Return Engagements: Book Three (Part Twenty Four)

I helped Bush into a double room in the big hotel in downtown Walla Walla. I wasn’t worried about this night – the CIA and wouldn’t have had time to flood Spokane with agents and spread outward from there – but we needed to keep moving.

(One small note here: By law, it should have been the FBI chasing me domestically, not CIA. I can’t say for sure why the FBI was bypassed, but I’m reasonably certain it had to do with the people involved… especially that Truman was afraid of J. Edgar Hoover, who was running the FBI as a personal fiefdom and using most everything he learned for political leverage.)

But at this point, it wasn’t my persuers that concerned me most, but the fact that Bush didn’t appear to be well.

I ordered some food, but by the time it arrived he was asleep, and so I tucked him in, made sure he didn’t have a fever, then camped in the bathroom for a few hours, eating my dinner and reading. Not an ideal way to spend an evening, but not the worst either. Eventually I crawled into my bed and slept.

I slept a bit longer than I would have guessed, then rolled over to check on Vannevar. He still looked unwell. I walked over to him. He was awake, but rather listless.

You’re really form 2021,” he said weakly.

Yes, I really am.” I checked his temperature (with my hand) while speaking. He was just slightly warm. I sat on the bed next to him.

Listen, Vannevar, you’re in no condition to drive, but you seem well enough to be a passenger. If necessary you can lay down in the back seat. But we need to get out of here.”

He nodded.

I’m going to take a shower and change clothes. Then when I’m done, it will be your turn. Can you handle that much?”

Yes,” he said.

Okay, then while you shower I’ll check out and get the car ready. We’ll get out of here and head directly to Salt Lake City.”

Again he nodded, rather heroically.

* * * * *

I got Bush into the car and we made our way out of town quickly, but I had a feeling that our pursuers were closing in. It was a persistent feeling, and I didn’t think it was just apprehension… or “nerves,” as they called in in 1947.

We were about 250 miles from Boise, and it would be another 350 miles from there to Salt Lake City. That’s a fairly long drive on our time, but in 1947 it was ambitious. Even the best highways went through dozens of small towns. Granted that would less of an issue in the sparsely populated West, but there were also the issues of washed out roads, downed trees, and so on. Their’s was a far more rustic time, even if they did have cars, phones and refrigerators.

Nonetheless, I pressed forward, and our luck was reasonably good. We made it to US 30, the “good road.” It would take us all the way to Salt Lake.

As we went I did some math on the years and was amused by the fact that my first adult road trips across America (where I was driving) were in the 1970s, considerably closer to this time than my own. Time’s a funny thing once you get a second point from which to view it.

It rained as we drove and we even had some snowflakes mixed in, but it wasn’t much and it didn’t stick. And I still had the feeling that a lot of serious people were chasing me. We stopped for gas near La Grande. I bought and filled two five gallon cans, putting them in the trunk, and bought plenty of food as well. I didn’t want to stop, and indeed we didn’t. When we needed to relieve ourselves, we pulled over and did it the old fashioned way… and kept going.

Bush was doing better, and looked like he was ready for some conversation. And so I asked him about mundane things: where he had grown up, and so on. But every time I went for mundane, he brought it right back to important subjects. I presumed that was a habit he had built into himself over the years, but I didn’t want to overload him again, and so I went for a middle course: discussing mundane things in the future.

We stopped again, just before Boise. I had them fill the car with gas (we hadn’t yet used our reserves) and check everything (we needed a new belt). Then I bought a couple of coffees; enough for a long night’s drive. While doing this I sent Bush on a walk around the gas station, twice. I was sure he needed the movement, and so I pushed him a bit. It was kind of sad to play daddy for such a gifted and competent man, but we all have our low moments, and I was pleased to help him during his.

* * * * *

We drove all night, over what often looked like the surface of the moon. I couldn’t help but stop at one point, to see a sky with more starts than I had ever seen before. I wanted to build a house right there, just so I could see those starts every night. I gave a lot more depth to my understanding of the old spiritual practice of sitting under the stars and meditating. With no artificial lighting and a clear, dry sky, it was stunning.

We made it into Salt Lake city in the morning. Vannevar directed me to stop at a pay phone, and so I did, in a residential area not too far from the city center. I waited in the car.

After a conversation of a minute or two, Vannevar came back to the car and informed me that we should pull down the street to a quiet spot and wait. I was surprised, but didn’t ask him to explain; when it comes to clandestine operations, there’s a lot of waiting involved, and a lot of questions that are never answered. Beside, I was fairly well beat from driving day and night.

Within two or three minutes, cars began surrounding us, each of them disgorging young Mormon missionaries. They were very polite, advising us that two apostles were on their way, and that we could either remain in the car or get out and stretch our legs. Bush was a little better but not normal, so we decided to wait in the car.

An apostle, within the Latter Day Saints church, is a very big deal. They don’t run around town greeting visitors. For two of them to jump in a car to find you on the side of a street is unheard of, so far as I know. Nonetheless, within another few minutes they were there, along with another man, who apparently knew Bush. That man walked ahead of the apostles and came directly to me, asking how Bush was as he approached.

He’s tired,” I said. “I started telling him some of my story… it’s a draining experience… and this on top of all he’s gone through over the past six or seven years. He isn’t properly ill, but he needs rest.”

The man acknowledged his understanding then went back to the apostles and had a short, quiet conversation with them. They all nodded, and then the man went to Bush and greeted him warmly.

The apostles came directly to me, starring at me as if I were either an angel, an alien or a brilliant impostor, which is a very strange mix. The fact that all this was happening on a manicured lawn and bleeding into the street of a very proper residential neighborhood made it still more strange.

You truly met with people of other worlds?” one of them asked.

Yes I have; with several of them.”

He looked at the other one, who took his turn to ask a very solemn question.

And you’ll tell us what you’ve learned?”

If you are willing to protect me, I shall. But I warn you as I did Mr. Bush, this is not easy to bear.” They glanced at him. “I’ve had to suffer through what I’ve learned as well. None of it is particularly bad, but reading of such things in books differs from facing them in actuality. And even though I suspect you are prepared for such things, there will be surprises.”

They stepped away, discussed something for a moment, then called two pairs of missionaries over and gave them instructions. I couldn’t hear the details, but all four missionaries looked shocked. The apostles repeated whatever it was they said, then the two pairs got into their cars and drove off.

The apostles came back to me. “If you’ll follow us, we’ll take you to safety, and we’ll find a physician for your friend.” I thanked them, got back into our car, and drove in a little flotilla to the center of the city.

As I went, I looked back in my rear-view mirror, at the quiet manicured lawn on the quiet manicured street. No evidence of what would become a famous event for the Latter Day Saints remained.

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Paul Rosenberg