Abel left to make a call from the Santa Fe Inn. He had a number of calls to make, if this project were to go off on schedule. He took the laptop with him. Some fancy handoffs among friends would get it to the right place.
Joe was stuck, with nothing more world-shaking on his schedule than to catch up with the laundry. At least, if he had grunt work, he’d do it in plain sight. He started a load of towels and pulled a chair out onto the porch, where the heat and humidity would be less intense.
He opened his book and settled into the chair. It was frustrating. He was a kid again, with his parents taking care of business. He hadn’t realized just how fulfilling it had been to be in charge of something important—to make a difference.
I wish Joe were doing this. Judith played through the videotape once again, checking off each scene on Joe’s worksheet.
They had brainstormed the advertisement and it had seemed so simple at the time. They only had to fill thirty seconds, after all. What was the problem?
But as she timed the scenes they’d shot, the timings were all wrong. The check-in shot, with Joe’s mother smiling as she got Bob Four’s signature, was supposed to be eight seconds, but in reality, it was only three.
The shots were great. Tremendous visual impact, just what Joe imagined—except their thirty second commercial was going to end up about twenty.
And out the window, through the crack they’d left open in the drapes, she spotted Joe’s friend, Sandeep looking at the RV again. They’d hoped people would think it was un-occupied, but as people moved around inside, it shifted on its suspension just a little. It was enough to notice, if someone were paying attention. How much mystery could Joe’s friends take, before they started asking more questions?
She set down her worksheet. She’d reworked the scenes five times, and it hadn’t fixed the problem.
“I’m going outside for just a minute.” She needed a break.
Bobs looked up, but the television was showing the History Channel and they were quickly drawn back to its commentary on the Battle of the Bulge.
She slipped out the door quickly.
I need a change of clothes. She’d been living in the same blouse and slacks since she left home in search of her father. She’d packed a change of clothes, but it had gotten lost somewhere—perhaps still in the motorcycle. She was grateful for running water so she could keep them clean, but she would be glad when this hideout was over. It was hardly Snow White and the Five Bobs.
I should have asked Joe’s mother if she had anything I could use. She seemed nice.
Maybe a little too happy to see her. Did she think she and Joe were an item?
Judith turned. An Indian girl was folding towels inside a motel room several units away.
She gestured, “Hello.” She was out of talkie range, but the wave was the same for speakers and signers, so it didn’t matter.
She nodded. “You are Joe Ferris’s secret girlfriend?”
Judith didn’t know how to respond to that.
The girl smiled and waved her hand. “It’s okay. I’m not supposed to pry. My name is Bimbi. Sandeep is my brother. We’re all dying of curiosity, but he swore us all to secrecy. My father is heading over to the Santa Fe to meet with Mr. Ferris later today—some kind of motel owner’s meeting.
Judith grabbed for her notepad. She ripped off a sheet and passed it to Bimbi.
“Please ask Mrs. Ferris if she has any spare clothes that I might borrow. My stuff is getting threadbare.”
Bimbi looked her over and then peered critically at Judith’s face.
“I’ve got a few things that might fit you. You’re tall, but if you’d like to try them...”
Judith nodded, “Yes” eagerly.
Bimbi locked the door of the unit she was cleaning and led the way. She looked back at Judith.
“One thing I don’t understand—if Joe’s parents know about you and approve of all this, who are you hiding from?”
Joe looked up from his book as the black car drove into the parking lot. Kenneth Winston, in the driver’s seat, saw him the same instant. Joe put down the book and laid a towel on top of it. He stood up.
Oh, no! If he talks to Mom, then he’ll know for sure that Judith is in town. Their whole plan had been for the Trust to see him, but he needed to be able to deny that he knew where the aliens were. With the Trust’s hooks into the FBI, once they knew where he was, they could use the local police to arrest him. He was still free, so they were still trying to keep everything secret. It’s what he’d thought.
“John Smith.” That’s what he’d always called him and the name that first came to mind, no matter how many other identities he had.
The man eased his bandaged arm out of the car and stood up. He glanced at the office, but closed the car door with his good arm and walked over to Joe.
Had he driven himself here, or is he back with the Trust? Joe stifled the urge to look at his watch. How many hours had it been since the Trust first noticed he had come back to Las Vegas? Certainly, long enough for him to drive here from Taos or wherever he’d been staying.
“Joe.” He nodded. “Where is Judith?”
Joe listened for that hint that would tell him her father was using a talkie. The aliens had theirs running just a mile away, so if there was one here, he’d feel it. There was nothing. He could be as deceptive as his acting skills allowed.
Joe shrugged, “You tell me.”
Get angry. We’ve split up. I don’t know where she is and I don’t care.
He remembered how he felt when she’d snookered him the first time, back at the Hermit’s Peak trailhead. He let that resentment grow.
“Now Joe, I know that you and she were both there at Roswell. People saw you.”
So, he is Trust again. How else could he have that report?
“Yeah. I worked hard! I told you I’d help your daughter. I was loyal, even when we bent a few rules and risked going to jail.
“But nobody told her about loyalty! Once we’d gotten everybody out. Boom. She hit the road without me!
“And it wasn’t the first time, either! She ditched me here in Las Vegas, too! Once I told her what she needed to know about when you left town, she left me cold, miles from home and on foot. Never gave me a second glance.”
Her father’s face was growing flushed, angry. So he didn’t like having him bad-mouth his little girl—it was still necessary.
“And then, because I was stupid, I agreed to go help her again, when you were in the clinic.
“Well, I did my part. I found her. I helped her get to Rock Springs. And then guess what? She ditched me again!
“You can imagine how I felt! I was broke, alone, and on foot a thousand miles from home.” Joe didn’t have to imagine. He remembered it clearly.
“It was Bob Four that pulled me back into this mess. Your precious little girl had gotten herself rollbacked. She was out of commission, and I was the only one able to pull it all together. We risked so much. The cops were hunting for me. We had to rollback a Utah cop, just because he recognized your car! Beaver Utah, just in case you want it back.”
“Joe, I’m sorry about all that. But I just want to know where she went. I’m worried about her. And... I miss her.”
It was hard to hold onto the anger. Joe felt it slipping away. He sat back on his chair and stared at the sidewalk. Break eye contact.
“You know, I miss her, too.”
“Give me something to work with, Joe. She’s walking a tightrope now. One misstep and the whole alien thing could blow up in her face. We’d all suffer for that.”
Joe didn’t look up. He shrugged. “We had to swap cars, after that cop stopped us.”
“What kind? Do you know the license tag?”
He shook his head, not daring to look the man in the eyes. “It was a U-Haul truck. We bought lots of blankets for padding.”
“Oh, no. The Bobs can’t take that kind of heat. Don’t you know there are deaths every year from Mexicans sneaking into the US in the backs of trucks? In this summer heat....”
“We didn’t know.”
“Joe, I’ve got to follow this up. Are you sure you don’t know where she went? Lives could be at stake here.”
“I dunno.” He paused a few seconds. “She mentioned that blue mountain to the west of Roswell several times, but I don’t know if that’s important or not.”
“Cloudcroft.” He nodded to himself. “If she could get them there, it’d be cooler at that altitude. Maybe....” He was already heading back to his car.
He believed me. He didn’t even ask to check the rooms.
Joe felt rotten as he drove off. He’d made it up on the fly, but he hated to lie to the man. It wouldn’t take long for the Trust to determine that he’d deceived John Smith. Once they knew that, they’d be certain he was still in the conspiracy.
They were running out of time.