I have no excuses. I'm just sorry. I'll do better, promise.
Here's the next chapter...
Title: Capturing the Past - Chapter Four
Author: Cynthia J. Klawitter
Category: Gen; Drama; Hurt/Comfort
Spoilers: Summer Belongs To You; Spa Day; Raging Bully
Season: Post series (by one year)
Warnings: Nothing, really...
Summary: Having lost one family, Candace and Phineas' biological father returns to reconnect with his older children. When Candace isn't willing to oblige, Phineas isn't given the option of doing the same. Although the police are doing their best when both Phineas and Ferb go missing, Candace and the rest of the kids are determined to do some hunting of their own. Will they be able to find the boys in time?
A/N: My take on the Candace and Phineas' biological father returns and causes problems for everyone trope. I like how it worked out. Also, unless specifically stated otherwise, this piece does not take place in the same timeline as the majority of my stories.
Status: Complete (as of 1/14/2012)
Heinz Doofenshmirtz had happily greeted his daughter when she arrived to spend her usual weekend with him then left her to her own devices, as he knew she preferred. For whatever reason, Vanessa had then chosen not to escape into her room but to sit reading a magazine in the main room with him as he put his apartment back together after yesterday's failed evil plan to take over the Tri-State Area. It struck the brown-haired man as odd, but he wasn't about to question it. He was well aware his little girl was far too close to becoming a full-fledged adult, and so welcomed every chance he had to spend time with her.
A half hour later, the evil scientist could no longer ignore the odd sensation he was getting from the direction of his daughter. For the fifth time he looked at her and found her glaring at him. The first couple of times hadn't surprised him, since she professed to not approve of his schemes (he just knew he could convince her otherwise with time, though. Especially after what happened with the hair dryer in Paris the year before.) but she usually gave up glaring at him after a short time. Something else had to be going on.
"Vanessa," Heinz began slowly, putting down the cloth he'd been using to wipe down one of his rebuilt counters, "is there something wrong?"
"Why would there be something wrong?" Vanessa replied shortly, not even glancing up from the magazine she had returned her attention to.
"I don't know. That's why I was asking." Heinz frowned and considered the teenager. "Have I done something to make you angry at me again?"
That got her attention. Vanessa slowly lowered her magazine and aimed a sharp gaze his way. "I don't know, Dad. Have you?"
The evil scientist blinked at the cold tone. He couldn't think of anything he'd done recently to inspire such a reaction… "I don't think so. Would you tell me if I did?"
Vanessa merely stared at him for a long, silent moment then sighed, apparently reaching some kind of conclusion. "Dad, do you have an evil scheme in the works right now?" she asked, her tone resigned.
"Well, not exactly. I have a few ideas I was thinking of exploring, but…" Heinz's eyes widened. "Vanessa! Does this mean you're finally taking an interest in being evil with me?"
"No, Dad," Vanessa replied with a roll of her eyes. "I just wanted to know the kinds of things you had in mind. None of those schemes involve… kidnapping… anyone, do they?"
"Kidnapping? Why would I want to kidnap someone?" Heinz asked, truly confused. "I'd have to figure out how to trap them, put them somewhere out of the way, keep them fed and watered… way too much trouble. And after failing at that last year with Major Monogram…" He sighed and shook his head. "What made you think I might do that?"
Vanessa chewed on her lower lip as she hesitated. "Mom got a call about a friend of hers yesterday," she finally explained. "They think this friend's sons have been kidnapped. And, well, you always talk about how evil you are, and taking those two kids is evil, so…" Her words trailed off into a helpless shrug of her shoulders.
Heinz frowned. "Kids? Two kids? You thought I would kidnap children?"
"Well, I hoped not," Vanessa said quickly. "Really I did."
"I mean, I may be evil, but I'm not that evil." He shook his head. "No, I couldn't do something like that to children."
The brunette frowned at the firmness of his statement. "I have to admit I'm glad to hear that, but I have to know. Why?"
Heinz blinked. "Why couldn't I do that to children?" He sighed. "To be honest, it's because of you," he admitted softly.
"Me?" Vanessa blurted.
"Yes, you. Every time I hear about bad things happening to a child, I can't help but think that it could have happened to you. And that thought scares me to pieces. You're my precious little girl, and the last thing I would ever want is for you to be hurt." He shook his head again. "So for me to hurt a child would be like me hurting you, and I will never do that." He thought about it for a moment. "At least not on purpose."
"Aw, Dad, that's so sweet." Vanessa rose from the couch, and came over to wrap her father in a tight embrace.
Heinz immediately returned it. "I love you, Vanessa," he said simply before letting her go.
Vanessa stepped back and smiled. "I love you, too, Dad."
"Now are you sure I can't talk you into helping me with my next evil scheme?" he pleaded with a half-smile and a bright twinkle in his eyes. "I think you'd have a lot of fun."
"No, Dad," Vanessa refused with a little laugh. "But I'll tell you what. I'll help you finish cleaning up the place, and then maybe I'll let you be seen in public with me when you take me out to dinner. Will that do?"
"I can live with that," Heinz agreed. "So do you want to sweep or scrub?"
* * * * * * * *
Phineas gave a mental sigh as he was forced to listen to a tirade about the lack of loyalty William's friends showed him during his second divorce the second day the boy had been brought out of his room to talk with his biological father. He wasn't entirely sure what had brought this subject up, to be honest. It might have come from the question William had asked Phineas about the kinds of boys that were on the sports teams he just knew his son was involved with. The boy couldn't be sure, however, since he hadn't been given a chance to answer.
So far there had only been one change in the schedule William had established the day before. When the time for lunch had arrived, the man had revealed a small refrigerator and a camp stove and made the meal right then and there, diving into a monologue about how cooking may traditionally be women's work, but it made sense for a man to know how to do it from a simple survival standpoint. It was amazing how sexist William was proving himself to be. Phineas wondered if he'd always been that way, or if it was his experience with his failed relationships that created the attitude.
In the meantime, however, Phineas realized he and Ferb would have to re-think their take on breakfast if they were going to have to make up for Ferb missing lunch. He worked on the problem as William ranted on, hoping his lack of complete attention wouldn't be noticed. He had a feeling it wouldn't; more than likely the man would just go onto another topic like the rant had never happened. It was kind of creepy.
"But I'm sure you don't really know what I'm talking about," William said, suddenly cutting himself off and turning a slightly-overbright smile to Phineas, startling the boy. "Let me show you what I have set up for us, so we can hang out and really develop the kind of bond we should have had all this time." He jumped to his feet and went over to one of the curtained-off areas of the room they were in. "You're going to love this," he said eagerly before sweeping the navy blue fabric aside.
"Wow," Phineas murmured in response to the sight of a large metal shelving unit stuffed full of sports paraphernalia. There were balls of all kinds, hockey equipment, in-line roller skates, a skateboard, tennis rackets, lacrosse nets… The redhead was sure there were things he hadn't even heard of before tucked away amongst the rest, and he wouldn't even think of claiming to have registered everything he was seeing.
And it was exciting for more than one reason: there had to be something on one of those shelves that he and Ferb could use to break out of the place. He just had to get - or make - a chance to find it. Phineas still wondered what was behind the curtain in the other corner, but it wouldn't matter in the end if he found what he needed on the shelves he could see.
William dug out a pair of baseball gloves and a ball, then spun and tossed one of the leather mitts to Phineas. "We should have enough room in here to play a round of catch," he said, smiling eagerly. "It's just the kind of thing I know you must have been missing all this time."
Phineas fought back a sigh at yet another assumption that his life had to be boring and lacking in father/son moments since his mother's first husband had decided not to be involved in his life. He forced a smile. "Sure, catch would be fine," he said, then backed up while William moved the table and chairs out of the way.
"So, what team do you play for?" William asked as he tossed the ball, smiling a little wider when Phineas caught it easily. "I bet it's not hard to find sponsors around here."
"I don't really play in a league," Phineas replied, tossing the ball back. "I like the game, but it's not really what I want to do every day."
"Oh, well, I guess that's fair enough," William said, his smile faltering slightly, obviously thrown by the idea. "You do play sports, though, don't you?"
There was a strange, desperate note in the man's voice that tipped off Phineas that this was a more sensitive subject than he'd first thought. "Well, sure," the redhead said. He shrugged. "They can be lots of fun."
William stared at him for a long, silent moment, to the point that Phineas started to get a little nervous. Had he just set the man off with his honest answers? "I bet you just haven't found the one for you," he said finally, throwing the baseball back a bit harder than he had before.
"Um, well, I have played in an inter-school soccer league during second semester the last couple of years," Phineas offered, figuring it couldn't hurt to throw the man a bone. "All the elementary schools in the district had a team."
"Soccer!" William exclaimed, surprised. "I wasn't expecting that. But that's good, very good." He gave the boy a relieved smile. "I knew you just had to find the right sport."
"Sure," Phineas replied with a weak smile. He threw the baseball back in hopes that continuing the activity would end that particular conversation. There was no way that William Flynn would accept Phineas' way of enjoying his summer vacation, and who knew how that would turn out if the man discovered it.
An hour later, William finally put the ball and mitts aside with a smile and a sigh, Phineas' gambit having been successful. The man pulled a pair of water bottles out of the mini-fridge and gave one to the redheaded boy before taking a long swig from his own. "You've got a great arm," he complimented Phineas. "You should think about putting a little more time into baseball."
Phineas gave a half-smile and shrugged. "I've been enjoying what I've been doing, but I'll think about it."
William shrugged, his smile not fading. "Fair enough. How about showing me some of your soccer moves?" He went back to the shelving unit and carefully pulled out the appropriate ball, barely managing to keep everything on the shelf from falling to the floor.
Phineas caught the black and white spotted ball when it was tossed to him, then spared a moment to watch the man's face as he took a discrete deep breath. William's expression was eager and excited, obviously taking Phineas' participation as acceptance when in actuality it was self-preservation - and even more importantly, insuring the continuing safety of Ferb. He was also buying time until he could look around to find something he and his brother could use to get out of this place, getting as much information about the man who had kidnapped them as he could along the way.
The boy had his chance to start a search a little while later. He'd been showing off some of the tricks Ferb had taught him long ago when William declared he needed to take a bathroom break. "You can show me more when I get back," the man said. "Wait here."
Phineas waited a five-count once William was out of sight before moving to the shelves full of sporting equipment. Most of them were packed as he'd noted earlier, but upon closer inspection he saw a shelf of stacked comic books, as well as another one crammed with video games and an old gaming system. He couldn't help but wonder how he was supposed to use those; there wasn't a television in sight.
The redhead knew he couldn't take the chance of rooting around on the over-filled shelves; he wasn't sure how he'd explain the mess he was sure to make if he couldn't get it cleaned up before William returned. It was also unlikely that there would be tools amongst the chaos. While certainly typically masculine, William seemed a bit too paranoid to leave something that could obviously aid in an escape attempt just lying around.
"I still think there has to be something," Phineas muttered to himself as he glanced around. His gaze fell on the pink-curtained corner of the room. "Maybe there…"
He quickly moved over to the other side of the room and carefully drew back the light-colored fabric. The boy withdrew slightly in surprise at the sight of stuffed animals and baby dolls on the shelf directly in front of him. On the shelf below that were all kinds of makeup, cheap costume jewelry, brushes and combs, and more kinds of beauty products. The bottom shelf was crammed full of pre-teen and teen magazines like the ones Isabella and Candace regularly read. There were princess costumes in a variety of sizes hanging on the side of the unit. On the higher shelves he could make out board games and puzzles, as well as plastic musical instruments. There was even a CD player and a stack of CDs.
"That is a lot of pink," Phineas said quietly, blinking at the vision before him. He shook his head and started to look through the shelf of beauty products, figuring it was the most likely place to find something useful if what he could remember from Candace's dresser - as well as his and Ferb's spa from the summer before - was accurate.
Curiosity led him to a small, zippered, vinyl billfold. When he opened it, he found all the makings of a nail care kit. Phineas' eyes widened in excitement as he withdrew the metal nail file. A quick test proved it was as sharp at the point as he had hoped, and he slipped it into one of the pockets of his shorts. The boy then put the kit back where he'd found it, gently pulling the curtains into their original position before moving toward one of the windows in the hopes that William would never suspect what he'd done.
It was just in time. Phineas had only taken a couple of steps away from the feminine shelving unit when the blond man came back into the room whistling a song the boy didn't recognize. A glance out of the corner of his eye showed the man pausing to examine the open space before smiling once again and heading for the blue-curtained corner with a bounce in his step. Phineas couldn't hold back a small smile of his own at the realization that he'd gotten away with his actions. Not even the rest of the afternoon being filled with more sports talk and games of catch could dampen his sense of accomplishment.
He couldn't wait to share it with Ferb.
* * * * * * * *
Candace walked out of the lobby of the Danville Inn with her shoulders drooping and her gaze somewhat downcast. In her hand was the picture of her mother's first husband, and behind her followed a quiet Isabella, Baljeet, and Buford. Once they were outside, the girls sat down on a bench just to the right of the main doors, the boys standing beside them.
"That was a waste of time," Candace grumbled, her sad expression switching to one of frustration. "We didn't learn anything the police didn't already know."
"We could not be sure that would be the case," Baljeet reminded her. "We needed to try."
"Baljeet's right, Candace," Isabella said soothingly, placing a gentle hand on the teenager's arm. "We had to come and ask the questions ourselves. It was the only way to be sure."
Behind them, the hotel doors opened and closed, and a middle-aged man walked out carrying a grey suitcase in one hand and a brown leather briefcase in the other. "Excuse me," he said after noticing the group of children. "Were you just inside asking about someone?"
The kids shared a quick look. "Um, yes, yes, we were," Candace said, doing her best to return her expression to one closer to what she'd been wearing inside. She held out the picture she still held. "This is my father. My parents got divorced over ten years ago, and he didn't stay in contact with me. But he was supposed to be coming back for my birthday last week and didn't make it. I'd heard he was going to be staying here and thought I'd come ask if anyone knew what happened to him." Candace bit her lower lip as she finished repeating the cover story they'd come up with earlier.
The man looked at the printed-out photo. "Hmm, he looks familiar." He considered it for a long moment then nodded. "Yeah, I do recognize him," he said, returning the picture to Candace. "When I got in from Detroit last Saturday, I stopped outside to go through my papers looking for my reservation confirmation that I'd printed out. That man was standing right about here talking with a Hispanic man. Apparently he was trying to convince the man to drive home in his car, saying he had some things to take care of yet and that he'd take a one-way flight when he was finished. The other man protested, saying it wasn't fair for the first man to have to spend the extra money; he'd find another way home." He pointed at the picture. "But he insisted, said he'd made the arrangements to meet in Danville then drive back together so it wasn't fair to leave the other man hanging when his plans changed. Then he gave the other man a wad of cash and instructions to just leave the car at his house, and that was that. The Hispanic man shrugged and drove off in the car, and the blond guy walked off with his duffle bag over his shoulder." He gestured to the east, presumably in the direction William had gone.
The kids shared another look, this one of complete surprise. "Have you talked to anyone else about this?" Isabella asked.
"No, I haven't," the man replied. "I spent most of this week caught up in business meetings and business dinners. I'm lucky I had chances to get back here to sleep. Why do you ask?"
"Um, we just heard there might be someone else looking for him, that's all," Isabella said quickly. She and the others smiled a bit nervously.
The man just smiled and shook his head. "Well, I came up to the counter to check out just as you kids were walking away, and the clerk mentioned how sad it was that you'd missed your dad. Since I was coming out here anyway to wait for my cab to the airport, I thought I'd see if I could help you out."
Candace gave the man a much more sincere smile and rose to her feet. "And you've been a huge help, thank you," she said, offering her hand to shake. "My name is Candace Flynn. You'll never know how much you sharing your story means to me."
"Mike Thompson," the man said, taking her up on her offer. "I'm glad I could be of some help." Just then a cab pulled up. "That's for me," Mike said. "Good luck on finding your father."
"Thank you," Candace said in return. "Have a safe trip home." She and the others watched the man get into the taxi and drive off.
"Man, that was some luck, running into that guy like that," Buford commented once the cab was out of sight.
Candace frowned. "Yeah, but how do we use the information?" she asked. "Really all we found out was that the jerk is still here in Danville, and we already figured that much out."
Baljeet raised a hand, index finger extended. "We guessed that William Connors was still in Danville, but we did not know for sure," he refuted. "Now we have evidence. When this is given to the police, they will be better able to focus their efforts on him instead of other, false leads."
Buford looked at his nerd with a skeptical expression. "And just how were you planning on telling the cops? Didn't we already agree that they wouldn't like us sticking our noses in their business?"
"I think we're going to have to deal with it on this one," Candace said reluctantly. "The police really need to know this, and there's no one else that can tell them. And if we just left them an anonymous tip they may not take it as seriously." She sighed. "I wish we'd thought of this before we started."
"It'll be okay, Candace," Isabella assured her, standing up. "The police will be more grateful than anything, and we really didn't do anything wrong. It's not like we'll get in trouble."
"Maybe not, but I know they're going to tell us to back off," Candace said. "Well, let's get this over with." She led the others back to the car she'd borrowed from her parents, claiming she had a few errands she needed to run. If only they knew the real errands she was running…
It turned out they'd all been right about the reaction of the police to their news. Candace had asked to talk to Detective Walters when they'd arrived, and the man had politely listened to their story. He'd been surprised when he realized they had actually brought him something relevant, then took notes and Mike Thompson's name. "But I can't have you running around looking into things like this," he'd said as the kids prepared to leave. "Aside from the fact that this is a police matter, it could be dangerous. I just don't want you to get hurt."
Candace smiled at him. "I understand, Detective. I just couldn't sit around anymore. But we won't get in your way now, I promise."
Detective Walters smiled back. "I can understand how you're feeling. But thank you for your promise. I guarantee we're doing everything we can to get your brothers back as soon as possible."
"I know, and I thank you for that. We'll just get going and leave you to it." Candace shook the man's extended hand then led the others back out to the car.
"I can't believe you told him you're backing down, after everything you said in the backyard," Buford griped from the back seat as Candace left the police station.
"But that's not what I said," Candace retorted, shooting him a smirk in the rearview mirror. "I just told him we wouldn't get in his way."
Isabella giggled in the front passenger seat. "Of course! Don't you get it, Buford? We're going to keep looking. We just won't interfere in the police investigation."
Baljeet's expression became one of comprehension. "I see. And it will be just like we discussed in the backyard."
Buford thought about it. "All right, I can see that," he finally admitted. "So what do we do now?"
"That's a good question," Candace admitted, her excitement over her clever wording fading a bit. "Yeah, we know he's still here, but we don't know where he went."
"Well, let's think about it for a minute," Isabella said after Candace pulled into the Flynn-Fletcher driveway and they all returned to the tree in the backyard. "We know he's still in Danville, but with how much trouble he went through to make sure his car would end up back at his house in Los Angeles it's not likely he'd just go to another hotel."
"Not using his real name at least," Candace added.
The two boys nodded. "And there's no way the guy's dragging Phineas and Ferb into a hotel without getting noticed," Buford said.
Those points being made, the quartet grew quiet for a moment as they shared thoughtful looks.
"Where is he staying?" Isabella finally asked, frowning slightly.
"Well, that's the question here, isn't it?" Candace replied with a touch of irritation.
"Of course," Isabella said calmly. "What we need to do is narrow down the kinds of places he could be staying."
"It must be a place where he would not be noticed bringing in two children either struggling or unconscious," Baljeet said, his eyes widening in realization as he spoke.
The others flinched at the implications. "Um, couldn't he just wait until really late at night to take them inside somewhere there might be people?" Candace asked, a bit subdued.
Isabella's frown returned. "Do you really think Phineas and Ferb could be kept quiet for twelve hours?"
Candace blinked. "No," she said simply.
"Yeah, Ferb's got that whole Vulcan nerve pinch thing going," Buford said, unconsciously rubbing his left shoulder. It had been over a year since the green-haired boy had pulled that maneuver on him, but he remembered it like it was yesterday.
"But what if they were hurt when they were taken?" Baljeet asked. He looked uncomfortable as he brought it up, but he knew it needed to be said. "Or possibly drugged?"
"Oh, I didn't want to hear that," Candace said with a pained expression.
Isabella's matching expression told of her identical thought. "They're valid questions, though," she said quietly.
Candace sighed and nodded. "I know. I just try really hard to keep from thinking about it."
"You know, even waiting until after dark doesn't mean he wouldn't run into somebody," Buford said when it looked like no one else was going to continue the brainstorming session.
"That's true," Isabella agreed, visibly shaking off the gloom as much as she could. "I think it makes the most sense that he'd take them somewhere out of the way, somewhere he wouldn't be checked on by nosy neighbors or landlords."
Baljeet looked at her. "Where would that be? Where could he go that would qualify?"
Candace chewed on her lower lip for a moment. "Well, there are some abandoned buildings in various places all over Danville," she said. "As long as he could get in and out without being noticed, one of them would be perfect."
Baljeet smiled. "That is a good point." His expression faltered. "But which one would he choose?"
"The best kind of place would be one in a neighborhood that doesn't have a lot of people or traffic," Isabella mused.
"There would have to be some traffic, or whatever kind of car he's driving would be as obvious as just walking down the street with two kids under his arms," Buford refuted.
"That is a good point as well," Baljeet said, nodding. He frowned. "I believe we would be better able to narrow down the neighborhood if we knew what his purpose in taking Phineas and Ferb was."
Candace sighed, her gaze dropping. "When he talked to me at the mall he seemed mainly interested in reconnecting with me. He said that daddy was back." She looked back up. "Maybe that's what he wants now."
The others frowned. "But he doesn't have any kind of connection to Ferb; why would he take him?" Isabella asked.
Buford rolled his eyes. "And since when can you find one of them without the other?" he asked snippily.
"Good point," Candace agreed, Isabella fervently nodding as well.
"Perhaps you should go over what the police detective has told you about your biological father," Baljeet suggested. "We may be able to find more clues in the information."
"Well, he got remarried around the same time Mom did," Candace said. "He had two more kids, but his second ex-wife terminated his parental rights a few years after their divorce."
Buford snorted and crossed his arms over his chest. "Too bad your mom didn't do the same thing."
Baljeet gasped, horrified. "Buford!"
"What?" the husky boy replied. "Like you guys weren't thinking the same thing."
"Anyway," Candace interrupted, refusing to go there, "where does that leave us?"
"What if Mister Connors decided to try to come back into your life after his parental rights were terminated?" Isabella offered. "What if that's what inspired him to reconnect, having no more chance to do that with his younger children?"
The other three looked at the black-haired girl, eyes wide. "That… that would make sense," Candace admitted.
Buford blinked, then let his expression turn into a scowl. "That's completely lame," he said darkly. "You can't have your new kids, so you decide the old kids you walked away from are suddenly good enough? What a jerk."
"Yeah, well, there was a reason Mom kicked him out," Candace choked out, suddenly teary-eyed.
"Oh, Candace," Isabella said sympathetically.
"Do you think that would be a good enough reason to take Phineas and Ferb?" Baljeet asked carefully after a moment. "And how would that allow him to reconnect? Most people do not respond positively to being kidnapped."
Candace shrugged as she wiped away the tears that she refused to let fall. "Maybe he's just delusional. I mean, he expected to just walk up to me and be my daddy again just because he was there."
Isabella's eyes widened as an idea occurred to her. "What if that's it?" she said breathlessly. "What if he took Phineas to make him accept him as his daddy?"
The others looked horrified. "But Phineas has only known Lawrence Fletcher as his father, has he not?" Baljeet asked.
"Yeah," Candace whispered. "Mom's first husband left before she even knew she was pregnant with Phineas."
"Phineas wouldn't have any chance of recognizing him, would he?" Isabella asked.
"Why would that matter?" Buford asked. "If the guy wants Phineas to call him 'Daddy' he'd have to introduce himself. The real problem would be that he probably plans on holding onto those two until he's sure his plan's working, and who knows what he's willing to do to make it happen."
Candace started shaking and her eyes watered once again, this time with no resistance to overflowing. Isabella gasped and covered her mouth with her hands, her gaze stricken. Baljeet squirmed uncomfortably, frowning as he wrung his hands. Buford just turned his head away from the others, his fists white-knuckle tight, his jaw clenching and unclenching as the significance of what he'd said sank in.
A long moment later, Isabella slowly lowered her hands to her lap and cleared her throat. "Um, do we know how that motivation would affect what kind of place Mister Connors would choose to hide Phineas and Ferb?" she asked quietly.
Candace hugged herself to try to control her reaction then took a deep breath and wiped her cheeks dry. "I don't know if it makes a difference," she whispered.
"It makes a difference," Isabella gently insisted. "You know it does."
"It cannot be a place with people nearby, yet it cannot be far from places where he can obtain supplies," Baljeet mused.
"What about the car he has to have?" Buford asked. "Unless he's hiding in the neighborhood, there's no way he could have gotten Phineas and Ferb to the hiding spot without one. He could be shacked up in some little hole in the ground a couple miles out of town."
The Indian boy shook his head. "He would have to leave them alone for too long to resupply himself," he refuted. "He would know there is a chance either Phineas or Ferb could escape."
Isabella frowned. "I wonder what he's planning to do with Ferb. He only knows Phineas." She looked at the others. "Do you think he'd use Ferb as a hostage to make Phineas accept him?"
"I don't think he's too happy with having to grab Phineas' stepbrother," Buford said, scowling. "Ferb'll just be a reminder that he's not a part of Phineas' life."
"How would he know Ferb is our stepbrother?" Candace said, her voice stronger. "There's no way he's been camped outside our house twenty-four/seven, or someone would have noticed. With the way the rest of you come over practically every day, he might guess that Ferb's just a close friend, Phineas' best friend."
"The last part is true," Isabella murmured with a small smile.
"I think he'll see Ferb as extra baggage he doesn't need, but unless those two give it away he won't figure out they're family," Candace concluded.
Baljeet's eyebrows rose. "But if he considers Ferb unnecessary, what will he do with him?"
Candace shrugged with a sigh. "I have no idea."
Buford crossed his arms over his chest again. "I bet he ends up a backup plan like Isabella said before. Holds him hostage if Phineas starts to make noises about not buying into the whole "daddy" thing."
"That makes sense," Isabella said. "But where will his hideout be?"
"All right, say we buy this guy hiding out in town instead of the country," Buford began, dropping his arms as he gave Baljeet a brief, narrow glare. "He needs to be close to stores, but he can't be where people walking by can see or hear anything. And it can't be someplace too easy to get out of, or the first time Phineas and Ferb have a few minutes they'll be out of there in no time flat."
"How about some place where not a lot of people walk by at all?" Isabella offered. "Like an old abandoned factory? There are a few different areas around Danville you can find those."
The four of them looked at one another. "That makes a lot of sense," Candace agreed. "But I don't think we can narrow it down any further than that."
Baljeet nodded. "I believe it is time we do more research. We need to discover where appropriate buildings can be found."
"And then we can search them one by one until we find them," Candace concluded, rising to her feet. "Come on. We'll go look it up on the computer." She then led the others into the house to do just that.
* * * * * * * *
Perry the platypus remained behind the large tree in the Flynn-Fletcher backyard until he knew the kids were out of sight, then considered what he had just overheard. While he wasn't happy about the fact that they were searching for William Connors on their own - and putting themselves in some level of danger in the process - he had to admit they had thought things through quite well. Their conclusion about the kind of hideout Connors had to have set up for himself made a lot of sense; he'd pass along the information at his earliest opportunity. In the meantime, he'd do his own research in his lair, and if he found anything particularly promising he'd check it out. He just had to be sure to be back within a decent timeframe. The last thing he wanted to do was make the family worry about him on top of everything else.
* * * * * * * *
The next day, at a little yellow house a ways down the street from the Flynn-Fletcher household, Mrs. Rachel McNamara puttered around her front porch, sweeping the floor, wiping down the furniture, and watering the potted plants hanging from the rafters. She hummed a bright happy tune as she worked, a catchy little ditty that was one of her favorites. She was obviously enjoying herself, taking care of a few chores before allowing herself to sit and read that day's newspaper that was currently lying on the glass-topped table in the center of the porch.
Simon the squirrel sat on one of the branches of the large oak tree in Rachel's front yard watching the older woman and wondered when she would finally get to reading the newspaper. He knew she hadn't even glanced at the front page before putting it aside to enjoy later, and it was vitally important that she see that headline. Part of his O.W.C.A. assignment, since Agent S's (he hated that there were multiple agents with that letter; it got confusing from time to time) nemesis was still recovering from his last foiled plot, was to keep an eye out for any pertinent information about the disappearance of Agent P's owners. And Rachel had some.
Once Simon had been shown pictures of the boys and the man who was suspected of taking them, he knew he'd seen the man before. The day the boys had gone missing, Simon had gotten back from dealing with his nemesis just as the man from the picture circled around a car across the street and got into the driver's seat. And as he'd driven away he heard Rachel mutter something about hoping he'd been careful with those boys he'd been roughhousing with. It had meant nothing at the time, but now that this kidnapping had come to light…
Rachel had seen the man with the boys. Simon knew it. The house was about halfway between Agent P's house and the public pool where the boys had been heading that day. The time was right. It all added up. Now the squirrel just had to get Rachel to realize she had important information and give it to the police. They had to know about the car the man had used. The only question was how to do it.
As the squirrel was pondering a plan of action, a squad car rolled to a halt in front of the house. This wasn't very out of the ordinary; every now and again the police liked to monitor the suburban traffic and other activities. It kept the local neighborhoods relatively crime-free. Simon couldn't help but wish they'd done it three days earlier.
That was it. Simon just had to make Rachel look at the paper and notice the squad car, and the lady's ethics would most likely take it from there. She was a good woman; it was the reason he enjoyed staying in her oak tree and keeping her company while she watched the world go by from her porch. Well, that and she fed him the best nuts, seeds, and popcorn.
His mind made up, the little animal scurried up the porch stairs and onto the table that held his prize. He let his eyes get innocently wide then chattered, the way he always did when begging for a treat. Since she was just finishing up with the last of her chores, he didn't even have to feel guilty about interrupting her.
"Oh, Simon, you little imp," Rachel said, turning around and putting her watering can down. She smiled. "You must be pretty hungry if you're already on the porch. And you're in luck." She sat down on her glider and reached into the large bag sitting on the floor next to it. The sound of plastic crinkling preceded the emergence of an unopened bag of sunflower seeds.
Simon had to stop himself from giving in to his primal instincts and jumping at the bag as she opened it. Those were his favorites, and she knew it. He did move to the edge of the table, however, sitting just above the big bold letters of the Daily Danville.
With a laugh, Rachel reached out with a handful of seeds, but before she could spread them out in front of her little friend she caught sight of the paper. She gasped as the meaning of the headline hit home, then snatched at the Daily Danville with one hand while carelessly tossing the seeds on the table with the other. Simon eagerly dug into his treat, keeping a close eye on the woman as he did.
"Oh, those poor boys," Rachel murmured upon reading the article about Phineas Flynn and Ferb Fletcher disappearing three days previous. The paper lowered into her lap and she glanced at the munching squirrel. "It's such a terrible thing when little boys go missing not far from their home. I've seen them go by on their bikes and scooters so many times, and they always smile and wave at me. Such good boys." She shook her head.
Simon slowed his eating down, inwardly frowning. Rachel hadn't made the connection between the kidnapping and what she'd seen yet, and he wasn't sure how to steer her thoughts in the right direction. He racked his brain trying to come up with another idea.
"You know, they were heading for the pool just down the street when they disappeared," Rachel continued thoughtfully, her gaze drifting up to the ceiling. Her brows furrowed. "Hold on a second." She brought up the newspaper and looked over the article again. "That was three days ago, when I was weeding and watering the back garden. Wasn't that beat-up old boat of a car parked across the street that day?" She considered it some more. "It was," she decided. "And that man with the long blond hair who was rough-housing with those boys…"
Rachel's words trailed off as horrified realization dawned on her. "He took them," she whispered. "I saw him doing something to them before he took them." Tears filled her pale green eyes. "I didn't know, Simon. I never saw the boys, just part of the man's back and two smaller bodies under his arms. I didn't see their hair or much of their outfits. And the way he was laughing made me think they were all just fooling around." She sniffed and rubbed at her nose. "I never would have gone back to my gardening if I'd thought it were anything else! And by the time I came out to put the hose back in the garage he was getting into the car to drive away…"
Simon hadn't been sure how much Rachel had seen of the man; he'd thought she'd see the picture of the main suspect in the paper and remember him with his car. Now he knew she'd been witness to the act itself… She wouldn't have let it happen if she'd realized what was going on. She wasn't that type of person. And it broke his heart to see her currently beating herself up over something she couldn't have helped misinterpreting.
But there was still one more thing Rachel needed to do. Hopefully it would help her feel a little bit better about herself.
Simon chattered at the teary-eyed woman and jumped over to the porch rail. Rachel's gaze followed the movement halfheartedly, still trying to be polite to her little friend by paying attention to his playful antics like she always did. The squirrel had been counting on that even as it warmed him inside that she thought so much of him. He positioned himself just right so that the parked police car would be his backdrop, then did a little circle and spin.
Rachel couldn't help but smile at the silly maneuver, then stilled as she realized what she could see beyond the animal. She quickly grabbed another handful of sunflower seeds and tossed them on the table, then rose to her feet and headed for the stairs. "I've got to go make this right, Simon. Those little boys need me to make this right." She hurried across her front lawn and over to the squad car.
Simon jumped back over to the table and began crunching away at his treat. As Rachel talked with the startled officers, a sense of satisfaction filled him. He'd done his part to help Agent P's owners get back home, and his friend make amends. It was a job well done.
* * * * * * * *
Reginald Fletcher and his wife Winifred normally enjoyed visiting their older son and his family in Danville. It had been a joy to include the sweet and quirky Linda and her children in their lives, especially since Phineas and Ferb had become so close so quickly and Candace had seemed so lonely. All three kids were full of love and life; they were adored as though they were all connected by blood.
When Lawrence had called to tell them about Phineas and Ferb being missing, they'd been stunned. Who would do such a thing? Better yet, why? There was no consideration needed before offering to take the next flight over; they would be there for their family. And most of all they wanted to be there when the boys were returned home safe and sound.
Adrian and Lucy had been dismayed at the news as well, but had been unable to leave home on such short notice. They demanded to be kept in the loop, however. Their boys made sure to send along their well wishes, and Eliza promised to get a hold of Candace as soon as she was able. Reg was happy to see the whole family pulling together at this trying time.
The old Englishman sighed as he made his way downstairs from the guest room in the attic where he and Winnie had been put up for their stay. He'd wanted to show off one of his photo albums to Linda's parents and had forgotten it earlier that morning. Voices from Candace's room made him pause as he passed, though, stirring his curiosity about what she and that group of the boys' friends were doing that they needed to keep such a secret.
"I'm not sure that one fits our criteria," Isabella's voice said from behind the closed door.
"Why not?" Candace asked.
"That block is full of apartment buildings, most of them full. There'd be too many potential witnesses."
Reg blinked at that. Just what were those youngsters up to that they'd be worried about witnesses?
"What about the next one?" Buford asked.
"I've seen that one," Candace answered. "It's not just abandoned, it's about to fall down. If it hasn't been condemned, it should be."
They were talking about buildings then, and empty or abandoned ones by the sound of it. What were they up to?
"That one looks promising," Baljeet offered. "It is not too far from downtown in the old industrial district, so it is not heavily traveled. I do not believe there are many residences there, if any."
"He's right," Buford agreed. "There's a bunch of abandoned buildings around there, an empty self-storage building and an old vacuum cleaner factory for starters. I say add it to the list."
"Wasn't there something in the paper about that area being part of a reclamation project?" Isabella asked. "I thought they were going to turn a bunch of those old factories into apartment complexes and office buildings."
"I read those articles as well," Baljeet said. "I believe the city council has tabled the motion in favor of focusing on the new industrial park to the north of downtown."
"That's too bad," Buford commented. "I bet those buildings would make for some really cool apartments."
"Wait a minute," Candace said in a tone of sudden remembrance. "Weren't there a few buildings in that new industrial park that have been held up? I'm pretty sure I heard something about a dispute between the builders and the company that owns the factories."
There was a moment of silence. Reg didn't move, even more curious about where they were going with this.
"That could be just as good as the last one," Buford finally said. "Out of the way, but still close enough to get supplies without taking too long."
"And people would be hesitant to travel through there with the construction that is taking place," Baljeet added. "Not to mention the high level of noise during the day that could mask any sounds or calls for help they might make."
"Could we not talk so much about that?" Candace snapped, hurt in her tone. "It's one of our criteria, but you don't have to be so blunt about it. I really don't want to think about Phineas and Ferb yelling for help and nobody hearing them."
"Sorry, Candace," Baljeet said contritely.
Reg blinked in surprise. The kiddies were actively looking for Phineas and Ferb. They'd narrowed down their parameters and were working out where the boys were most likely being kept. Which probably meant they were planning on searching those places when they had their list finalized.
That could be a problem.
Aside from stepping on the toes of the police investigation, there was a level of danger they would be putting themselves in if they actually found the culprit. Even if it were Linda's first husband, it couldn't automatically be assumed he was working alone. Lawrence had mentioned that they'd been told the police were checking out all the leads and tips being called in to the station, some which suggested groups with less than savory reputations.
Reg wished he were twenty years younger. He'd walk right into that room and offer his assistance.
He sighed. For now, the kiddies weren't actually doing anything more than making a list. He knew the frustration and impatience they had to be feeling; he felt exactly the same way. And he also knew that they were all used to the grand plans and schemes the boys put together on a regular basis. Of course they would be proactive and jump in where others would hesitate and step aside.
After another moment of consideration, Reg continued on his way downstairs, determined to talk things over with the rest of the grandparents. They could work out what to do together.
"Where are Lawrence and Linda?" Reg asked once he'd rejoined his wife and the Flynns.
"They decided to go down to the antique shop while you were upstairs," Betty Jo explained. "They were having a hard time just sitting around here waiting for word, so we offered to keep an eye on Candace and the other kids while the two of them puttered around."
Clyde chuckled. "Not that that'll be difficult, what with all of them holed away in Candace's room doing who knows what."
Reg couldn't help but smile. "Actually, I have an answer for that question," he said, placing his photo album down on the coffee table.
Before any of the others could ask what he meant by that, the doorbell rang, and Winnie got up to answer it. "Why, hello there, dear," she said to the blond teenage boy standing there. "Jeremy, right? Candace's young man?"
Jeremy smiled and nodded. "That's right, Mrs. Fletcher. Jeremy Johnson. Is Candace here?"
"She's up in her bedroom with some of Phineas and Ferb's friends," Reg said. "Why don't you go on up and join them?"
"Thanks, Mister Fletcher," Jeremy replied as he stepped inside and Winnie closed the door behind him. He nodded to Linda's parents. "Hi, Mister and Mrs. Flynn," he greeted them from the foot of the stairs.
"Good to see you, Jeremy," Clyde said expansively.
Betty Jo gave him a grin and a wink. "You take good care of our girl now," she said a bit suggestively, then laughed when the boy blushed slightly. "I'm done now. You can go up."
Jeremy smiled back and shook his head. "You're something else, Mrs. Flynn. I'll see everyone later."
The older couples laughed once they heard the upstairs door open and close, then broke off when a brief knock preceded the front door opening once again, Stacy stepping inside. "Oh, hi!" the girl said, a bit surprised. "I just got off the phone with Candace and she told me to come on up to her room. That's okay, isn't it?"
"Of course, dear," Winnie answered. "We'll just be down here chatting."
"And I'll see about making some lunch for everyone in a little while," Betty Jo offered. "You can tell everyone that."
Stacy smiled. "You bet, Mrs. Flynn." She waved and headed up the stairs, the bedroom door again opening and closing, this time with more of a bang.
The echoes hadn't even faded before Reg's wife and the other couple had returned their full attention on him. "All right, you," Winnie began, her eyes narrowing behind her glasses. "What did you manage to overhear up there?"
Reg smiled. She knew him far too well. "I wasn't intending to do any eavesdropping today, I swear. But since I've managed not to lose too much of my hearing over the years, I got a earful of plotting by the kiddies. They're trying to track down Phineas and Ferb."
"How?" Betty Jo asked.
"They made themselves a list of must-haves for the kind of building the boys are likely to be held in and are going through a number of abandoned buildings in Danville to see how many match up. I'm guessing once they finish they'll be going out there to do a bit of searching." Reg watched the others for their reactions.
"That could be dangerous," Clyde said a bit slowly as he considered it. "We don't know for sure who has them."
Betty Jo scoffed. "Oh, please. I'd bet my favorite pair of roller skates that idiot Bill is behind all this. And if I'm thinking that way, you know those kids are, too. Especially Candace considering her run-in with him the week before."
Clyde looked at his wife with a raised eyebrow. "That's just a feeling, Betty Jo. We don't know anything for certain." Betty Jo shot a glare back at him.
"It does make the most sense," Reg commented.
"I suppose you're right," Clyde conceded with a sigh, his eyes dropping to his lap.
"What was Bill like?" Winnie asked curiously as she sat back down on the sofa.
Betty Jo sighed as she shared a look with Clyde. "The first time we met him it looked like he worshipped the ground Linda walked on," she said in a tired tone. "It was a couple months after they'd gotten married in a spur-of-the-moment ceremony in Las Vegas, and only a month or so before Linda found out she was pregnant with Candace. He was polite enough, I suppose, but really only barely paid us any attention."
Clyde shook his head. "He didn't let Linda get more than a few feet away from him for their entire visit. Of course, other then calls of nature, Linda wasn't inclined to separate herself from him anyway."
"He went out on one tour during the pregnancy," Betty Jo continued. "He was a roadie, which is how Linda met him in the first place. Then he promised he'd give up the road and settle down with the new family, find a job in Danville to support them."
"Didn't Linda have enough money from her music career to do that on her own?" Winnie asked.
Linda's parents nodded. "She most certainly did," Betty Jo replied emphatically. "As much as she got herself caught up in the bright lights and attention, she at least listened to me about investing a decent amount of her earnings. I told her she could splurge with the money from her second album."
Clyde shrugged. "Which didn't happen."
Reg gave them a shrewd look. "I take it that promise of his didn't last too long after Candace came around," he guessed.
"Not long at all," Clyde said a bit darkly. "In fact, he missed Candace's first birthday because he was out on tour. A couple of weeks later he got back, an armload of presents for his girls as he called them, not understanding in the slightest why Linda was upset."
"Linda kept making the same demand: give up being a roadie and work on the family. And after every tour he would do it for three, four months. He'd pick up a temporary job at a factory in the area and play at being a husband and a father." Betty Jo sighed. "And you wouldn't believe how possessive he was. The calls I'd get from Linda, crying because he'd accused her of being interested in finding another man when she'd taken a little longer at the store than she'd expected. Or because he'd gotten into a fight with another man for letting his gaze linger too long when they'd gone out for the evening." She shook her head. "It was all or nothing for him."
"He called her at all hours of the day and night when she'd bring Candace over to visit with us, checking up on her to make sure she was where she'd said she'd be," Clyde added. "And when she'd give him an earful for waking everybody up in the middle of the night, we could hear him yelling back through the earpiece that he had every right to know where his wife was whenever he wanted."
Betty Jo smirked briefly. "That was usually when she hung up on him and pulled the phone cord out of the wall."
Clyde nodded. "Fortunately he knew better than to show up at our door to try to keep it going in person."
"He always apologized, though, and she always tried to forgive him," Betty Jo said sadly, shaking her head. "She wasn't ready to let his words wreck her marriage. She took her wedding vows seriously."
"So what finally did it for her?" Reg asked. "Why did she finally end things with him?"
A spark of righteous anger flared up in Betty Jo's eyes. "He was unfaithful," she practically growled. "Linda started hearing things from friends that were still on the road, stories about the women he was seen with and how much time they were spending together. Bill always denied it when she confronted him, but the last time, well…" The redhead took a deep breath and released it slowly to keep herself under control. "He denied it like always, and they… made up, intimately. If you know what I mean." She nodded and continued when the other couple gestured that they did indeed understand what she was saying. "Not to be too indelicate, but he called out the wrong name. From what Linda told me afterward, she barely took the time to throw on a robe before taking his unpacked bags as well as another bag filled with what few things he kept at the house while he was gone and tossed them out the front door. Then she told him he should just follow them right on out, and to do it immediately. He could just tuck himself away in his Lincoln and scuttle off to be with his precious Elaine."
Betty Jo clenched her jaw for a moment then blew out another calming breath. "He stood there at the front door flabbergasted while Linda stormed back into her bedroom," she continued. "And apparently Candace had woken up at the sound of the front door slamming and came downstairs to find her father - who she'd happily greeted just hours before - putting on his jacket and getting ready to leave. When she asked him where he was going and why, he barely even looked at her. He just zipped up the coat and walked out. He walked out on his four-year-old daughter without saying a word! I still don't understand how he could do that!"
Clyde immediately wrapped an arm around his wife's shoulders. "It took Linda a long time to convince Candace that she hadn't done anything to make her daddy leave," he concluded. "Not long after she did, she met Lawrence, and the rest is history."
"Wait, wait," Reg said, raising a hand with an extended index finger. "You never said anything about Phineas."
"Linda has always said Phineas is the last good thing Bill ever gave her," Betty Jo said softly. "He was born after the divorce was final."
Reg and Winnie's eyes widened as matching expressions of realization dawned upon their features.
Clyde cleared his throat and spoke before any more questions could be asked. "So what are we going to do about this thing those kids are planning?"
"I'm not sure we should let them go through with this," Winnie said with a sigh. "As wonderful and resourceful as they are, they're still children going after a man who has no qualms about kidnapping. What if he were to get violent with them?"
"Oh, I don't think they're planning on actually confronting him," Betty Jo refuted, shaking her head. She smiled at the confused looks she received. "Reg here isn't the only one who's been eavesdropping."
"And just when were you doing your bit of spying?" her husband asked.
"It was yesterday after Candace and Isabella went outside to let us talk," Betty Jo said calmly. "You know how I went into the kitchen to put together some drinks and snacks? Well, I heard Candace from outside say that she didn't want to just sit around doing nothing any more, and Isabella agreed. That's when I perked up my ears; Candace is just as capable of coming up with big, impulsive ideas as the boys are. But they just decided to ask a few questions and gather information. They even directly said that they'd tell the police anything they found out, and would back off if anything looked like it was getting dangerous. I'm not sure how much trouble they can get into that way."
Winnie considered it. "And I'm not sure they'll be able to get much information without access to the files the police are putting together," she conceded.
Reg looked at the ladies with raised eyebrows. "Considering the plotting going on upstairs, I'd say they've put more than a few things together."
"But that has more to do with who they suspect, not anything they found out," Betty Jo said. "I wouldn't be surprised if they spend most of their time just looking around a bunch of abandoned buildings. What's the likelihood of them actually finding Bill and the boys?"
"It depends on how much they actually put together," Clyde said. "But I think you're right. They don't have all the information the police have, and they're only looking around and asking a few questions here and there. If we keep our eyes peeled and our ears open, I think we'll be able to head anything off before it goes too far."
The other three nodded. "That sounds like a crackin' plan," Reg said with a smile. "We'll definitely keep tabs on the kiddies. That should be more than enough." He picked up his photo album. "Now, I believe I said something about Lawrence, Adrian, and mud pies…"