Carl answered his phone. Blake asked, “Guess who I found in Show Low?”
“The boy from Las Vegas.” Blake’s footsteps on gravel could be heard over the phone. “We were waiting, playing poker, when I realized I wasn’t able to bluff Haskell. That was enough for me, so we went for a walk.”
Carl nodded to himself. Anyone could bluff Haskell, unless there was a talkie running nearby.
“I’d like to talk to our traveler.”
“He’s asleep at the moment. But I’m sure he’d be happy to chat with you later.”
So, no rollback. Blake must have dropped him with a knockout dart.
“Lock the door and bring him home. Let Haskell and his brothers handle the cleanup.”
Carl suspected the Show Low personnel wouldn’t find the boy’s accomplices. “Tell them to be careful.”
His opponents knew they were prepared, now that they’d lost one of their own. It was a minor victory, but he’d take any advantage he could.
Judith waved frantically for everyone in the RV to get down, but no one could tell what she wanted. Gritting her teeth, she dropped to her hands and knees and crawled the length of the RV, pulling people down, until they got the idea.
She’d heard the shouts over the FRS radio, and then it went dead. For the past half hour, she’d been afraid to call; worried Joe might be betrayed by the noise.
And now, a familiar face walked by outside the window, across the airport parking lot! He was one of the Trust agents who’d been hunting them in Las Vegas. The car had driven into the parking lot, not a hundred feet away from the RV.
Two men got out and went over to a row of small planes, parked next to the hangars. Quickly, a larger one with twin engines started up and began taxiing closer to the automobile parking lot.
Keeping her head low, she watched with binoculars.
That’s Joe! The Trust agents were scanning the area as two men carried the unconscious body from the car into the plane. Breathlessly, she waited for any sign that they had Bob Four, but as all the remaining agents climbed aboard the plane, she saw no sign of a second captive.
A few minutes later, it took off and headed east.
Joe’s gone. I’m here alone.
Bob One’s big eyes were on her. They were all looking at her. Probably the rest were wondering what to do, too. Were they expecting her to be the leader? She hadn’t realized it, but Joe had filled that slot. Even though the aliens had converted the simple rescue into a wholesale escape, it had been Joe who most often made a decision and told people what to do. The Guests were now totally dependent on her to protect them in this human world.
She only knew one thing. If the agents hadn’t carried Bob Four to the plane with Joe, then he was still out there. They had to find him. She picked up the radio and handed it to Bob One and gestured for him to make a call.
Like a parrot’s squawks, Bob One talked into the radio, just a few words, before Judith signaled him to stop. They waited for several minutes, and then there was a return squawk. Bob One replied. The Bobs and Freds grew animated. It had to be good news. Bob One held up a finger and then talking stopped.
He pointed to the map, showing the airport, and then tracing a line in the direction of the base. It was an Arizona state map, and hardly gave enough detail. But it was a direction.
She climbed into the driver’s seat and the RV rumbled to life. The Trust’s rental car was still sitting in plain sight, but she had to ignore it. Surely there was no one left. They’d all flown away.
She pulled out onto the highway, as Bob One watched for signs from the shadows just behind her. It was just a matter of a few hundred yards before he pointed to a billboard:
Judith nodded. She pulled into the driveway where the sign’s arrow pointed. The place was empty, other than a large vacant parking lot and piles of dented and crumpled racecars. Obviously, there was no event for today.
She parked at the far edge of the parking lot. The highway side was a chain-link fence, but in the rear, there was nothing but rope strung from poles and the trees. If she’d known this place was here, she’d have chosen it as a place to wait, instead of the airport. But then, she wouldn’t have seen Joe being taken away. Bob One called on the radio. And then they waited.
No one talked. No one could talk. Judith’s attempt at sign language was met with blank stares. When she tried to ask Bob One, via her notepad, how long it would take, all he could do was shake his head. Without the talkie, he couldn’t read English.
The two Sams were unconscious. Fred Four probably wouldn’t have anything to say even if they had a talkie. Freds never did.
The RV had a generator, and before too long, they needed it to run the two air-conditioner units on the roof.
Judith had to pace. Maybe the Guests were used to waiting it out. They’d done so for decades, but she wasn’t. She finally went out the door and sat down on the metal steps that automatically extended whenever the door opened up. It was hot outside, even for a human.
Did Bob One know where he was? She could try to meet him.
She felt so alone.
Daddy was probably still stuck in Taos—maybe still in the hospital. Would he know what she was supposed to do here?
Joe would do something, even if it weren’t the perfect solution. He griped about his motel chores, but at least he was used to taking action. He didn’t need someone to tell him what to do.
Maybe she needed to be more like that.
She went back inside. Alien eyes looked at her.
From the cabinet over the sink, she took a drinking glass and acted out drinking something. Then she went close to Bob One and held the empty glass up to his mouth.
There was a pause, and then Bob One nodded and said a few words in his native speech. Fred Four went into action. Tentacles moved to the pantry and began concocting something.
Bob One had to be suffering from the heat, and if she found him, he’d need something to drink.
Fred Four produced a mixture quickly. It was watery and pale. It looked like an iced coke where all the ice had melted.
She took the bowl in hand. It was plastic, and she found the lid. She sealed it off and took it outside.
She signed, “I’ll be back.” She had to say that even if they couldn’t understand her.
Ten minutes later, as she moved in the direction of the base in sweeping arcs, looking for any sign of gray in the grass, she heard, “Judith.”
He had the talkie!
“Bob One! Where are you?”
“Next to the tree.”
He was on the ground, resting against the trunk.
She knelt down beside him. “Here. Fred Four made this for you.”
Arms shaking, Bob drank it down.
“I lost the radio. I had it in my pocket, but it must have fallen out.”
He put his hand on her arm.
“Joe is captured, and no humans are left at the Base. They must have moved Bob Eight and Fred Six. They wouldn’t have been left alone.”
“I saw them take Joe. They must have moved the Guests earlier. They were expecting us.
“But let’s get you back to the RV. We’ve got the air conditioner running.”
Bob Four was light enough to carry, but the drink must have begun working, because as they began to see the RV through the trees, he asked to be let down. Together, they walked up to it and went inside.
Bob One asked how he was doing, and after a few technical questions Judith couldn’t follow, Fred Four began mixing up another drink.
Judith realized they were looking at her again. What were they going to do now?
Daddy, I wish you were here to tell me what to do.
But he wasn’t. She was going to have to do this herself.
“Railroad Motel, Las Vegas. How can I help you?”
“Hello? Is this Abel Ferris?”
“Yes.” The voice changed instantly. “Who is this?”
“It’s John Smith. I’m calling about Joe.”
There was a click on the line, faint, but Kenneth knew with a certainty that the call was being recorded—which meant the police had been called in.
“What have you done with him?”
“It’s not like that, Abel. I’d never do anything to hurt Joe. In fact Joe came to me, to help me with my daughter.”
It had taken him hours to get up the nerve to call Joe’s father. He had a story, a mix of truth and fantasy totally free of alien involvement. He could only hope it would relieve the Ferris family and help Judith locate him.
“I had an auto accident on State Highway 58 not too long after I left your place. I managed to get a phone call to my daughter and she came looking for me. I gather she met Joe while she was in Las Vegas. She’s mute, you know, and Joe....”
Just then, the motel door opened and two men in black suits entered with no warning. He recognized the one holding a pistol on him.
Blake gestured for him to terminate the call. Kenneth clicked the cell phone’s slide shut. No telling what Mr. Ferris thought about the abrupt ending of the call, but he was compelled by the deadly looking barrel of the gun.
Blake took the phone from his hand and removed the battery.
“It’s time to come with us, Mr. Winston.”
Kenneth nodded. “You’re here faster than I expected.” He looked around the room, but he really had no luggage.
“You do know that according to the protocols, I should resist and attempt to escape. You aren’t my controller.”
Blake nodded. He gestured with the pistol. “I know. Many things have changed.”