Return Engagements: Book Three (Part Twenty One)

The next day was a Sunday, and I took a long, slow walk around downtown Minneapolis, which was nearly empty. It was a therapeutic time for me, giving me a comfortable and mildly distracting ‘space’ in which to let my thoughts and feelings sift themselves. The weather was cool but not too cold and I had my nice overcoat on. I stopped in a diner for a late breakfast, bought a number of out of town newspapers, and simply wandered around.

By later afternoon I was back at the hotel. I took a hot shower, ordered some food, and was finally ready to consider my future. Had I known how close Bush’s men were to finding me, I might have been more concerned, but I hadn’t yet realized it, and at least for my emotional health, that was better.

My hotel room had a good sized table in it, and so I laid out my newspapers, my notepad and my pens on it, and began going through them over dinner, with some music playing in the background.

It didn’t take me long to realize that my Buick would be what delivered me to the Feds, and that I’d have to ditch it. And so I planned on abandoning it somewhere that wouldn’t quickly be found, then flying somewhere else and buying a new one. It didn’t occur to me until I had moved on to the next subject that I had a perfectly good car parked behind the Flamingo in Las Vegas.

And so I planned on getting back to Las Vegas, but not yet. I needed a few days off first. I was in a comfortable place and had plenty of money. Vegas would wait.

* * * * *

Mencken, however, wasn’t waiting. Even before the spacecraft was revealed, he had set me up with a radio interview on Arthur Godfrey Time, which was more or less the first big talk radio show (also something of a variety show), conducted every weekday morning out of Washington, DC. Godfrey had long admired Mencken and he was ecstatic to have an interview with me, and all the more so once the probe was revealed.

Monday morning, as I went through my out-of-town papers, I found a classified from Mencken. It read:

Mr. Ulbricht: Make collect call Oct. 24 to this number for a conversation:

The ad went on to give me Godfrey’s number, but partly encoded, using “third no. in my address” instead of a numeral, and so on.

I had given “Ulbricht” to Mencken and “Assange” to Dorothy as names to be used as identifiers.

I didn’t know it was Godfrey’s number at that time, but I trusted Mencken. At the same time I also trusted Vannevar Bush to be smart, and that meant that I had to do the interview carefully. I had to expect him to be following the adds, to put Mencken’s address together with the add, and to trace the phone lines. I didn’t know overly much about phone tracking in 1947, but I knew from the layout of the telephone network that it would be possible.

* * * * *

I spent Monday morning with a US map and Minneapolis newspaper, figuring out how to make Mencken’s call, dump the car somewhere it wouldn’t be found, then make my way to Vegas. After Vegas I didn’t bother to plan… I had deeply enjoyed my “big job finished and now I have absolutely no plans” moment. And so, unless I had some reason not to, I was going to create another.

And while turning a page in the paper, I found my answer. It was an ad for Northwest Airlines. They were advertising daily flights to Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, New York and a half dozen smaller towns in the northern United States. Fifteen minutes later I had my plan: I’d fly to Detroit to make my phone call. Then I’d come back, drive my car to Duluth (one of the other towns Northwest served), abandon it somewhere in the area, fly back to Minneapolis, and finally fly to Spokane, taking buses from there down to Las Vegas.

That afternoon I drove to the airport and purchased tickets with cash. I smiled through the process, once again thrilled to buy airplane tickets without even the checking of an ID. Then I went back to my hotel and hunkered down. I had nothing to do until the 23rd, when I’d fly to Detroit, stay in a hotel, make my morning phone call from a pay phone, then return.

What made Duluth work for losing the car, was the fact that it got very cold, and usually earlier than almost any other place in the US. If I abandoned the car in late October, it would likely be covered with snow within a week or two, and would likely stay covered for six months.

It was a good plan, and so, after one more review, I stopped thinking about it and did my best to relax until the 23rd.

* * * * *

Even before my interview with Arthur Godfrey, Vannevar Bush was having second thoughts about arresting me. He had received my letter and believed me when I said that I had no more artifacts in my possession and had no information that would be useful to the US government. He also understood that I had no interest in spending the rest of my life being interrogated.

Hillenkoetter, at the same time, was pressuring Bush to find me. When he asked why it was so terribly important after the spacecraft was in friendly hands, the admiral flew into a rage, accusing Bush of becoming unpatriotic and lazy, among other things.

Hillenkoetter’s rage had precisely the opposite of its intended effect upon Bush. He indeed increased his efforts to find me, but not before he dug into his old books and started going through writings and records from the American revolution.

By accident, and because the CIA was new and lacked rigorous controls, Hillenkoetter hadn’t seen my letter to Bush. That left Bush an open door, and he was determined to use it.

* * * * *

My trip to Detroit went without a hitch, and the interview with Godfrey went fairly well. He pressed me on precisely how I fell into the situation with the probe and I declined to answer, repeating that it had nothing to do with any foreign country. I told him that I grew up in a large American city, that I had a large family that lived there, that I had friends all across the country, and that even if I didn’t revere Jefferson and Adams, I’d never do anything to hurt my own family. And I think the point finally stuck.

I told Godfrey’s listeners that I didn’t have any more artifacts, but that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in jail and in endless interrogations, and I was avoiding the US government for precisely that reason. I suggested that in the same situation, they’d do the same. And, of course, I repeated the basic facts: that they were probes, that the “little people” in them were biological robots, and that the planet the saucers came from was filled with people like us, albeit more advanced.

Godfrey, to my surprise, got theological, asking about their beliefs. That required me to get creative with my attribution (I put comments from my previous companion Jenns into Renn’s mouth), but I told him they believed completely in what we’d call God the Father, and that my friend knew of and loved Jesus, though he hadn’t yet personally met him.

I did my best to explain that our advanced cousins live far, far away, and that communication and travel is considerably more difficult than we might think. I suggested to Godfrey that he have a physicist on his show for a proper explanation.

Then I ended the call and hurried to the airport, needing to be out of Detroit before half an army of Feds descended upon me.

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Paul Rosenberg