Clocks and Boxes — Part 24: Grampy

Later, Donna realised that things could have gone very differently. She could have left the South Hertling Super Centre by the Wellington Road exit, seen the plume of smoke and intervened in the conflict between Fanaka and Karl Wintergreen before it was too late. But in trying to avoid after school traffic by Local High School, she took her out the back way through Bideford Lane, past the Cal Meechum Memorial.

Donna drove. In the passenger seat sat Belinda. On the rear seat were Belinda, Carol and Zorbar. They were on their way to carry out a jailbreak – a killer cyborg from the future, an irritating woman who was into cosplay, hipster barista, a woman of deep (albeit eccentric) Christian beliefs and an ape-man who had to bow his head and shoulders just to fit in the back of Donna's Subaru hatchback. It shouldn't be enough to organise a jailbreak for over a hundred people, but Donna was quietly praying that it would.

"Here we are," Donna said, pulling up about outside of a nursing home, half a kilometre away.

"This isn't Long Bay," Carol complained.

"No, this is where we're getting the guy who can help us break everybody out," Dona said. "Our secret weapon. I've been keeping him in reserve in case we needed him: my great-grandfather."

"Your grandfather?" Carol said.

"So uncool," Zorbar said. "We do Reservoir Dogs walk to car and everything."

"No we didn't," Donna said.

"We behind you. You not see. We think you too cool turn around, but turn out you just not pay attention."

Donna rested her head on the steering wheel for a moment. It seemed to work.

"My great-grandfather holds the world record for most successful escapes," she said. "He's forgotten more about escaping than we'll ever know."

"Oh, was he like a POW escapee or something?" Belinda said.

"Yes," Donna said. "Eventually. Here he is now!"

As one, the occupants of the car turned to see an exceedingly elderly man raise himself, coughing and wheezing, from a sinkhole in the nursery garden bed. A pair of white-clad orderlies -- who seemed more exasperated than angry – came from the main building at an unhurried pace.

Donna hopped out of the car and, ignoring the fresh soil on the old man's dressing gown, gave him a huge hug. "Grampy Erik," she cried.

"Donna, my dear!" the old man said. "How good to see you. Excuse me."

The old man turned and took an old-fashioned perfume bottle from his pocket. "Come and get me, coppers!" he snarled, as he squeezed the bulb and sprayed the bottle's contents at the orderlies' eyes. One retreated, covering his eyes. The other simply snatched the bottle from the old man's hands.

"Not this time, Mr Weisz. I'm wearing eye goggles this time."

"What's that?"

"EYE GOGGLES!"

"You don't have to yell," the old man snapped. "Never mind, exercise over for the day. Why don't you and your friends come and visit, Donna. You can have tea and I think I may have some sweeties saved up.

The prison break party waited in the old man's single room. While Grampy Erik disappeared into the shower, the arranged some crowded seating on hard plastic chairs taken from the dining area.

"Do you really think this geezer will be useful?" Belinda said, thumbing through a large-print volume entitled 'Fundamentals of Security Systems'.

"Yes," Donna said. "Physically, he might not be up to helping us, but he can tell us what equipment we'll need, who to talk to, how to organise the breakout. I only told you some of the escapes this man pulled off. There were so many more. And not like cutesy escape-artist-street-magician crap. Real escapes from real prisons with real guards armed with real guns. The man is a legend."

Granpy Erik emerged from the bathroom, clean and in a fresh dressing gown.

"Remind me, Donna was butter menthol you liked? Or barley sugar?"

"Neither, Grampy. No one's liked either of those things since 1950, and I don't think they liked them much then, either."

"Never mind, I think I have half a packet of Dr Zumthrum's Clove Balls in my top draw. You and your friends can share them -- but one each only, mind you. I won't have you all ruining your dinner."

Donna could feel four pairs of accusing eyes on her. Under other circumstances, she might have felt bad but she was about to show them what was what in a very big way indeed. "Grampy Erik, we have some friends in prison."

"Oh?"

"Oh, yes," the old man said, filling a teapot from an ceramic electric kettle. "Who's for tea?"

"Ja, bitte," Nalda said.

"You German?" Erik said. "Nothing against the Germans, except you build better cars than fences."

"You vere POW in var, ja?"

"Eventually," Erik said. "That was after I lied about his identity and joined the army. Before that, I'd already escaped from Alcatraz, Sing Sing, Boggo Road and Devil's Island. During World War II, I escaped from ten German POW camps, re-joined my unit, was thrown in the stockade, escaped again, fled to Russia, escaped the Gulag archipelago and escaped back here. I did more escaping from prison camps in Korea and Vietnam, and now I'm retired and only spend my days escaping from this old folks' home"

Erik poured tea for everyone, then added something to his from a hipflask. Slowly, he lowered himself into his armchair with all the care and caution of a man who is uncertain about the state of his hipbones. Once he was seated comfortably, he looked at his visitors through rheumy, heavily lidded eyes.

"So, a prison break," he said. "Multiple escapees. Hm. Some would say that complicates matters. Certainly, the more people who know the escape plan the greater the chance that something will slip out. But I say more escapees gives us more options in creating a breach in security, and can make pursuit more difficult."

"If you're so good at escaping, how come you keep ending up back inside?" Belinda said.

"Because 'escaping' and 'not getting caught' are different skillsets, young lady," Erik said. "And just because you have one, doesn't mean you have the other. But that's alright. I'm so good at escaping, I've never needed to learn how not to get caught. Now, let's have some details about this escape before I die of old age."

He cracked his knuckles, then immediately looked like he regretted doing so.

Next -- Part 25: Mayhem

Previously: Part 23 -- Downstage

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