a bit, and asked with his mouth full, “What’s the last day you remember?”
“No,” Jack swallowed and shook his head. “You fell asleep as soon as Theresa left, so that’s about...twenty hours. We figured that if you were that deep asleep for that long, your body needed it.” It was a good point, Dan had to concede. Jack leaned over to snag a water bottle and offer it to his brother. Once he’d taken a swig of the water, washing away some of the wooly feeling in his mouth, he looked at the clock again. 3:55.
“So, I’m still here. Does that mean you convinced Theresa not to report the gunshot wound?”
“Hey, I don’t convince Theresa about anything. She decides, and I get swept along with the tides.” He paused. “I ‘owe’ her a ‘complete explanation’ when we go out on Friday. I’ll be relying on your creative writing skills to get me out of that.”
“I’m not your Cyrano de Bergerac!”
“No, but ‘My brother got shot stopping a school massacre in 1991’ is lacking in important things like…reality.” Jack countered. “And sanity. And do you really want to be responsible for my one successful relationship folding up?”
Jack didn’t say it, but part of Dan suspected that if he poked too hard an again would tack itself onto that sentence. He changed the subject, quickly.
“Have they found your car yet?”
Jack frowned, carding his hand through his short hair. “No.” The simple word sounded like a curse.
Something about the car and the timing still tugged at his brain. He wasn’t sure what it was, but it nagged at him as he tried to think, watching Jack sit and sulk over his half-eaten pizza.
“Are you…am I allowed to get up?” He asked, and Jack shrugged.
“Sure. Just…take it easy.”
Dan worked his way to his feet. The clock said 4:00. That nebulous something still nagged at the back of his head, and he stared at the clock face for a moment longer, willing it to sink in.
Jack shoved the rest of the pizza crust in his mouth, gulped another mouthful of his beer.
“At school?” He said, with a shrug. “Wh-” he followed Dan’s gaze to the clock, as if seeing it for the first time. “Oh.”
“Yeah.” The pain and the confusion were instantly buried by a wave of worried fear. Dan fumbled his cell phone out of his pocket, dialed Zack’s school’s phone number. Mrs. Brabson’s familiar voice was cheery in his ear.
“Bayside Elementary School! How may I help you?”
“Uh, hi, Mrs. Brabson, this is Dan Vassar, Zack Vassar’s father. Has...my, uh. My brother was supposed to be picking Zack up and they’re not here yet, and I just wanted to make sure he got picked up…” Jack glared at him, mouthing ‘sure, blame me,’ but Dan frowned right back at him, holding up his finger.
“Oh, Officer Jack?” The receptionist’s voice went, if possible, even more cheerful. “Yes, Zack got picked up about half an hour ago. I saw that car of his myself. Can’t really mistake if for anyone else’s. My husband always says…”
The look on Jack’s face mirrored his own as Dan hung up the phone.
“I don’t believe in coincidences anymore, Jack.”
Ten minutes later, the cherry red Mustang rumbled up the narrow street and parked on the curb. Dan looked at Jack. Jack looked at Dan. The house phone rang, shattering the tense silence between them. Jack lunged for it, snagged it before it had a chance to ring a second time, turning it so they both could hear.
“Hello, Dan.” The voice was twenty years older, twenty years gruffer, but Dan would know it in his sleep.
“You remember me. I’m flattered.” The voice on the other end of the phone paused. “Though I guess I shouldn’t be, it was just yesterday for you, wasn’t it?”
Dan glowered through the curtains at the car. He couldn’t see into Jack’s car clearly, but he could see movement through the windows.
“What do you want?”
“Well. You’re a good dad, right, so I assume you’ve noticed your kid’s not home yet.” Fear spiked through him at the confirmation, sharper than any fear he’d ever felt for himself; almost a physical blow to his stomach. “All I had to do was show up in his uncle’s car…”
“What do you want?” Jack growled, and Jerry’s laugh was loud through the earpiece.
“I want,” Jerry said when he could speak again, “to finish a conversation that you and I started a long time ago. How’s that sound?”
Jack shook his head next time Dan looked at him. Dan clapped his hand over the phone’s mouthpiece as his brother said, low.
“You can’t trade.”
“He has Zack, man. What am I supposed to do?”
He knew what his brother would say in any other case. Wait for a negotiator. Call the police. But this was Zack and this was not any other case. Jack grimaced, went to clap Dan on the shoulder and stopped when he realized what he was doing.
“Play along, for now. I’ll go for reinforcements.”
Dan started to agree when another sensation panged through him, strong and fierce, starting from his forehead and spreading down. “…I don’t know if they’ll be needed,” he said, rubbing across his cheekbone. It did nothing to alleviate the pain.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Jack asked, and Dan turned aching eyes towards him. “Oh. Oh.”
“I’m waiting, Daniel…” Jeremy sing-songed. “I supposed I could hold the conversation with little Zack here, but-” the sigh was audible over the phone line. “-it just wouldn’t be the same.”
“I guess I have a few minutes to talk,” Dan finally said, trying to keep the worry out of his tone. “How do you want to do this?”
“You come out. You get halfway to the car and I’ll let your kid out. He’ll walk to the house; you’ll get in the car. But, you pull anything funny and I swear to God I’ll shoot him in the back before he gets back to the house.”
He hung up. Dan swallowed, didn’t look at Jack.
“Keep your phone on you as long as you can.”
“Just get Zack someplace safe. And when…when I leave, get Hugh. Tell him to look for Hannah.”
“But you said--"
“Just tell him!”
Jack bridled at the whole plan. Dan could feel him vibrating with barely contained anger next to him at the door. But there wasn’t much else they could do right now. Dan swallowed, pushed open the door and walked out, feeling his legs going stiffer with each step further from safety.
Jeremy kept his word. The moment Dan hit the sidewalk, the passenger door opened and Zack came rocketing out, tears in his eyes when he launched himself into his father’s arms.
“Dad, dad, dad, don’t, stay, don’t go with him, he’s crazy and scary and mean and-”
Dan could just barely see sunlight gleaming on the barrel of a gun as he held his son close, regardless of the way thin, strong arms closed around sore muscles and aching skin.
“I’ll be alright, I promise,” he whispered to the dandelion-soft hair against his lips. “You need to go to Uncle Jack now, though. Be brave.”
And then Jack was there, prying Zack’s fingers loose, pulling him into a hug just as tight as Zack’s had been. The gun’s muzzle kept moving, following Zack. The sight made Dan’s throat clog. If he’d been healthier, if the gun was pointing at him, he would have ran for the house, or tried to beat Jeremy to the punch, but as it was, all he could do was square his shoulders and walk the last few feet to the car, trying not to listen to his son yelling for him to come back.
Dan could feel his cell phone burning in his pocket, prayed that Jeremy wouldn’t take it, turn it off and throw it to the side of the road. But the other man just drove, the gun still pointed at the center of Dan’s chest.
“I know you’re thinkin’ all sorts of heroic get-aways,” he remarked, waving the gun just a bit, “But you lunge for the wheel, I will drive us off the road; you lunge for me and I will shoot you.” He looked at Dan out of the corner of his eyes. “And I know that so long as there’s a chance for you to get back to that dear little boy of yours…”
Dan just ground his teeth, staring at the road ahead, praying for the headache to grow worse. Jeremy reached out with the gun, nudged one of the bandages on Dan’s nearest arm.
“Take off the band-aids.”
He thought for a second about grabbing for the gun, but Jeremy hadn’t sounded like he was messing around. Dan unwrapped the bandages, peeled off the gauze and let it fall.
“Well, look at that. You’ve even got the cuts, like it was all just yesterday…” Jeremy ran his finger along the shallow groove Theresa had just stitched up last night, his fingers gentle around the red-edged cuts that still spread over Dan’s arm. He dropped the bandage on the floor. “Was it just yesterday? For you, I mean?”
“Yesterday, day before yesterday, three days ago…this hasn’t been my best week.”
Jeremy barked a laugh, shaking his head.
“I wouldn’t imagine.”
The ache was spreading. Dan swallowed hard as his eyes began to water. The splitting headache had shifted to his temples now, and he began to feel the sinking suspicion that maybe, this time, it had just been pain. Real pain, not something linked to his traveling…
But then it blossomed behind his eyes, and he could barely hear Jeremy’s words.
“Do you want to know why I-”
Light flashed, and for once Dan wished he could hear what happened next.