Joe checked in a couple traveling from Austin, Texas to Yellowstone. It was like old times, except that he knew what parts of Wyoming looked like. He regretted not taking that turn north when he’d had the chance. Would it ever come again?
Mom had taken Anna’s car and Dad wasn’t back from his errands. Being alone made him nervous. If there were still Trust agents watching him, now would be the time for them to move in. He had to trust that they really didn’t care about revenge, just getting their alien Guests back.
It was full dark when the van drove into the parking lot. The headlights snapped off and several dark figures got out and ran to the corridor next to the vending machines. Joe moved over to the phone.
Finger hovering over the speed-dial, Joe looked up as the door opened.
“Stop. It’s okay, Joe.”
“Dad! You scared me. Whose van is that?”
“Juan Cuffman’s. He’s driving my car to Roswell, with our Trust spy following him.” Juan was the mechanic that did the family’s auto repair work. “Come on, we need you to finish the video.”
Joe went to Room 5, where Judith was already plugging in the laptop. Joe stopped at the door and his jaw dropped.
She looked back at him and stuck her chin up. “Hey, I had to borrow clothes, okay.” It was a flowing Indian garment, red and filmy. Her stomach was bare. “Bimbi loaned it to me.”
He had trouble looking away from her belly button. “Hey, if Bimbo had dressed like that, I’d have paid her more attention.”
She tugged at the top. “The choli is supposed to show the midriff. Live with it.
“And stop calling her Bimbo! It’s Bimbi, which means ‘Glorious’. She told me how you and Sandeep made fun of her.”
Joe looked away from her, to the computer. “What are you doing here? Who’s taking care of the others?”
“The video has problems. You have to edit it. Your mother is babysitting.”
Joe looked over the setup. The cables were a bit of a maze, from the camera to the computer. There was a microphone and a separate videotape machine.
“I don’t know where to start.”
“That’s why I’m here. I’ve converted most of the shots. Frederica is here for technical support.”
Joe was surprised to see the patch of red move quickly from the bathroom to the side of the bed.
“Judith. I lied to your dad. I sent him on a wild goose chase to Cloudcroft.”
She paused. “How was he?”
“Still with a sling, but he looked healthy. He’s worried about you.”
She nodded, her face a mask of concern.
Joe sighed. “Okay. Let’s see what we have to work with.”
By ten P.M., they had put together a twenty-four second commercial. By eleven, they knew they had to shoot an additional scene.
“Hey, you’re the prettiest.”
“But I can’t talk, or didn’t you think about that.”
“Oh yeah, I forgot. Well, you can sign while I narrate, how about that?”
She frowned. “Wouldn’t that imply that you were catering to people who relied on sign language? It would be false advertising. Unless you planned to have an employee who signed?”
Joe pointed to himself and then held out his left palm and with his right fingers he plucked something invisible from his palm and put it to his head. “I’m learning,” the talkie translated from the ASL gesture.
She looked shocked.
Joe shrugged. “I picked up a book at the school library when I borrowed the computer.”
She flashed a three-fingered sign at him, a composite of the letters I-L-Y. He knew that one.
By midnight, they’d shot the final scene. By two, they had a rough video. By three, it was finished and copied to a standard VHS tape at the highest speed. The station had preferred a professional Betacam SP tape, but would take VHS.
Abel took the tape. “I’ll get this to KASA in Albuquerque before dawn. I’ll beg and plead to get it on the air as soon as possible. Are you sure the Bobs are happy with this schedule?”
Judith nodded. “Yes. Those four times would be sure to be picked up by a spaceship no matter where they are hiding, as the earth would rotate into view.”
“Well, I guess it’s time to get you back to the others.”
Joe gave her hand a squeeze before she and Frederica slipped back into the van, and they drove off.
Kenneth Winston pulled into the parking lot of a restaurant near the main intersection in Carrizozo. He was dead tired. It had been a long day, with no luck.
Joe’s Cloudcroft hint had been a bust. With no one to trade driving, he was tired. He’d insisted on coming alone. There were too few Trust agents to go around, when they had to follow every lead and search every town. He’d spent his life alone on the road. He’d told Morris that he didn’t need a nursemaid.
Maybe food would help.
He walked in and took a table near the television. In general, he hated TV in restaurants. The constant flickering motion drew your attention even when you just wanted a quiet meal.
Today, however, he had to be alert for any hint of Judith or the aliens, even if, heaven forbid, it appeared on television.
“What to drink?” She handed him a menu.
The news was just finishing up, and KASA, Your Home Team, was promoting the evening’s shows, when they went for a commercial break.
“Need more time?”
He shook his head, and glanced at the menu again. “I’ll have the enchilada....” He stopped, tongue-tied.
On the screen, an RV appeared with Bobs waving out the window. There was a poster in the window—Roswell or Bust! There were casino lights. That had to be the Bellagio. He could see the famous fountains off at the edge of the frame.
“Whether you’re just in from the Vegas Strip or tired from touring the Roswell UFO crash site, you owe it to yourself to visit the Original Las Vegas—Las Vegas New Mexico, the friendliest place in the Southwest.”
It was Joe’s voice. And in the corner of the frame, there was Judith! She was signing a translation, and she looked happy.
A tremendous weight lifted from his shoulder, even as he winced seeing the Bobs on television.
“Do you want beef, chicken, or cheese?” asked the waitress.
He held up his good arm. “Please, just a second.”
The commercial had cut to Mrs. Ferris at the motel, checking in Bob Four, in his Hawaiian shirt and Bermuda shorts—standing on one of the Freds!
Kenneth could barely stand to watch, as the scene shifted to a pleasant guest room—still at the Railroad Motel, he recognized.
Sam One was stretched out on a lounge chair, his lower feet propped up on Fred like a footstool, as Bob Four thumbed through a People magazine.
Joe’s narration droned on about the amenities of all of the Las Vegas motels, listing five of them by name—the Las Vegas Motel Association.
No longer in the little translation frame at the bottom of the screen, Judith, dressed up in a way that he’d have to talk to her about, gestured an invitation that Joe then translated.
“You’ll find Las Vegas on Interstate 25 just a short drive north of the crash site.”
They faded to an image of the Earth from space. A cartoon flying saucer wobbled above as the image expanded down to an area showing a satellite image of Las Vegas, with the highway drawn over it.
He gasped. The map was framed by a border of alien glyphs. He recognized them. His Trust training had included hands on examination of many artifacts from the crash. It was the written script of the Bobs—the one that they had refused, over decades, to either explain or use among themselves.
He’d missed Joe’s closing remarks, but as the station shifted to an Albuquerque car dealership commercial, he still remembered seeing his daughter smiling.
He turned to the waitress. “Did you see that?”
She looked up at the TV, as if it had appeared there by magic. “What?”
“The motel commercial—with the aliens?”
“Oh, yeah. I’ve seen it a couple of times already today. Did you want beef, chicken, or cheese?”
“Cheese.” He dashed outside and pulled out his cell phone, praying that there was cell coverage in Carrizozo.
Joe felt his grin, as if frozen on his face. He could see all the mistakes they’d made in putting the commercial together, but it was every bit as spectacular as he’d hoped.
And finally, he’d talked his Dad into advertising!
Abel Ferris was on the phone. He hung up.
“If you’re through watching yourself on TV, hadn’t we better get ready for tonight?”
Joe nodded, and turned off the set.
“Who was that on the phone?”
“Franklin over at the Santa Fe. They’re getting people calling in reservations after having seen the commercial, too. Joe, I think, when all is said and done, we’re actually going to turn a profit on this, especially since the others have helped pay for the television time. I’m surprised it’s actually working.”
Joe nodded. “Even after our special guests are gone, I think we should run it for a few more days.”
His father nodded. “Maybe so. It was a good idea, son.”
Joe felt a flutter in his chest. He hesitated, and then said, “Dad?”
Joe turned to face him. “It’s been an exciting few days, and I’ve learned a few things about me.”
Abel’s face was serious. He listened.
“Dad, even though I hate it at times, the motel business is in my blood. The thing is, I’m also a tourist at heart. Somehow, some way, I’m going to find a way to have both. I’m going to see the world, and when I come back, I’m going to have more good ideas.
“I’m just letting you know now, so you’ll be prepared.”
Abel nodded. “Thanks for telling me. I had hopes I could pass the Railroad on to my children, but if that doesn’t happen, I can live with that, too.” He managed a smile. “And if your ideas bear more fruit, maybe I can get a vacation for myself.”
Carl stabbed at the map with his finger as he held the phone to his ear. Samuelson was waiting.
“Did you get any details on the map?”
On the static-filled other end, Winston was saying, “Not much. It was definitely Las Vegas New Mexico, but it included the surrounding area. Maybe twenty miles across.”
Carl sighed, “Four hundred square miles then. Okay, get back on the road. I’ll see if I can’t get a copy of the commercial from the television station. You say there was alien text around the map?”
He set the phone down. He looked at Samuelson. “First. Get every vehicle heading toward Las Vegas, and I mean all of them. I’ll take Valet. Call KASA in Albuquerque and get a copy of the alien motel commercial. They’re sure to know which one it is. Have a cover story. According to Winston, no one is paying it any special attention. To them it’s just another computer graphics special effect.
“We have to move fast. Those kids are playing with fire. We have to contain them before anyone puts the pieces together.”