I got Renn back to McCarren Field on time, then drove back to the Flamingo and spent the rest of the day trying not to think about where he was and what he was doing… when he was dying.
The next day I took my truck to a couple of mechanics and dropped it off for a complete check, telling them that I’d have to drive back and forth to Reno a few times. They said it would be a few days, and I agreed. Then I went back to the hotel, feeling dazed and numb for that day too.
On Friday (July 11th) I dragged myself out of the hotel, intending to drive to 20th Century Photo, begin developing all my photos (which would take perhaps for a week), then head to Chicago the following week. But it simply wasn’t going to happen. To be bluntly honest about it, I was an emotional mess.
I made the mistake of turning on the radio that morning, and heard a story about the SS Exodus (which the announcers called the USS President Warfield). That was a story I remembered only slightly, and so I got sucked into it. It was a pitiful set of events that I won’t recount here, and it was in an intermediate stage on that day, meaning that a lot of sad news was set to follow. That was a poor start for my day.
In my bad mood, I drove around Vegas for a while, not really able to commit to anything, until I felt hungry and stopped at a place called Covey’s Café. And there I made another mistake (which felt like one part of me overriding another) by getting a newspaper. Again I found the SS Exodus story, this time with ugly news in detail. Then, when I was done eating and ready to leave, I looked for my waitress and saw her standing at someone else’s table chatting them up and paying no attention to me, or to any of her other customers.
Soon enough, I got up to get her and found myself barking at her. I never do that, but this time I did. The woman was derelict in her duties, but I was derelict in my behavior. I paid my bill and left. But before I reached my car, I turned around, went back and apologized. I was glad to have fixed my error, but something was clearly wrong with me. I drove back to the Flamingo and parked in the farthest corner of their lot, trying to figure out what it was and how to fix it.
The problem, really, was the contrast between Renn and Earth. When I was with Renn, I grafted myself into a better world. Bear in mind, it wasn’t stories or hopes for a better world that had affected me, it was a real man from a real better world. And I had spent more than a week in close, full-time contact with him: We literally slept in the same small hotel suite, drove in the same vehicle and worked together all day. On top of that, I had been doing my best to feel and experience his world through him.
What really drove my foul mood, however, is that once I was deep enough into Renn’s way of thinking, it became obvious that living his way would be easy: that huge numbers of us are ready to step into it right now… that we are fit for a better world, and that’s it’s nothing more than old and stupid superstitions that are keeping us in chains.
To feel the reality of a better world that keenly, and then to be dropped back in a world so far behind it… and then to consume news of the worst that world had to offer… it was too much for me.
I understood the underlying problem soon enough, but merely knowing it didn’t fix me; I needed to work it all out.
I pulled the car to a better spot, wandered up to my room and laid down, but could neither rest nor sleep. And so I grabbed a hat (so I didn’t get sunburned) and started walking. After a few rounds through the casino I went to the streets, wandered through a few random stores, and kept walking. It was blazing hot, but that didn’t really bother me; it felt cathartic in a way.
At some point I made it back to the Flamingo, ordered a meal to my room, put some music on the radio and alternated between pacing and laying on the bed.
The next morning I drove myself to a bookstore, hoping that would help. And, almost as a surprise, it did. Seeing current titles from Algren, Orwell, Heinlein and others cheered me at least part way. I didn’t buy any of the books, but I did buy some stationery to compensate the store for my time.
The next day, Sunday, I finally went back to 20th Century Photo, where I packed up my gear and got ready to leave Vegas; I wouldn’t be able to work there for some days and a road trip seemed like the right thing. The mechanics had called on Saturday, telling me that my truck was ready, and so my path was clear.
Monday morning I picked up my truck and spent three or four hours struggling with my winch to get the probe loaded, then to tie it down securely… very securely: I couldn’t afford any complications while driving cross country, carrying an alien spacecraft. By now the Roswell story was making the rounds.
* * * * *
The Roswell story that emerged, however, was a lot uglier than it had been the first time around.
Apparently, once the Army realized that one spacecraft was missing, and that it had been transported out on a truck, they sent men to every ranch between Roswell and Albuquerque. The ranches nearer to the crash sites, however, were more or less invaded. Cars full of MPs (Military Policemen) and other soldiers rolled in, along with Colonels and Majors. Not all of them were polite, presumably due to panicking and threatening bosses.
At one of the ranches a newly returned soldier was working as a hand, and heard the commotion. He approached a Colonel in an agitated state (this man had seen close quarters combat in Germany) and threatened the Colonel. A fracas ensued and he was shot dead.
Making matters worse, the family who owned the ranch observed it all, and were fairly wealthy. They spread the story, demanded action from their congressmen and senators, and were able to make a lot of noise. Some very nasty accusations were made against the Army and lawsuits were filed.
It took time for news of this to spread, of course, but it gave a dark cast to the actions of the military in all of this. Within six months, more or less everyone knew that a man had been murdered because the military was afraid of something. They put out the weather balloon story we know, and held doggedly to it for as long as they could, but the whole thing smelled, and more or less everyone agreed that it smelled.