Between the Lines
Joe saved his anger for when she drifted back to sleep.
After all I’ve done for her, she still doesn’t trust me. They were going to drive all the way to... who knows where, and he’d have to do it with no hint of their destination.
The rudeness was irritating, but he’d seen more than his share of rude people in his life. Some people can’t talk without making it into an insult. He suspected she didn’t even realize what she was doing.
The secrecy bugged him the most. He was as deep into this as anyone. Surely, he deserved to know what this was all about.
He tapped on the map controls and tried to make sense of John Smith’s directions. Highways 285, then 24 and then 40—he traced the path, but it didn’t help any. When would they stop?
Carl Morris felt his scowl threaten to set permanently on his face. BellBoy was the elder of the two twin-engine business Cessna planes that were supposed to be at his disposal day and night. Valet, the newer and faster of the two, had vanished from its hangar at the Roswell Industrial Air Center.
Someone with proper Trust identification had taken the plane and neglected to sign for it or leave a flight plan. And BellBoy, until just a couple of hours ago, had been in pieces, undergoing its regular maintenance.
My infrastructure is falling to pieces. One plane was gone. Kenneth Winston’s courier vehicle was missing, and from the looks of the accident site, pretty banged up as well.
And now, Blake had reported that the big black van that had been parked out at the Roswell base was also missing.
He strode across the pavement to where BellBoy waited under the lights of Raton Municipal Airport. It was late to be heading out, but he’d spent too much time waiting for the plane to get here in the first place. He could have driven back to the Roswell base faster.
But he needed to be there now. Too many strange things were happening at the same time, and Roswell seemed to be the common thread. A missing van, a missing plane, and according to the anonymous tip, the place where Winston stole the missing talkie.
Stupid protocol. In any modern organization, that anonymous tip could have been tracked down. Records would have been kept. Phone calls could have been traced.
But the protocols demanded secrecy. A record not kept is a record than can never be compromised.
So, no telephone exchange software that could log and identify incoming calls. No automatic voicemail recordings. Only human beings, supposedly trustworthy, would pass the information.
But today, the human chain couldn’t even be tracked.
He strapped himself into the seat and waited until Blake and the others got themselves settled. By the time they were in the air, his mind churned with his number one chronic concern—money.
The Trust was losing equipment, and he still had active and retired employees who needed paychecks.
Winston’s car for the courier loop had been the last big-ticket item they’d bought, and now it was trashed.
When we were making lots of money, we should have set up permanent funding. That time might never come again. The government gave them nothing. On the books, we’re nothing more than a top-heavy specialty chemical company. But their product was worth less each month. The big names of the chemical industry found ways of their own to manufacture the exotic catalysts that had been the Trust’s bread and butter. Soon enough he’d have to talk to the Freds about still another production change.
It was a wonder that after all these decades, and all the Trust had put them through, they even agreed to help.
Joe pulled over to the shoulder. The highway signs in the headlights explained everything, but Judith stirred out of her sleep and asked, “What’s wrong?”
He pointed. “Your dad told me to go 285, 24, and 40, but there’s a problem. It doesn’t really work. You can’t get to 40 from 24. Did he mean to go over toward Denver? Or are we supposed to go north toward Leadville.”
Personally, he wondered how coherent the man had been when he gave those directions. He’d been drugged, among other things.
“Leadville. We’re going north. Dad told me just to avoid the interstates. The people hunting for him would be looking on the interstates.”
“So you know where we’re going?”
She hesitated, but her fingers made little involuntary motions. Joe got a strong impression.
“Rock Springs? Where’s that?”
Judith gritted her teeth. Stupid talkie.
Joe grinned. “Come on, I can probably find it on this map thing. Just tell me.”
“It’s in Wyoming.”
“Wyoming.” Joe said the word just for the romance of it. It brought to mind old western’s he’d seen on TV.
She was resentful that he’d gotten the information from her.
He tried not to smile. “It was a lot worse when the FBI men were interrogating me with their talkie.”
“What? They found you?”
“Yes. They’d tapped the motel’s phone.”
He told her the whole story—how she was still the ‘mystery girl’, and how they’d used him to locate the accident site.
“Then I jumped on the motorcycle and escaped. I found your coat and then your dad. He sent me to help you.”
“He shouldn’t have done it!”
“If I hadn’t, you’d still be asleep beside the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.”
She opened her door. “I’m alert now. I’ll drive.”
Joe let her, racing around to swap places with her.
The exchange of air refreshed his sense of smell, and his nose wrinkled. He’d have to take care of that cleanup before too long.
A turn of the key and they pulled silently back onto the road.
“Your name. Is it really Judith?” She nodded.
“I just asked because I’ve always known your father as John Smith. The fake FBI guy called him Kenneth Winston, and at the clinic, he was John Brown. What’s your real last name?”
“Winston. But if you don’t mind, I need to keep my hands on the steering wheel.”
He cocked his head to the side and muttered. “That’s a new excuse.” But he stopped trying to talk. He adjusted the seat for better comfort and tried to close his eyes. He’d had a long hard day himself.
The back of the seat bumped into something. He looked back and saw the ice chest strapped securely into place.
She did say they had to make a delivery. He had the urge to ask what it was, but she wanted to be silent and stay annoyed with him, so he just put it on his list with the other questions he had for later.
He tried to sleep, but he could only doze off in pieces. As they passed through Leadville, he watched as she passed by the gas stations. He would have stopped, but she was intent on keeping on.
That was where they left Highway 24. Joe said nothing, just hoping she knew where she was going.
“What’s the ‘B’?” Joe asked, as she shifted the lever from ‘D’, for drive into the lowest spot, labeled ‘B’.
She shrugged. “It’s like downshifting, for hills.”
Joe nodded. “Oh, a hybrid thing I bet.” He pressed a key and the map on the screen was replaced by a diagram of the vehicle’s drive chain. Power was flowing from the wheels into the battery. Going down hill, the car used the electric motor as a generator to charge the battery.
“You’re a geek, aren’t you?”
Ever tactful. Joe shook his head. “I just like to know how things work.”
“Joe?” She tapped his arm. He woke out of a confused dream.
“What is it?” He slid his seat back into the upright position.
She pulled over to the shoulder. “We’re on Highway 91. It merges into Interstate 70.”
Joe looked at the map. “Yeah. I see that.”
“Dad said to avoid the interstates! I thought there would be an alternate way through, but there isn’t.”
There was a little moonlight. Just enough to confirm what she’d said. The mountains were very close and tall. There was no way through, other than the path the river had carved and the interstate followed.
“Okay, where do we need to go?”
He entered a couple of routes, but even the route-finding software didn’t suggest anything useful. They were at Copper Mountain Ski Area, and there was just no way to avoid the interstate except by back tracking. He said as much.
“Did he say why we’re supposed to avoid the interstates?”
“No. Just that the people looking for him would expect him there.”
“Well, then there’s no help for it. Let’s just take this little stretch to Frisco, and then north on Route 9. It’s night, and surely there aren’t so many people out looking that they could watch every mile of the interstate.”
She reluctantly eased back onto the road. The highway merged into the interstate and they kept their eyes open. But no one tried to chase them down.
Joe pushed the Info button. “We have to stop here in Frisco for gas.” The computer showed they’d run out of gas in just a couple of dozen miles. “Your dad gave me some cash.”
“He gave me the credit card.”
Joe pointed. “Take that first exit.”
“I know! I can read.” She was hunched over the steering wheel, in obvious stress.
They drove through the town of Frisco, stopping at every stop sign. It was after ten P.M. and almost all of the shops were closed.
“Turn left.” Joe pointed, as they approached the marina. It was Highway 9, and there were gas stations a few blocks up. He glanced over the boats. A yacht club high in the Rocky Mountains, that was interesting. But to be honest, it was the first yacht club of any kind he’d seen.
As she pulled up into the Phillips station, he reached into his pocket and pulled out the cash. “We’ll need food and caffeine. Why don’t you go get us something across the street while I pump the gas?”
She glared at him. “If you can’t stand the smell, why don’t you just get out and stay here!”
Joe’s mouth sagged open. “What are you talking about?”
With agitated fingers, she said, “Every time you open your mouth, you gripe about the smell! Well, I can’t do a thing about it, so you might as well just get out and stay out.”
Joe snapped. “I haven’t said one word about the smell! I know what happened. I know there hasn’t been time for a good cleaning. But I’ve grown up being polite to difficult people. I know when to keep my mouth shut! It’s not like you’re the first arrogant child I’ve had to deal with, even if you are the rudest girl I’ve met in a long time.”
For a long second, she was motionless. “Me? Rude?”
He laughed. “I’ve been called stupid and an idiot more times today that I have in years of dealing with my motel guests. Yes. I’d say rude is the word for it.”
“Idiot! I haven’t ever called you a name!”
“You just did!”
“I did not!”
“You just said, ‘Idiot! I haven’t ever called you a name!’”
Her face looked pale in the service station’s lights.
“Look at my hands.” Then she carefully, slowly, repeated the second sentence.
Joe could follow the translation.
She put her fingers to her cheek, as she realized what had happened.
“The talkie is translating more than I said to you!”
Joe frowned. “It’s doing that for the both of us, apparently. I couldn’t keep from thinking about the smell, but I would never, never gripe about it out loud.”
“I’m sorry, Joe.”