Chapter 34 -- Shopping Trip
Marvin steered the dinghy, running the electric motor in the morning fog, just south of Sleeping Bear Dunes. Tommy kept his hands on the motorcycle to keep it stable as it lay flat in the bottom.
They had sailed twenty-fours hours straight, taking advantage of the favorable winds, and they’d made great progress, getting all the way up to the little beachside community of Empire.
There was no harbor here for anything larger than the little flat bottomed dinghy. Just a sandy beach and a few streets, a place to serve the tourists that came to see the dunes.
Of course, Empire wasn’t his shopping destination. Twenty-some miles due east overland was Traverse City, a port with two large bays, marinas, shipyards, docks, and everything a sailboat would need.
It had also grown well beyond being a simple harbor town, and Tommy had no intention of getting close to the port facilities.
He wanted the shopping malls inland to the south.
Tommy looked back at the Marissa. Reprisal! I’ve got to start saying that name even in my head. The ship was barely visible through the fog.
As they got close to shore, he tried memorize landmarks.
“Give me an hour to get there, a couple of hours to make my purchases, and another hour to get back.”
Marvin nodded, his face solemn. “And then?”
Tommy sighed. “What we said. I can’t ask you to risk your family if I get caught. Take the Reprisal somewhere safe, and don’t look back.
“After four hours, look for me on shore. Don’t bring the dinghy back unless you see me, or if there’s fog.”
It sounded brave to say it, but he really had no fears of being delayed. Zip in, buy anonymously, and leave. Marvin was more frightened by it all than he was.
They had worked out a way to keep it safe for the Valentes. They’d marked the beach on the GPS. While he was gone, Marvin would sail out of sight of land, and then return when he was due.
Tommy was looking forward to a little time alone.
Nothing to say against his passengers, but cooped up with strangers day and night was not his thing. He was an only child, after all. And after Mom died, he was practically an orphan. The house was his to run, most of the time.
He liked Marilu’s cooking, but mealtimes on a schedule was a bit odd.
It was probably why he lived topside. The cabin below was their territory.
And he was excited to test out how his newly modified motorcycle performed.
With a shush of fiberglass on sand, they landed. He hopped out and tugged the dinghy farther up.
“Help me.” They lifted the motorcycle out and he wheeled it a few feet up onto the beach.
Marvin nodded, and without another word, Tommy turned his back to the water and wheeled it the hundred and fifty feet to a parking lot for beach goers.
Only when he was on asphalt did he look back. Marvin was already making a wake, heading back to the ship.
Okay, I’m on my own now.
He checked the motorcycle, making sure that nothing had worked loose on the trip. If he needed help, then now was the time, when Marvin was close enough to turn around and come back.
And he would come back if needed, he was sure. Marvin seemed honest.
Like I’m any judge of character. He hadn’t foreseen Nick’s conspiracy, nor Dek’s betrayal. And selfishly, he’d hoped for more willingness from Kati, even if, ultimately, he knew she wouldn’t come.
But everything seemed okay. He straddled the bike and flipped on the switch. The battery gauge read wrong, but with different voltage batteries, that was to be expected. It pulled away from the beach easily and silently.
And a little music. Set to low volume, he added a little Harley rumble for color.
It was only about three blocks to the highway. He paused at the intersection and consulted the hand-drawn map. It was just a few lines copied out of the chart book. If I ever get out of this mess, I’m getting a handlebar mounted GPS for this thing.
Hesitantly he drove north, and found the Highway 22 turnoff. Nope. He reversed and found the 72, the direct route to Traverse City.
It was nice to be out on a country road. On a two-lane blacktop, with comfortable shoulders and little traffic, he wound through farmland and orchards. Often, he was the only vehicle in sight.
It was flat land, and the road hardly ever had to curve for hills.
Could I find a place like this to settle, if I have to stay off the grid forever? Surely there would be places like this where he could live.
But if he had a choice, fishing off the stern of the...Reprisal beat shoveling out a barn.
“Whoops.” He slowed. The highway took a right hand turn at a T-junction. A mile later, it turned back eastward.
“Calling it a highway doesn’t mean four-lane divided with entrance ramps.” He sped up again, careful to limit his throttle.
Marvin had made the suggestion to modify the motorcycle. His little black super batteries were much smaller than the nickel metal-hydrides, and would give a much greater range, with no worries about having to find an outlet for recharging to get back. They put two in place of the original battery pack. The cell voltage was different, so the gauge read funny, and the throttle responded more aggressively.
Probably he could get a higher top speed, but Marvin had warned him not to try.
“Your batteries are more powerful, but that motor is still standard. Juice it too much and it’ll overheat. You don’t want to be stranded somewhere with burned out windings.”
So he drove cautiously, comfortable with the low-end acceleration, but always sniffing the air for any signs of burned insulation.
The woods thickened, in between cleared farmlands. But these weren’t orchards. The road began curving, navigating around noticeable hills.
With the change in terrain and the increased traffic, he wasn’t too surprised when he reached an intersection and saw the water, and boats in a marina off a half-mile to the left.
This is not where I want to be.
He ducked his head, ignored the boats, and slipped into the city traffic. He took a right on Division Street, heading south away from the water, just as fast as the cars allowed.
Finding a cell phone was easy, one with a data plan and the ability to tether a laptop. As he fumbled around, trying to explain what he wanted, without talking about why he wanted it, he discovered that he wasn’t the only one. Burner phones were popular for many reasons, not just as a method of staying anonymous.
The cell phone store had just the package he wanted -- prepaid minutes, a phone that claimed ‘broadband speeds’ as long as you didn’t try to define broadband too closely, and the ability to pay with cash. Unfortunately, it took most of the bills he had left in his wallet.
I need an ATM machine.
But that had to wait until after he bought the laptop. Hit the financial system quickly, and then get out. That was the plan. ‘Tom Johnson’ would get cash immediately after the purchase, and then he’d skip town.
The mall had a choice of consumer electronic stores. He wandered the aisles, looking for a good buy.
I don’t have all day. The cell phone purchase had taken longer than he’d planned, but travel time was shorter, so he was still in good shape.
He ached to replace his long gone 17-inch laptop, but that wasn’t wise, or practical. It had to ride in the saddlebag they’d rigged for the motorcycle, and he wanted nothing to connect him to ‘Tommy Dorie’.
So forget Linux and buy a generic Windows laptop -- something lightweight, but with decent power. He’d download all the patches and extras he’d need later, when he had the time.
Looking around, he noticed that some of the display models appeared to be actually on the Internet.
He hesitated and then typed in the web address Ruth had handed him.
A generic blog screen popped up, with just one message.
Just those three characters gave him an immense sense of relief. They’d made it to the hospital, and the most important thing on Nick’s mind was staying on the mission.
Should I reply?
No, he decided. Later, when he had more time.
By the time he’d made his choice and added an extra battery, time was getting shorter. He began to hurry towards the checkout counter.
But he stalled out on another aisle.
There were a variety of radios, everything from FRS handsets, the ‘family walkie talkies’, to police scanners.
On impulse, he picked up one of the scanners. He had no idea what their range was, but the whole idea of this expedition was to gain information, wasn’t it?
The next aisle over had several cheap GPS units, for hikers and road navigation.
Don’t get silly. Now’s not the time to blow your inheritance.
No telling just how many years he’d need to stretch those few thousand dollars.
So he limited himself and checked out. Debit, he pressed the button when prompted, and entered the PIN.
Feeling guilty, and excited, he hauled his booty out to the motorcycle rack.
There wasn’t room for all the packing materials, so he drove around to the dumpsters next to the loading dock and unwrapped his laptop. Cardboard and Styrofoam went into the trash. Carefully, he packed the goodies into the saddlebag. It was actually Bree’s backpack, folded and re-sewn so as to hang safely over the cycle’s rear fender. Her pink flowers made an interesting contrast with the orange gang sign he hadn’t had time to remove from the side.
He had to struggle with the plastic wrap over the police scanner, but soon, he had the AA-batteries inserted and flipped it on. The store included a sheet listing the local law-enforcement frequencies, fire department, etc.
It was fun to watch, as the numbers flashed on the display too fast to follow. Periodically, there was a burst of static, and out would come some dry police jargon, complete with some 10-this and 10-that. That was one set of codes he’d never learned.
Hisss. “George, Possible 207 at Circuit Town. Code 2.”
Circuit Town! That’s where he was. Hurriedly, he tossed the rest of the trash, stuffed the scanner in his pocket, and motored silently along the alleyway behind the stores.
I’ve got to get out of here.
But surely, they aren’t talking about me, are they?
He desperately wished for a headphone, so he could listen to the radio as he drove, but it was too late now.
At the edge of the shopping center, he paused, waiting.
It took less than two minutes. A police car drove up at high speed, no lights or sirens, but it drove straight for the front entrance and parked in the street.
Tommy turned the other way, heading out towards the highway. Fear ate away all doubt.
It was the card. The company knows my card! His inheritance money was poisoned.
And if I don’t get out of town instantly, they’ll have me.