Carl Morris watched the boy absorb the news that they were leaving town. He’d told the motel kid that he wouldn’t be hurt, but he didn’t expect to be believed. It would have been a whole lot easier if the State Police had believed their badges and papers. He could have parked the boy with them and let them deal with keeping him incommunicado.
Joe Ferris knew too much right now. He was very close to the secret that the Trust was dedicated to keeping. He had all the pieces—he just hadn’t managed to put them together yet.
If they could have found him earlier, then it wouldn’t have been an issue. There were very few ways of insuring that the secret would remain that way, and since he’d taken over the directorship, they’d successfully managed to avoid the most unpleasant ones. The Trust was a very different organization from the way it had been in the beginning.
Unfortunately, the last call had forced him to face unpleasant facts. He had traitors. Unknown persons inside the Trust were actively working to subvert the organization. This was much more than a simple case of employee theft, as serious as that would have been on its own.
Not for the first time, he regretted how entrenched the protocols had become. His father, Luke Morris, had established the Trust and perfected its routines over the first couple of decades. As Carl grew up, and as he rose in the ranks of the organization, he’d believed in the protocols.
It took a careful balance of rigid rules and charismatic leadership to bind people into a special family like this. The Trust had a duty, one that every person had to share, for the sake of the whole human race.
The leadership had been embodied in his father, Luke Morris. He’d begun with nothing, just a single Presidential order, and formed the structure that ruled them all, for decades.
But Carl was aware that the protocols, a working policy guideline, had gradually transformed into near religious dogma. He was in charge now, and every improvement he considered faced resistance like walking through deep mud. There was a great fear of change. The protocols worked. Any change might open flaws in the system. His father could have made the improvements, and people would have followed. He didn’t yet have that credibility. His hands were tied.
If he were the autocrat most of the Trust thought him to be, then he’d have upgraded the command and control system to modern standards and forced the organizations to deal with the ramifications. With proper controls, it would take more than a single courier’s defection to lead to a break like this.
Perhaps it was already too late. He could feel control slipping away. A man he would have entrusted with his life had stolen a talkie—a talkie!—and vanished off the face of the earth.
What would his father say if he knew? Carl knew he’d never bring it up with the man. The elder Morris was in too poor health to be bothered with operations. He spent his days in a private hospital in Roswell, hooked to heartbeat monitors and rarely conscious.
When this mess was cleaned up, he’d go by again and try to have another father-son chat. If he could just make his father understand that important changes had to be made, perhaps he could get the kind of support he needed. Even from his bed, the word of Luke Morris was law.
Carl noticed the boy glance his way. Joe had been watching the changing terrain outside, but now it appeared the man holding him was more interesting than the landscape.
Not good. As unsettled as the news had made him, he’d be leaking all over the place with the talkie turned on. He needed to get the boy thinking about something else.
“Blake. Pull over. We need Joe here to help us find the girl.”
So, I get a road trip after all. Joe sat in the front seat. Blake drove, and Joe could feel him looking his way every few seconds. Morris was behind him, doing the same thing.
“You know where she went, Joe. We’re counting on you to show us the way.” And with the talkie in his hand, Morris would likely be able to know just what he was thinking.
The problem was that he couldn’t stop thinking about her. The interstate highway mile marker whipped past, and Joe recalled what she’d said. John Smith had left at just before five A.M. and called Judith barely two hours later.
How fast had he been going?
A cluster of brown shapes moved on the horizon. Antelope. That was the fifth group of them he’d seen since they left town. What did they think of this endless stream of cars and trucks moving through their prairie? Did they feel threatened? Or was it as normal as the sunrise?
Joe certainly felt threatened. Blake’s gun was close enough to see the shape of it disturbing the drape of his coat. Morris seemed intent on repeating that he was in no danger, but whatever the man’s intentions were, this was a kidnapping. They had the opportunity to drop him off in town, and they deliberately chose to keep him.
They weren’t after money, not that the Ferris family had any. It was plain enough—they thought he knew too much. He knew about the talkie, and somehow it was too late to fix that.
In the movies, the mob would take someone like him and make him disappear, permanently. Blake had thought of that, and probably Morris had too. The talkie brought too much unconscious body language into focus. When Blake had realized he’d known about the talkie for days, he’d shifted his belt and moved his coat back free of the gun. It was a little thing, but it said volumes about what he’d been thinking.
Morris was too deep for him to read that well, but the man had been disturbed when he realized he’d have to take a captive along on the road.
An hour north of Las Vegas, Joe sat up straighter in the seat as they approached a New Mexico State Police cruiser parked beside the road.
Thirty feet. That was the range of the talkie.
But as they zipped past, there hadn’t been more than a fraction of a second for him to try to contact the officer. As he relaxed back into the seat, he saw Blake looking his way, amused.
So, I know too much. What is it that I know?
There’s a thing called a talkie.
Joe sighed. There had to be more to it than that, but what had he said that had changed their intent to drop him off at the motel?
There was a road sign up ahead:
STATE HIGHWAY 58
STATE HIGHWAY 58
Joe glanced at his watch. That was a thought. John Smith could have turned that way. Dad had taken brother Ben and him fishing at Eagle Nest Lake a couple of years back, right before Ben moved off to New York. It had been one of their rare vacations that had lasted more than just a few hours. That road, Highway 58, went through the Cimarron canyon. Judith had said that she couldn’t contact her father immediately after he made his call. Maybe it was because he’d gone into the canyon, out of cell phone range.
From the back seat, Morris said, “Blake, make the next exit. Follow that road sign.”
Blake nodded and began slowing down.
Joe closed his eyes. If they ever met again, Judith would hate him for betraying her. It was just too hard to stop thinking.
From the back seat, a hand patted his shoulder.
“I wouldn’t worry about it, Joe. I had a man watching Raton Pass, and he hadn’t seen Winston’s car. I was suspecting an alternate route anyway.”
Blake looked his way with suspicion.
Morris chuckled. “I think Mystery Girl made an impression on our friend here. Joe’s afraid of disappointing her.”
Blake shook his head. “Kid, be careful who you make friends with. Isn’t this the girl who drove you out into the mountains and dumped you?”
Yeah, like you guys are to be trusted! But his face was burning from having them laugh at him.
He was really having a day of it. Judith betrayed him, he hiked miles and miles, and now his kidnappers were laughing at him.
Does Dad know I’m missing yet? How long will it take for him to realize it? Anna’s sure to mess up the story.
They turned off and headed for Eagle Nest. The road was narrower and bumpier. Blake muttered. “Fasten your seat belt, Kid.”
Joe reluctantly complied. He’d unfastened the clip thirty minutes back, hoping for an opportunity to make a break for it. The opportunity would never happen as long as they kept moving. He wasn’t stupid enough to jump from a moving car.
The mountains were ahead of them now, much closer. Somewhere, off to the left, was the Philmont Boy Scout Ranch. He had friends at school in the Boy Scouts. Philmont was famous. Scoring a trip to Philmont was supposedly a pretty big deal.
Other than visiting a few meetings with the local troop, Joe had never participated in scouting. Dad hadn’t been too supportive of the idea. Regular weekend campouts meant that he wouldn’t be around to help with the chores. Joe just chalked scouting up as one of those things that normal kids did. Kids without endless jobs to do.
As they approached the line of trees, Joe put his hand on the window.
“Slow down Blake,” Morris ordered.
It was plain there’d been an accident. The swath of reeds that were bent over attested to the fact that an accident had occurred. A car had gone off the road, but it was gone now.
Joe took in a breath. There was a motorcycle parked in the reeds.
“Pull off here!” Morris pulled out his cell phone.
They had to drive a hundred yards to find a place with a wide enough shoulder to avoid any oncoming traffic. Blake and Morris kept Joe between them as they walked back.
The scene spoke for itself. This hadn’t been a tow-truck rescue. The vehicle must have been stuck in the mud or high-centered. A car jack lay in the mud next to a pile of rocks.
Had Judith done this?
Someone had jacked up the car, piled rocks under both rear wheels, and managed to back it to firmer ground. Once there, the rescuer had placed two old boards next to the concrete low-water bridge so that it could get back up on the road.
She must have been in a hurry. She’d left the jack, and her motorcycle.
Morris pointed to the road, “Blake, nail down which direction they went.” He dialed his phone.
“Samuelson! We’ve found a car crash site. Probably Winston. Is BellBoy ready?”
Neither of the men were paying him any attention. Joe kept his mind clear and calm.
The motorcycle is blue. Not the same shade as her eyes, but close.
Morris was still deep in his call. “It’s the first hard evidence since this mess started.”
Judith was exciting. He looked at the motorcycle. Key. Ever since she lost the room key. Room key. She’s been on my mind. I wish she lived in Las Vegas. We could go to the same school. Same classes.
He put his hand on the seat. She sat here.
Not daring to look back at Morris. He slid onto the seat. His hand touched the ignition key.
He focused on her face. The key turned and the engine roared to life.
Morris looked up. “Hey!”
Joe twisted the throttle. The bike whipped through the reeds, and with a bump that almost threw him off, he was on the road heading back the way they’d come.
Blake came running. But there was no way he could catch him.
Joe leaned down low. Make a small target. He roared up the road. There was no gunfire.
I made it!