Return Engagements (Book One) PART 2… in which my pursuers arrive

An hour later we were on Highway 50 in southern Wisconsin, heading west through farmland. It appeared that the Interstate Highway System was pretty well in place, and being away from people seemed to be helping my companion. She had fallen asleep before hitting the end of the Edens at Clavey Road, and she seemed to be resting more comfortably in farmland than even the sparsely populated suburbs of 1963.

The sun was coming up and it looked like it would become a clear summer day. I rolled down my window to keep some air flowing, but very slowly, so a jump in the sound level wouldn’t wake her. I still had more than half a tank of gas and the car was running perfectly. I granted myself the luxury of letting my mind wander.

Out of nothing more than instinct I started with myself, deciding that I felt perfectly normal, the same as I would any other day. I was almost hungry and a little bit thirsty, but aside from that, nothing about me seemed any different.

I am floated into my mind, with “whole and functional” implied as a follow-up concept.

I scanned the road and the surrounding area, not for the necessity of driving as I had been doing, but now to take in the scene.

1963 looks almost the same here, I thought.

The only signs I saw to the contrary were a tractor that was clearly of an old design and the crops being less dense. They were growing corn, the same as always, but both the plants and the rows had more space between them. That made sense because agricultural yields had been rising the whole time between 1963 and the year I currently knew, 2016.

Now, finally, I could take a good look at this woman, slumped down and asleep in the passenger seat, her head against the door. Again she appeared to be quite normal, save for being somehow unwell. Then I recognized what was odd about her hair. Every hair on her head was the same length, about an inch and a half.

Next I examined the car, realizing also that my examinations were going inside-to-outside, which I decided was the best choice anyway.

The car looked just how I expected a 1963 model to look. I don’t think I remember my mom’s car terribly well – I was a little boy then – but I had seen plenty of 1960s Chevys as a teenager and even drove one, and this one matched. It had no air conditioning, but it had a radio. That meant I could get some local information once my companion woke.

The odometer was hitting 70 miles, meaning that the car was brand new and was almost certainly stolen from a dealer near Devon Avenue… which had to be Z Frank, the world’s largest Chevy dealer at the time. I was glad we’d made it to Wisconsin; here in 1963 the police had nothing like database sharing.

I was driving carefully to be sure we weren’t stopped of course, and not just because of the car. I didn’t seem to have a driver’s license. I’d just have to stay alert, especially for Delevan, Wisconsin. They’ve had a speed trap there as long as I can remember and may have had it even in 1963.

* * * * *

It was early morning in Los Angeles, California, as two men appeared, naked, in the guards’ locker room of the First Republic Bank. They promptly clothed themselves in the uniform pants, tee shirts, and shoes that were available, then walked to the vault.

Both men put their foreheads and outstretched arms on the vault’s door, in deep concentration. Seconds later, one of them reached down to the lock’s dial and began turning.

“A little slower, please,” requested the other, and they both remained fixed on whatever it was they were feeling through the metal door.

All told, unlocking the door took them two minutes. Then they pulled the door open and alarm bells erupted, both inside the bank and out. But the men paid the alarm no attention at all.

They found burlap money bags, turned them inside-out to hide the printing on them, and carefully loaded them with bills, just enough that they could fold each into a clean rectangular shape. That done, they tucked the satchels under their arms and walked to the bank’s employee entrance and out to the parking lot in back.

At the same time, the night guard was running down a hallway, heading straight for the vault. He found it open and burst in, his weapon drawn and his legs shaking. Finding no one, he ran to the employee entrance (the only exit nearby), fearing his boss’s wrath as much as the robber. Then he jumped out into the rear parking lot.

The two men and their satchels were about 30 yards from the guard, standing stone still, their eyes closed, seemingly in prayer. The guard looked right past them, as if they weren’t there. Then he ran around the building to the front to look for anything useful there.

The men walked briskly to the nearest corner, turned, and passed out of view from the bank. It was well before sunrise, and no one noticed them as they meandered through the darkness for a mile or so.

As the sun rose, the two were sitting down at a nondescript diner, surrounded by bleary-eyed working men grabbing a quick breakfast on their way to work. No one paid any attention to them, save the waitress and the men at the next table, with whom they exchanged polite nods.

“This is a safe spot for us,” the darker of the two men said quietly.

His counterpart nodded, adding, “Then I’ll stay here and tip our waitress well. You go find a shopping district.”

“Agreed,” he said, “as soon as I finish this coffee…” And for the first time, he smiled, a broad, effusive smile and added, “which is quite good.”

The lighter man smiled too, then went back to a half-somber expression.

A minute later the darker man slid his satchel under the table to his friend, stood, nodded to him, and walked out. The waitress, noticing him leave, walked to the table and asked the remaining man if everything was okay. He flashed her a bright smile, to which she instinctively responded.

“My friend has to go meet someone.”

He leaned toward her as if to whisper and she leaned in toward him. He reached out his hand and gave her a $10 bill.

“I’m going to be here awhile,” he said with a gentle smile. “Can you keep me supplied with newspapers and coffee?”

She smiled back, saying, “You keep me in tips like that, and you can stay all week.”

They both laughed.

“Oh,” the man said, stopping her as she walked away. He held up his cup and asked, “Do you have anything with less caffeine?”

“I’ll start bringing you Sanka.”

She smiled, turned, and walked away.

Within a minute, she was back with a Los Angeles Times and some fresh Sanka, that era’s decaf.

* * * * *

  (Available now on Kindle)