Return Engagements: Book Three (Part Twenty Two)

My trip to Duluth was quite another matter. I left Minneapolis the second morning after returning from Detroit, and did fine on the two hour drive, but after that I ran into trouble.

First of all, Duluth was significantly larger than I had expected, considerably larger than it is now. That made it hard to find a place to ditch the car, and meant that I might not make it back to the airport for my scheduled flight to Minneapolis.

Eventually I found an out of the way spot near Lake Superior, ditching the car in a low spot and covering it with brush. So long as it was a normal year for snow, I’d be fine. Getting back to the airport, however, was an issue: There was no place to catch a taxi, and the closest place with a pay phone was at least three miles. And so, in a throw-back to my youth, I stood by the side of the road and stuck out my thumb.

To my surprise, the third car to pass me pulled over; it was a gentleman of roughly my age, and he asked where I was going. “To the airport,” I said, “but even the nearest pay phone will be fine. I can call a taxi from there.” The man told me to hop in, that he was passing close to the airport anyway.

I’d forgotten how common it had been for people to help one another and trust one another. It had been a regular feature of life in my youth. We hitchhiked all the time in the 1970s. And then, for some reason, everyone became terrified of everyone else. But it felt lovely to trust and be trusted. The gentleman dropped me at the airport, I asked if I could give him some money for gas, and he declined. It was civilized in the best sense of the term.

I made my flight. On my way out of the airport, however, I saw an evening paper. And there, on the front page, was an article entitled Who Is The Mystery Man? I picked it up and read that “Federal agents” had found my “lairs,” and were closing in on me.

Once back at the hotel I hustled through the lobby, called the front desk to tell them that I was leaving the next day. Then I began preparing myself for fugitive life. I couldn’t help thinking of David Jansen as Dr. Richard Kimball. It didn’t thrill me.

After a few minutes, however, I began to warm to the idea. Having lived in one or another version of an underground a large portion of my life, I found a sort of comfort in it. All sorts of options passed through my mind, and they made me happy. Beside, I only had another year and a half on this world; that wasn’t terribly long.

That said, I would need a week or two of limited exposure, in which to grow my beard, change my wardrobe, and so on.

Somehow I fell asleep, and slept well. In the morning I pared down my belongings and headed to the airport. I’d stay with my plan to fly to Spokane and then take the bus, but I wouldn’t go to Vegas. By now I realized that they’d be all over it, since my truck had Nevada plates.

And so I left off shaving, checked out, and headed to the airport. I even thought about calling myself Richard Kimball from that point on. The Fugitive story didn’t exist in 1947. And again, I had no idea where I’d go, save that it would be to the south, because soon enough it would be winter.

* * * * *

The flight to Spokane was pleasant. It was a clear day and I had a window that wasn’t directly over a wing. Again I found it entertaining to fly at a lower altitude.

I was glad to be out of Minneapolis. I liked the city, but I had been there a week; that’s far too long when the Feds are chasing you. I figured I could spend a week on various buses and in hopefully reasonable hotels. I would also be changing my legend (my cover story) from a retired engineer to an itinerant construction supervisor.

I intended on finding a nice job in some quiet place, using my usual gambit: I’ll work one week for you. Then, if you don’t want me to continue, you don’t have to pay me. It pretty much always works, provided you have a serious employer who needs the help.

I stopped at the airport’s information desk and found that I’d need a ride to the bus terminal, and so I headed toward a taxi stand.

I was feeling relaxed as I walked out of the terminal and into a bright Spokane. Actually, it seemed such a pleasant place that I briefly considered staying right there. Still, if they tracked flights in and out of Detroit for the 23rd and 24th, they might go through the list and eliminate everyone but me, then find the lady who sold me my tickets and verify everything. I kept moving.

Then, as I walked toward the taxis, a car pulled over next to me, from the opposite direction, with the driver’s window open.

Nice to see you again,” I heard in a slightly familiar voice.

I looked at the driver, and staring me in the face was Vannevar Bush. I didn’t exactly freeze, but I did stop walking.

Bush held up a sketch of my face. “We haven’t published this yet, but we’ve had it since three days after you dropped that artifact. I realized instantly that we had met. That was accidental, yes?”

Entirely, yes.”

Good… then you have two choices. One, you can run; I won’t chase you. Or two, I can get you out of here before the Spokane police department rolls in. I gave them the wrong time for your arrival… those confounded time zones!”

The choice seemed obvious, and he wouldn’t have protected me (giving the cops the wrong time) if he meant to hurt me. Still, I wanted to hear the full deal before I signed-on to it.

And if I get in?”

Then I will protect you, on one single condition.”

Which is?”

That you tell me absolutely everything you know. Nothing held back.”

I walked directly to him and put my hands on top of his car door, leaning down. “I’m willing to do that,” I said, “but you have no idea what you’re asking. I’m not sure you really want to know.”

I want to know,” he said. “not for anyone else but myself.”

I looked at him hard to be sure he was sincere. Then, saying nothing, I walked around to the passenger side and got in.

I slumped down in my seat to avoid being seen, and he nodded his assent.

We’ll be headed south and will be driving for quite a while.” he said. “Once we’re on the open road, I’ll want you to start explaining.”

That’ll be fine,” I said, “but once I get to the meat of it all, I’ll need to be at the wheel, not you. You driving at that time might be dangerous.”

He looked at me to see if I was serious. “That bad?” he asked.

No, not actually bad, but deeply surprising and with enormous implications. It’s a lot to take. Honestly, I think we’ll need a number of days to go through it all… if you decide you want to go through it all.”

He said nothing more, but looked a little worried.

Once we seemed to be out of the city I sat up. “Are we headed anywhere in particular?” I asked.

He smiled. “We are. You have some very serious friends you don’t know about in Salt Lake City. They’ll be your protectors for as long as you need them.”

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Paul Rosenberg