Chapter 18: End of the Line
Barely before Dawson could even think, he was galvanized into action. It was a long shot-- quite literally and figuratively-- as there was a significant distance between himself and the platform upon which Basil stood; but it was a chance he was more than willing to take. He might not be able to save Basil’s life, but he’d be damned if he didn’t try. An anguished shriek tore from Charlotte’s throat beside him, mingling with the horrified cries from the frightened crowd that echoed through the air as the platform disappeared under Basil’s feet.
In that split second, Dawson fired.
Military instincts and surgical precision learned through countless hours in operating rooms and war zones combined with the immense sense of urgency to save his friend’s life steadied the doctor’s hand. As the noose tightened around Basil’s neck the bullet tore through the rope, severing the fibers enough that Basil’s body weight caused them to snap as the rope grew taught.
After that, pandemonium ensued.
As Basil fell to the floor, Inspector Grayson used the opportunity to elbow one of the distracted guards in the face and take his gun. As his officers followed suit and turned on their captors, the spectators were galvanized into action and came to their aid. Shots rang out through the auditorium, with many falling dead or injured in the chaos. Charlotte had already sprinted toward the platform and Dawson struggled to catch up to her, elbowing and fighting his way through the crowd, throwing punches where need be to conserve his bullets as much as possible.
Under the platform, Basil grunted painfully as his body had hit the floor hard. Even though the bullet had severed the rope, it had tightened around his neck just enough to restrict his breathing. That combined with the impact as his body hit the ground knocking what little air he had left him gasping desperately for breath. Instinctively, he tried to reach up to remove the rope from his neck, but grew panicked as he was reminded that his hands were shackled behind his back. Unable to get the air he needed, Basil felt his world growing dark.
A few moments later Basil felt someone trying to remove the noose from his neck. As soon as it was loose enough Basil inhaled sharply and coughed, his body shuddering as he fought to regain his breath. Not long after, the person succeeded in removing the noose. Nearly losing consciousness left his vision blurry, and Basil flinched slightly at not knowing who was touching him. He could hear the person speaking, but couldn’t make out the words through a dull ringing in his ears.
More shapes loomed in front of him, and soon Basil felt himself being lifted off the floor and carried. He simply hung limp, unable to even find the strength to struggle. His heart pounded at the thought of the guards carrying him away, and he shuddered to think what Ratigan would do to him next since his plan to kill him publically had been interrupted.
As time passed, the ringing in his ears faded to a dull thud as his head was absolutely throbbing. The voices became slightly more clear as the gunshots and yelling faded away, but not much was being said as the primary focus seemed to be to escape from the chaos as fast as possible. Basil opened his eyes trying to get a glimpse of the captors, but had to squeeze them shut again as he felt nearly sick from the motion. He could tell they were getting further away from the crowd, but he dreaded to think where they might be taking him. It puzzled him that he hadn’t heard the Professor’s voice yet; however, he knew it was only inevitable that he would soon be back in the clutches of the mad rat.
Minutes later, Basil felt himself being lowered gently to the floor. If not for the person holding him upright, he would have sunk against the wall or down on the floor. Silently he wished for unconsciousness. At least then he wouldn’t have to face the rat so soon.
Panting tiredly, Basil tried to focus on the person supporting him. He was puzzled that the touches were so gentle, not the rough handling he had gotten used to from Ratigan’s thugs. He tried to adjust himself more comfortably but groaned as he was reminded of the injury in his leg.
“It’s alright, Basil,” a woman’s voice, Basil was shocked to discover, said softly, holding him close and gently stroking his hair as she noticed how he trembled. “You’re going to be ok.”
Basil could hardly believe his ears. He had never expected to hear that voice, that sweet voice, ever again. He blinked hard trying to get rid of the spots that clouded his vision. “Ch-Charlotte?” he whispered hoarsely.
The lady smiled down at him with unshed tears glistening in her eyes. “Yes, it’s me.” Her smile faded slightly as she saw Basil blink again, staring up at her in shock and clearly looking confused and disoriented.
“I thought… I-I thought you were dead. I saw your body!” Charlotte’s eyes widened at that. “You and… and…” Basil trailed off as another figure approached and kneeled down beside them. “Dawson,” Basil gasped in astonishment. “You're alive?”
“Indeed,” Dawson replied, breathing his own sigh of relief to see his friend was at least becoming responsive. Immediately his eyes scanned over Basil briefly, assessing the visible wounds. Gently pushing him up to a sitting position Charlotte worked quickly to pick the locks on the shackles still confining his wrists.
“B-But I saw…” Basil trailed off again as he noticed Inspector Grayson standing behind Dawson reloading his gun while glancing around to make sure they weren’t being followed. Prince Edward also stood nearby, watching with concern. Basil’s mind was reeling at the sight of seeing his friends alive. How was it possible when he had seen their lifeless bodies with his own eyes? Had it all been an allusion? Or was this another one he was experiencing right now? What was real and what was not?
Dawson watched concerned as he could practically see the wheels in Basil’s mind racing as he struggled to make sense of things. It was but the work of a few moments for Charlotte to succeed in removing the chains, and once his arms were free Dawson held one of Basil’s wrists to feel a racing pulse. Basil stared dazedly as Dawson gently tilted his chin up to get a look at his eyes, which were dilated. That along with other symptoms confirmed the doctor’s suspicion.
“You’ve been drugged.” Gently, the doctor pushed aside a few locks of hair revealing the deep gash on Basil’s temple. “You probably have a concussion, and you’ve lost a considerable amount of blood through that wound on your leg.”
“What terrible things he must have done to you,” Charlotte remarked softly, steadying Basil with her hand on his back.
“D-Drugged?” Basil repeated quietly, rubbing the sore spot on his arm as some blurred memories flashed in his mind only to disappear just as quick. He looked at Dawson and blinked again, trying to figure out if his mind was still playing tricks on him.
Dawson gently laid a hand on his quivering shoulder. “Whatever you saw wasn’t real.”
Basil gripped the doctor’s hand as if to reassure himself it was true. He breathed shakily but slowly nodded in understanding. A chill suddenly ran through him. “W-What of Ratigan?”
“He fled in the midst of all the chaos,” Dawson answered. “While the palace guards search for him and round up the remaining criminals, the Prince is leading us to safety. We have to move fast if we’re to outrun the Professor. Think you can manage to stand?”
Again Basil nodded slowly, and with Dawson’s help was soon on his feet. However, as soon as he put weight on his injured leg he nearly crumbled back down to the floor, causing Dawson and Charlotte to have to support him by his arms over their shoulders. With that, the little group hastened to make their escape as fast as could be managed.
A low growl was building up in Ratigan’s throat as he was forced to flee the scene. His delicately laid plans were falling apart before his eyes again, just as they had on the night of the Diamond Jubilee three years ago. Jaeger followed as quickly as he could, almost sprinting to keep up with the Professor’s stride and leaping over the fallen bodies of a few unfortunate rodents whom Ratigan swept out of his path. Even though the plan was falling apart, the assassin knew his best chance of survival was to stay as close to Ratigan as he could. He wasn’t in the mood to go back to prison so soon.
“Professor, what--” Jaeger was cut off mid-sentence when the rat suddenly spun around and grabbed him by the throat.
“If you ever want to see your precious daughter again then you will not let them escape,” Ratigan hissed. “Kill whoever you must, but bring Basil back to me alive.”
Jaeger stared in wide-eyed terror as Ratigan’s grip tightened around his neck and nearly lifted him off the ground. Never had he seen such a rage in the Professor’s golden brown eyes, now burning with bloodlust. He couldn’t even form a reply, merely nodding frantically while desperately trying to get a breath of air.
“After them!” Ratigan growled as he shoved his assassin away from him. Ignoring the pain shooting through his wrists and knees as he fell, Jaeger frantically scampered away as fast as his legs would carry him, not even daring to look back. The Professor’s threat echoed in his head as he ran. Jaeger felt something wet on his cheek and briefly wondered if the rat’s claws had cut him, but was shocked to feel it was a tear and not blood flowing down his cheek.
I’m sorry, Alice; but I can’t let him hurt you. Or Elizabeth.
That blasted detective was right. Fear had been what drove him all these years. If Alice knew what atrocities he had committed, how many lives he had taken, she would never want him near her or their daughter ever again. But he could never live with himself if anything were to happen to the only two people in the world who mattered to him. And he’d be damned if any harm came to them because of him. Wiping his face with the back of his sleeve hastily, Jaeger squared his shoulders and adjusted the air gun slung across his back.
He would not fail. Not this time.
He couldn’t afford to.
Prince Edward lead the way through the tunnels while Dawson and Charlotte followed close behind, supporting Basil between the two of them. Grayson followed up the rear, making sure they weren’t being followed. It was slow progress, but the little group descended deeper and deeper.
“We’re inside one of the secret tunnels beneath the Palace now,” Edward explained to Basil as they descended a winding staircase built into the brickwork. “They lead to the sewers beneath the streets, and eventually to the outside. There are some strongholds here in the Palace we could barricade ourselves into, but we can’t hide forever. The palace is still crawling with Ratigan’s ilk, so it would be best to get you as far away from here as possible. And you need medical attention quickly--”
The Prince was cut off as a gunshot rang out and Grayson yelled behind him, collapsing against the wall and clutching his shoulder as blood quickly stained his coat. All eyes looked up towards a figure at the top of the stairs, leaning over the banister and taking aim again.
“You’re all gonna need medical attention soon, mate, unless ya give up the detective nice and easy!” came a reply from the gunman, his laughter echoing through the tunnel.
“Jaeger,” Basil breathed as another shot sounded off, the bullet ricocheting off the wall just above their heads.
“Go! Now!” Grayson yelled, grunting as he shot back at the assassin.
“We’ll hold him off!” Edward added, assisting the Inspector by firing off a few shots of his own.
“I’ll help!” Charlotte agreed. Before any of the men could protest, she added, “Three against one is much better odds, especially when one's been shot! Get Basil out of here, Doctor. We’ll distract him and catch up later!”
“No, I’m the one he wants,” Basil protested, but he couldn’t do much as Dawson half dragged him down the remaining stairs.
“They’ll be alright, Basil,” Dawson tried to reassure him, although he had his own fears for their friends' safety.
“He’ll kill all of you to get to me,” Basil insisted as they winded their way through more tunnels. He grunted as pain continued to shoot through his leg. “I’m only slowing you down. Jaeger won’t rest until he brings me to Ratigan, and for that, he needs me alive. You can still escape--”
“Shut up, Basil!” Dawson finally snapped. “I’m not giving you over to that insane rat! I nearly lost you once; I’m not going to lose you again.”
“He killed Arthur and Louise!” Basil yelled brokenly. “I can’t... can’t bear to lose anyone else.”
Dawson stared in surprise. Rarely had he seen Basil in such a state. But quickly he tried to reassure him. “No, he didn’t. Charlotte and I found them and stopped the thug before he could throw them into the river.”
Basil’s head whipped up and he stared at the doctor in shock. “You mean… they’re alive?”
“Yes. I promise, they’re safe.”
Suddenly Basil sank to the floor on his hands and knees as his legs gave way beneath him. His shoulders trembled as he fought back tears of relief. “I thought…” he whispered, unable to finish. He felt Dawson’s gentle hand on his shoulder.
“I’m sure the Professor told you some terrible things and convinced you that they were your fault. But I can assure you, Basil, that none of it was true. He lies and deceives to get what he wants.”
Lies and deceit. Smoke and mirrors. That had always been Ratigan’s game, hadn’t it? And he fell for it every time.
“Now come,” Dawson said helping Basil to his feet. “We must--”
Basil fell backward as something suddenly hit Dawson in the head when they rounded a corner, causing the mouse to fall with a grunt of pain. As he looked up, Basil found himself staring down the barrel of a gun in the hands of Erik Jaeger. He must have found a way through these winding tunnels to get around them. His heart nearly stopped when the assassin turned that gun instead to Dawson, who lay only barely conscious beside them.
“I should blow his damn head off while you watch,” Jaeger sneered, his finger tightening on the trigger.
“No!” Basil nearly screamed, scrambling between the two to where the barrel of the gun pressed against his chest instead. He remained on his knees and raised his hands above his head in a sign of surrender. “I’m the one you want. I’ll go quietly without a struggle.” Basil swallowed hard. “Take me back to Ratigan and leave him alone.”
“You’ve got some nerve giving me orders, mate,” Jaeger growled, shoving the tip of the gun under Basil’s chin and tilting it at an uncomfortable angle, causing Basil to grunt. Pure, unadulterated hatred shown in the assassin’s cold blue eyes as his finger tightened ever so slightly on the trigger. “I ought to save the Professor the trouble and end you right now.”
Jaeger grinned wickedly, savoring the look of horror on Basil’s face. However, it took a moment longer for him to realize that Basil wasn’t staring at him; he was staring behind him. Feeling his blood run cold, Jaeger slowly turned around, his breath catching in his throat as he laid eyes on the barrel of a gun pointed directly at his face.
“You’re the one who’s been a lot more trouble than you’re worth.” Ratigan only glared at the mouse as the rifle in Jaeger’s numb hands clattered to the floor. With a choked cry Jaeger fell to his knees in front of the Napoleon of Crime. He had dreaded this day for years, somehow knowing deep down inside himself that ever since becoming involved with this rat a deadly outcome would be inevitable; and now that it was finally upon him, he found himself with no other option but to beg. The terrified mouse held his trembling hands out in front of him, pleading for an ounce of mercy from the rat.
“I no longer require your services.”
“No, no, no, p-please Professor! I-I didn’t mean--!”
Jaeger never got to finish his pleas. Basil jumped at the gunshot that cracked out, sickened by the crunch of bone as the back of Jaeger’s skull was shattered from the bullet exiting the back of his head. He scrambled backward to avoid having Jaeger’s body fall on top of him. Tasting bile in the back of his throat as blood pooled around the fallen mouse’s head, Basil’s ears folded as he saw a glint of light reflecting off the necklace containing his daughter’s photograph inside lying on his chest. After all the years of service he had spent under Ratigan’s command, this was how it ended. Now he would never get the chance to see his family again. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right.
“You didn’t have to kill him,” Basil nearly spat in contempt.
“He stepped out of line,” was Ratigan’s retort, an icy calm in his voice despite the violent act of murder he had just committed.
“His death was senseless!”
“What's senseless is your feelings of guilt over a criminal," Ratigan replied irrately, "which ironically you have made a career of to bring to justice. Once you turned him in to the authorities, he would have been executed anyway. However, I’m not here to debate morals with you.”
Basil grunted as Ratigan suddenly grabbed the front of his shirt and pulled him up, holding him close to his face. “I decide when you die. And when you do, it will be by no one’s hand but mine.”