Return Engagements: Book Three (Part Nineteen)

I saw Martin off and walked with him as far as Michigan Avenue (which wasn’t far from my apartment), then drove to my garage and got ready to paint my truck to look like a City of Chicago, Streets and Sanitation truck. I found an appropriate paint store and loaded up what I needed. It was quite a lot of paint.

The next day I mixed up the background color of a “Streets & San” truck (as they call them still) and sprayed it on. The fumes were rough, but it was late in the day, so I could open the big garage door without dealing with onlookers: the gang from next door had already gone home.

The base coat was the easier part; the harder part was painting the city seal and associated lettering. And so the next day, as I let the truck alone to dry (with as many windows open as I could manage), I tried to sketch the details from Streets & San trucks I found around town.

The day after that I did the seals and lettering. For a non-artist like myself, I thought it looked fairly good. The day after that I brought in a bucket of mud, to make it look well-used; that part was a bit more fun.

My truck prepared, I spent the rest of my time attaching a rope to the front of the probe (which wasn’t easy), doing dry-runs for the 17th and taking my truck out for a round-the-block ride, just to be sure it was running well.

* * * * *

My letter, which by now had been published all across the country, had again freaked out the US government. They were calling the Tribune and other papers “reckless,” “uninformed,” and “misleading.” But at no point did they say anything of substance about the “saucers,” or even admit they existed. The merely attacked anyone saying things they didn’t want them to say.

Vannevar Bush was under heavy pressure to find me, and Colonel McCormick reported that “Agents of Washington” had visited him more than once, berating him for damaging national security. And when asked how he was doing that, he received no response, save that, “You don’t know what we know.”

Vannevar Bush, however, was a highly competent man, regardless that he was half burned out. He hadn’t seen the recovered debris at Wright-Patterson airfield, but he had seen the Top Secret reports and believed them. And by carefully examining my article, he concluded that I was a Midwesterner, and almost certainly not from DC, as I had made it appear. Given also that he found me to be careful and competent, he concluded that I purposely traveled to New York and DC to mail my letters (he had seen all of them, I think), and started a team on matching up train schedules and hotel registrations.

The fact was that Bush was closing in on me rapidly. I didn’t know it at the time, but given just one or two more weeks, he almost certainly would have found me.

* * * * *

On October 17th, I got up early, drove my Buick to 9th Street between Michigan and Wabash, and parked. This was a half mile walk from the 11th Street station of the South Shore line, which I planned on using later. I found a cab to the garage on Sangamon, where I exchanged pleasantries with the guys next door, then triple-checked my truck to make sure every detail was covered.

Finally, I pulled on a used workman’s jacket, shut the big garage door behind me, and drove through Chicago toward Buckingham Fountain.

There was, however, one more thing to be done, and that was to notify Mencken and Kilgallen. Martin’s note had instructed them to stay at the Stevens hotel (now a Hilton) on the other side of the park from from the Fountain. Their notes didn’t mention the fountain – there was a chance the Feds would somehow read them – but being ready at the hotel would almost assure they’d get to the probe as soon as the Feds would.

And so I pulled up next to a pay phone on Michigan Avenue, near 12th Street, aka, Roosevelt Road. I called the hotel and rang their rooms. I gave each a short, fast message: “Buckingham Fountain. Now.” It required two phone calls, but I probably completed both, switchboard exchanges and all, within two minutes. Now I had to get in and out before Bush’s men could grab me. Unquestionably they knew that both Mencken and Kilgallen were staying at the Stevens, and were watching them.

Nonetheless, the pay phone was only half a mile from the fountain, over wide streets. I was at the fountain quickly, probably within another two minutes.

I pulled into one of the park-like quadrangles just east of Columbus, northwest of the fountain. I backed up my truck to a tree, opened the back and pulled out the rope I had attached to the probe. I quickly tied the rope around the tree, then pulled out two large signs I had hand-painted; they were emblazoned with, “This is the saucer, and it is yours.” I jogged around the truck, placing one on each side.

Then I hopped back into the truck and drove away, leaving the probe behind. I pulled back onto Columbus, cutting across and heading south, turned left again at Balbo, then made my way south on Lake Shore Drive, the big road in and out of downtown Chicago. A few people were looking at the probe as I drove away on Columbus (there were hundreds of cars driving by, but not very many pedestrians), and no one seemed to be following me.

I went as far as Hyde Park, where I parked near the South Shore station and waited, impatiently, for the next train. This was probably the riskiest part of the adventure. If any of the agents had followed me, I’d have to attempt an escape on foot.

But I did make the train, and took it to its terminus at South Bend, without incident.

Once in the station, I bought a ticket for New York, to leave on the next train. But rather than getting on it, I ducked into a men’s room, took off my outer jacket, cleaned my shoes (I had rubbed some mud on them to make them look like work boots) and turned from a truck driver back into an executive. From there I went to the Chicago-bound tracks and waited for the next train back.

By the time I got back to Chicago it was nearly noon. I could see a sea of police lights and a roiling crowd in Grant Park as I walked over the bridge from the 11th Street station back into the city. I picked up my car on 9th Street, and finally felt safe as I took 12th Street west, bypassing the Loop altogether.

I had all my essentials in the trunk of my car, because I couldn’t go back to the garage or the apartment on Delaware. I knew it was only a matter of time before the government’s men would find those places. They’d certainly have eye-witness reports of the truck, and would find it at the Hyde Park station. From there on, it would only be a matter of legwork.

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Paul Rosenberg