I’m not one who likes to cut things off right after the climax and call it good.
No… I take my sweet time tying up all those tiny loose ends.
So, here we are. More Blank Mastermind. -confetti for everyone-
Last time, our hero (because we can call him that now) woke up after our dramatic climax to find that he had, in fact, saved the day and stopped his own evil plans. So yaaay happy ending… but is it really, yet?
And if this is you:
Then, lucky for you, there’s more to this story.
Like, a lot more. Hope you don’t have anything planned this afternoon. Observe, my leaning tower of links.
Aaaand Part 27, everyone!
Patience and Patients
Don’t get me wrong, I was over the moon about actually having disarmed the bomb . . . getting myself turned around . . . saving all the heroes and all.
But if I could do it again, I’d try and figure out some way that didn’t land me flat on my back in the hospital.
My mental fog burned off after a day or so and after that the invalid life got old pretty fast. Everyone checking on me and asking how I was doing. Not being able to go anywhere on my busted leg without a wheelchair or crutches. The patronizing nurses with their pasted on smiles. The nasty hospital food.
But I bore it. I got my leather jacket back after a bit of negotiating, so that made me feel a bit more like myself. Abby, the nurse I was able to stand the most, seemed to be the one generally assigned to me so that was nice. And Bad News smuggled in ice cream for me.
No one seemed to be too keen on telling me a ton of details about anything. Worried I’d stress myself out and affect my health, I suppose. Which was a big part of the reason I wanted to get mobile on my crutches so fast.
It was about day three after waking up that they said I could get up and visit my co-heroes . . . Liza and Dallas.
“But if anything starts hurting or you get worn out, tell someone,” Abby insisted firmly as she helped me upright in bed.
“Yeah, yeah . . . I know.” I pulled my jacket sleeve down further over my wrist cast. I could handle it. I’d handled plenty without professional medical help before. I just needed to see my friends . . . there still seemed to be something they didn’t want to tell me.
I nodded to Abby, “Could I have my crutches?” When given a choice of wheelchair or crutches, crutches were the more masculine choice by far, in my opinion.
Abby stuck her tongue in her cheek and tucked her short hair behind her ear. Reluctance showing on every part of her face, she handed the crutches to me from where they were propped up against the wall.
My first, delirious impression of her as my mom had stayed in my mind as a sort of shadow, following her around. Part of the reason it was easier to deal with her babying me, I guess.
I swung the crutches out in front of me and braced myself to swing up, but someone walked in right then. I looked up and stopped.
Dallas. His arm in a sling, a bandage on one side of his pale face and his mouth in the same old pokerfaced line. He limped slightly, but considering he’d just been through a bomb explosion, he looked remarkably well.
And apparently he’d beat me to the punch on visiting rooms.
I blinked at him for a second before getting my voice back. “Um . . . hey.”
Dallas nodded and his mouth moved into that small, unintentional smile of his. “Hi. You doing alright?”
“Aside from a concussion, broken leg and broken wrist, I’m fantastic.” I grunted a bit as I completed my mission of getting upright. My vision went a little weird with the change in position and my head pounded, but I shook it off. “Lots of things don’t seem that bad within the perspective of having almost died.”
“Good point.” Dallas put his good hand in his jeans pocket and looked me up and down. “Are you going somewhere?”
“Down the hall to see Liza, if it’s not too much for my frail constitution.”
“It’s called recovery, Mr. Dankworth,” Abby corrected, sounding slightly annoyed.
Dallas’s half smile faded. “Have you . . . I mean . . .” he thought for a second, then shook his head, “Never mind.”
Oh great, now even Dallas didn’t want to tell me things. “What?”
He shook his head, “Nothing. I’ll go with you.”
“That would be good, Mr. Knight, thank you.” Abby smiled at him. “Both of you be careful now.”
And with Dallas limping and me awkwardly clomping along on my crutches, we got out into the hall. Not freedom by any means, but hey, it was better than just sticking to one room.
After a little distance down the hallway with Dallas still not saying anything, I cleared my throat. “So. You . . . your arm doing okay?”
Dallas blinked and looked down at his arm in its pale blue sling. “It’s alright, I guess.” He went back to looking ahead and shuffling forward.
His conversational skills or lack thereof were clearly unharmed.
Silence fell again, except for the thump-scrape of my cast and crutches.
A few seconds later, Dallas surprised me by actually speaking up again. “Nice that I actually was able to get my powers to work for once,” he commented, glancing over at me. “That forcefield I got up right as the bomb blew . . . it actually broke all the bots with all the energy I put into it.”
I stared at him, “Forcefield?”
“Yeah, you didn’t know that?”
Well, it made our survival make a lot more sense now that I did. Yet another detail that no one thought to inform me of. I shook my head. “Hadn’t heard. I . . . kind of remember a blue flash, though, so it makes sense.” Silence for a second. I swallowed. ‘”Hey, thanks.”
Dallas half smiled again and nodded. “Thank you too.”
Both of us could have said a lot more. But we both felt the extra thanks . . . the final truce. Besides, I’d had enough mushy moments to last me a while and Dallas wasn’t keen on mush in the first place. The quiet was warm and friendly.
A nurse I hadn’t seen before walked past, nodding to us and smiling as she clicked down the hall in her heels.
I focused on the numbers on the doors we were passing for a bit before realizing I didn’t know which one I was looking for. Brilliant, Holmes. More brain-haze than I probably realized was still hanging around.
I looked over at Dallas. “You know where Liza’s room is?”
He nodded. “Been there already.” The hesitation in his voice sent fingers of ice down my spine.
They weren’t telling me something about Liza.
I stopped and locked my eyes on Dallas’s. “Dallas, is she okay? What happened?” All the awful possibilities flashed through my mind and I shivered.
“She’s alive,” Dallas assured. He ran his tongue over his teeth and kept walking.
“Alive doesn’t necessarily mean okay.” I clenched my teeth and swung my crutches out far in front of me to catch up with him.
He sighed and looked up at the ceiling. “She . . . um . . .” his voice dropped lower and he slowed by the door at the corner of the hall. “Her . . . her arm. It wasn’t really . . .” Dallas swallowed and met my eyes again. “Liza lost her arm in the explosion, Wolf.”
I lost my breath for a minute.
Liza. The mechanical genius. The girl Roy always joked was more dexterous than any of us put together.
One of her arms was gone. Because of my bomb.
“I’m sorry,” Dallas said quietly, “She was the one that grabbed the wire. She was the closest and I didn’t get the forcefield around her completely.”
I swallowed hard, feeling a little lightheaded. I forced my mouth to move. “B-but she’s . . . she’ll live? Is she . . . is she doing okay?”
Dallas nodded, but his face stayed sad as he pushed open the door. Soft voices came from inside . . . too quiet for me to place who was talking. Sliding halfway through the partially open door, Dallas cleared his throat. “Hey . . . “
The voices stopped and he continued.
“It’s just me and Mr. Dankworth, sir. Can we come in?”
“Certainly,” one of the voices came up past the part whisper it was before and I recognized it as Mr. Fernsby’s voice. “I didn’t know he was up and about yet. Come ahead. I was just heading out to make a call.”
Dallas looked back at me and nodded before slipping in the rest of the way.
I hesitated, standing there and steeling myself . . . stockpiling apologies for Liza . . . for my friend. How could she live like that? How could I live with seeing her like that?
I closed my eyes for a second, bit my tongue in determination and pushed the door the rest of the way open before swinging in.
Charles was just standing from a chair by Liza’s bed. He made his way over to the door and nodded to me as he slipped past into the hall.
Liza lay under the white sheets of the bed, her face pale. Her bright teal hair was in a ponytail over her left shoulder . . . which still continued into a limb. Her right one just . . . stopped. No arm. Only one hand fidgeted with the blanket over the bed.
I couldn’t look at her face. Only that awful lack of arm.
I felt sick to my stomach and my lightheadedness got worse.
Liza’s soft snicker of a laugh broke the silence, weaker than usual. “Wolfy, you’re paler than I am.”
I still didn’t look at her. “I . . . I’m so sorry, Liz . . .” I couldn’t get my voice past a whisper.
“Sit down and we can talk. It’s fine. I’ve always been a lefty anyways.”
I managed to get my eyes to her face. She didn’t look mad at all. She smirked faintly at me through the pain on her face and held out her hand in a “ta-da” motion. “See, I’m just dandy.” Her voice trembled a bit.
Oh, God, that should’ve been me . . . why her . . .? I swallowed hard, wavering a bit on my feet.
“Dally, get the idiot a chair before he keels over.” Liza shifted in her bed and nodded to Dallas.
I felt Dallas’s hand grip onto my arm and guide me to one of the blue hospital chairs next to Liza’s bed. The crutches clacked against each other as I put them to the side. My knees willingly gave out and I sat down hard in the chair.
I swallowed hard. My eyes fixed back onto her empty hospital gown sleeve and my hands trembled.
“Liza . . . I just . . . I’m sorry. I should’ve . . . it should’ve been me. If I’d . . .” pieces of different apologies came out in a jumbled mess. “ . . . you shouldn’t have to . . .”
“Wolfy.” Liza’s one quiet word sounded louder than any of mine. I stopped, meeting her blue-eyed gaze with difficulty. Her mouth tipped into a sideways smile and she put her cool hand onto my shaking one. “It’s alright. It was worth it.”
She tightened her lips and gave my hand a squeeze. “Better a one-armed hero than a whole crook, hey?”
A bit of the weight on my chest lifted, but I still didn’t feel quite right. “But it . . . it was my fault. If it wasn’t for me . . .”
“If it wasn’t for you, I’d have just thrown my life away,” Liza interrupted. “I’d do it again in a minute. So shut up and stop looking so bloody remorseful.”
I blinked at her, rocked back a bit by that. She raised an eyebrow at me and I couldn’t help smiling just a little. I saluted her with my casted hand. “Yes, ma’am.”
Liza smiled. Her eyes went down to where her arm would have been again. Her smile shifted and she puckered her lips thoughtfully. She glanced up at me. “You know . . . I’m going to have way too much fun inventing some sort of prosthetic. It’ll be way better than just my plain old arm, I can tell you that.”
I chuckled and nodded, “Of course.”
Some sadness still lingered on her face, unable to be hidden even with her best efforts. But her determination to make the best of it . . . to accept and move forward . . . made my guilt ease a little. I’d help her in any way possible. I wasn’t exactly the optimist extraordinaire, but for Liza I could at least make an effort.
The door made a soft squeaking noise and I looked up to see Fernsby slipping back in, a frown creasing his forehead. He shoved his phone in his pocket and ran his hand over the top of his hair.
“Is everything alright, sir?” Dallas asked.
Fernsby shrugged and took a seat. “I hope so. Just . . . something odd.”
“Hey?” Liza tipped her head, shifting her position a bit in the bed.
“I’ve been trying to give the director a ring for the past couple days, but . . .” he shrugged again, still frowning. “He just doesn’t seem to be picking up.” Charles looked up at Dallas. “Mansley’s trips back to SPI headquarters don’t normally take this long, do they? It’s been over a week.”
Mansley. Derrick Mansley.
How could he have not been one of the first things I mentioned after waking up? I’d totally forgotten. He was a traitor endangering the lives of who-knows-how-many people, and I took three whole days after coming around to actually remember to warn about him.
Better now than never, though.
I cleared my throat and sat up straighter in my seat, wincing as I bumped my leg, “Um . . . Fernsby?”
He turned his head, “Hmm?”
“I . . . forgot to say something sooner . . . but Mansley . . . he’s not really who you think he is.” I put together the words slowly, not quite sure how to explain.
Fernsby, Dallas and Liza all looked at me. Fernsby’s brow furrowed further and he leaned forward. “How do you mean?”
“Well, he . . .” I licked my lips, “He’s not really all for the superhero program. Pretty much from the start, he’s actually been backing me up. Said that he regretted what he’d done in running the program when something like the Twin Bombings could happen . . .” I still couldn’t help but flinch at mentioning that.
“But he couldn’t back down off his position, so he had to . . . to be the behind-the-scenes man. To help me exact justice instead of doing it himself. That bomb . . . was actually built from his funds. Everything I did was funded by him, practically. Mansley’s not . . . he’s not in support of the superhero program at all. Almost as bad as I am . . . was, I mean. If I can . . .”
“Hold on.” Charles frowned and pursed his lips. He tipped his head at me, “See . . . now we’ve got something else odd . . . did you know it was Mansley? The whole time?”
I nodded, “From the first time we met, yeah.”
Dallas rubbed at the back of his neck and looked over at Fernsby, “That’s not what he told us at all.”
I started in my seat, “Wait, whoa. You knew?”
“In a way,” Fernsby said slowly, “See, he told us that he had an inside man as your arms dealer. Through the years, there were many of your plans that would have gone through if it wasn’t for Director Mansley tipping us off.”
I opened my mouth, but the words all stayed stuck whirling around in my mind. All those plans . . . the things I thought I’d laid out perfectly . . . no one could possibly have known . . . and then Amazing Man would swoop in at the last moment. I’d never been able to figure it out.
But it was Mansley . . . the whole time, it was Mansley . . . but . . .
My thoughts finally came out, “Why would he do that? He paid for our weapons. He covered our tracks. He said he wanted the program to be torn apart so he could be free . . . that he wanted justice . . .”
“And he funded us too,” pointed out Dallas, “Yet he helped you.” He paused, biting his lip, “And you said that bomb was built with his help?”
“Practically by him.” I leaned back and reflexively reached to run my hand over my hair. My cast thumped up against my forehead, but I barely noticed. “So if he was for you guys all along, then why didn’t he tell you anything about the single thing that put you in the most danger?”
“And what does he gain” mused Fernsby, steepling his fingers, “by paying both of us to keep going?”
Liza’s even, thoughtful voice broke in. “He’s playing both sides of the chessboard, lads.” Her eyes were squinted thoughtfully up at the ceiling. “How does he keep his job? How to keep himself needed? Simple. All you need is a hero . . .” she gestured to Charles, “ . . . and a villain.” She gestured to me.
Her hand dropped and she puckered her lips. “And Wolfy . . . you just took away his villain. No wonder he’s not answering his phone.”
Well well well… looks like all those detectives down in the comments had some good theories going on about Mansley all along. Good job, guys. Go team.
And, I’ll see you all on Sunday with another part.
In the meantime, lots to talk about. Arms lost… villains exposed… Dallas making a quiet return…
Thanks for reading,