First Friday Fiction Flashback — 1985

Grant Caldwell woke from a strange dream. As was his custom on Saturday mornings, he lay in bed for several minutes, contemplating life in general, and considering sleeping a little longer. Realizing he was not tired, he reached over and switched on the radio. A minute later, a tune was running through his head, and his dream was fading into forgotten memories. This was unfortunate, as several clues about the next few days had been hidden in that particular dream. Grant would have to survive without the benefit of these clues.

Whistling, Grant climbed out of bed, stripped off his pajamas, and wandered into the bathroom. In about fifteen minutes he showered, shaved, dressed, and completed the rest of his morning routine. Then he casually strayed into the main room of the apartment.

Grant shared the apartment with a friend named Jim, but Jim had left for work before Grant was awake. He would not return until evening, so Grant had the place to himself for hours. He picked up Jim’s clothing from the floor and threw it into Jim’s closet. Then Grant crossed the room, lifted the blind, and looked out the large window. Across the street was a grocery store. As a view, it was not exciting, but the store was convenient when Grant and Jim were short on food. Grant first looked at the sky, which was clear and sunny—it promised to be another warm day. Then he looked down into the parking lot, curious to see who was starting their day shopping for groceries.

His eyes were drawn immediately to a young couple, about the same age as Grant, strolling aimlessly through the parking lot, as if they were paying attention to nothing in particular. The girl looked familiar to Grant, as if he should know her from somewhere. (He did not understand that this feeling was an echo from his forgotten dream.) As it happened, though, Grant did know the girl. Her name was Marsha Sorkin, and she was one of Grant’s fellow students at the College of Osbourne.

The man with Marsha was Tim Bernard. The two of them were reputed to be leaders of a radical group of Osbourne youth, said to be responsible for much destruction of property. They were anarchists, vocally opposed to local and national government, and they were also against corporations and businesses. Rumors about the band were varied. Some citizens claimed that the group was communist, while others said they were merely hoodlums glorifying their havoc by claiming a cause. At any rate, the damage they caused was common knowledge to everyone in Osbourne except for the police force and the local judge.

Marsha, Tim, and those that gathered around them were blamed for anti-American slogans painted on the high school and on the railroad station. They were accused of slashing tires and breaking windows of cars belonging to the members of the city council during the past three council meetings. On the Fourth of July, they had disrupted the parade, first with chanting and then by blocking the street, waving flags and singing revolutionary songs. They were believed to be responsible for igniting the scheduled firework show in the middle of the afternoon to spoil the traditional nighttime celebration. The mayor of Osbourne had publicly accused them of setting the blaze that destroyed his house during his family’s vacation in August. They were said to be the ones who stormed into the First National Bank the Saturday before Labor Day on a vandalism spree that ruined the interior of the bank and netted the perpetrators several thousand dollars.

In spite of these rumors, neither Marsha nor Tim had spent even an hour in jail. They had been questioned by police, they had testified in public hearings, and they had been quoted in the newspapers. Although their philosophy clearly was anarchic, no evidence had been produced to warrant their arrest. Parents shuddered as they awaited the next terrorist activity and warned their children to avoid Marsha and Tim.

The two of them were treated like heroes by many of their fellow college students. No one doubted that they were responsible for all the violence in Osbourne. Considerable doubt existed, though, about the relationship of Marsha and Tim. Even though they appeared together at social functions, both claimed full abstinence from romance, let alone sexual relations, for the good of their cause. No one ever saw them express affection toward each other. On the other hand, it was widely whispered that they were sleeping together. Looking down upon them as they patrolled the parking lot, Grant speculated that those rumors were false. They were too intent upon their next mission to be distracted by one another.

Grant had never joined their group, although he and Marsha had a nodding acquaintance. Grant, like many people his age, was disillusioned with politicians, with business leaders, and with the military. He had no love for the system of capitalism, nor did he trust the mechanics of representative democracy. Still, Grant had never viewed violence as a solution to society’s problems. His interest in Marsha and Tim was not political, and his opinion of them was not negative.

As he watched them casually wander around the parking lot, Grant became convinced of two things. Both these convictions were the result of his forgotten dream, but by this moment Grant no longer recalled even that he had dreamed. The first thought in his mind was that Marsha and Tim were planning a raid on the grocery store, much like their attack upon the bank three weeks earlier. The second thought that accompanied that awareness was that Marsha was beautiful, perhaps the most beautiful woman Grant ever had seen. On an impulse, he left his apartment, ran down the stairs, and crossed the street to he could speak with Marsha Sorkin.

His idea that Marsha was the most beautiful woman he had seen did not dissipate as he approached her. Her beauty filled his eyes, although it was a stark beauty, unsoftened by any gentle touch. She had jet-black hair, parted in the middle and hanging straight down her back past her shoulders; deep brown eyes with a core of ice in the center of each; a narrow face, with a grim line for a mouth; and sharp animated moves that showed command of the situation that not even her escort, Tim Bernard, could imitate.

Grant had rushed so quickly to talk with Marsha that he had not considered what to say when he reached her. “Hello,” was an obvious opening word, but after that he was lost. He felt inadequate, unworthy, and out of place. He was about to retreat in befuddled embarrassment, as Tim merely nodded in reply, but Marsha was more gracious.

Smiling, she returned his hello and added, “Are you going to the Yellow Ribbon Dance tonight?”

“Uh…yes… that is, if I can find a date,” Grant stammered, forgetting that he was scheduled to work that night. He had also forgotten that never had any intention of attending the dance. He even forgot to ask why she called it the Yellow Ribbon Dance and not the Homecoming Dance.

“I hope you do,” Marsha said, smiling sweetly. “I’d like you to be there.” Tim nodded again, remotely, and the two walked away.

His head swimming with euphoria, Grant wandered in the direction of the store. He did not notice the number of young people gathering around him, since he was reliving again and again his brief conversation with Marsha. “She’d like me to be at the dance,” Grant said to himself in amazement. “All I need is a date.”

A nearby conversation distracted Grant from his daydream. One girl was distributing unlabeled bottles. Another girl asked, as she was handed a bottle, “What’s in it?”

“Acid,” she was told.

“I can’t take it,” she said, returning the bottle. “I don’t think my pastor would approve of this.”

Grant winced. Pastor Smith had always accused Grant of having a rebellious streak. He knew that the good pastor would not have approved of anyone’s participation in what was certain to become a riot. Grant thought that he probably should just go back to his apartment and watch the action.

He never had that choice. Before he could turn around, someone at the front of the crowd yelled a signal. The entire mass flooded through the doors of the grocery store. Grant had no choice but to run with the others.

Carnage reigned inside the store. Customers and clerks ran screaming as the terrorists emptied each cash register. Shelves of stock were thrown to the floor, windows were broken, and acid was thrown in every direction. Those who followed Marsha and Tim screamed and ran around the store breaking every fragile item they could find.

Grant dodged the broken glass, the acid, the spilled produce, and as many people as he could. Running at full speed, he was the first to reach the manager’s office in the far corner of the store. The office was set apart and the door was not clearly marked. Therefore, none of the rioters followed Grant into the room.

Inside, the manager was talking urgently into the telephone. Behind him in the well-furnished office was a case of hunting rifles. Around the paneled room were photographs and hunting trophies. Several comfortable chairs and a large desk filled the room, which was richly carpeted. With a dash of insight, Grant realized that the manager of this store must also be its owner.

He had no time to think, though. In an instant, Grant jumped to the desk, ripped the cord from the telephone, and threw the telephone at the case of rifles. The glass shattered.

Fred, the manager and owner of the store, rose to his feet. In a threatening voice, he bellowed, “You shouldn’t have done that!”

Grant laughed. “Why not?” he snarled in an insolent tone. He had not planned to be violent, but he knew that he must end the manager’s conversation.

In the distance, sirens sounded. They obviously were coming closer.

Fred smiled.

For once, the police had noticed that something bad was happening in Osbourne. As soon as they got Fred’s call, they were ready to respond. When the call ended abruptly, they hurried even faster. In less than a minute, five squad cars were in the parking lot of the grocery store.

When the police arrived, the members of the mob were already scattering. The officers rounded up as many delinquents as they could, and they fired warning shots over the heads of those who escaped arrest. Almost immediately those shots were answered by return fire from inside the store. As one officer fell, the others turned and fired through the broken windows of the grocery store.

After a moment the shooting stopped. For a brief time all was quiet. The police had only one casualty on their side. Cautiously they approached the store. The first to look inside saw Marsha sobbing over her fallen comrades. She put up a token struggle as two officers raised her by her arms. Then she let herself be led toward the manager’s office. Other police officers checked the fallen terrorists for signs of life. They found none.

On the outside the police maintained a professional appearance. Inside they were chuckling. At last the town ruffians had misstepped and had been caught. The heroes of the battle would receive commendations, and nights in Osbourne would be quiet again. With a touch of arrogance, the two policemen pushed Marsha into Fred’s office. “Here’s one of the ringleaders,” they boasted to Fred. “The other one is dead.”

Fred remained at his desk. He looked up at the policemen but did not speak. Meanwhile, Grant squeezed himself flat against the wall opposite from the store manager’s desk. Keeping a rifle in is hands steadily aimed at the doorway, he waited for the policemen to take one step into the room. His eyes watched Marsha with pity as she struggled to maintain her fierce dignity in the face of her tragedy. Like her captors, Marsha was unaware that Grant was in the room.

“Fred? Is everything OK?” one of the officers asked. He took the extra step for which Grant had been waiting.

“Hands in the air, gentlemen,” Grant said roughly. Turning, the police officers saw a double-barreled shotgun in Grant’s hands. Sheepishly, they obeyed his order. Grant stepped between them and removed their guns from their holsters. “Now, you two get behind the desk,” he ordered.

Marsha looked up at Grant, her eyes glowing. Her fire made Grant’s stomach boil, but outwardly he remained cool. He chose the officer who was about as tall as Grant. “Your jacket, please,” he demanded. The officer glared at Grant, glanced at the shotgun in Grant’s hands, and shrugged the jacket off. He tossed it to the floor at Grant’s feet.

“The hat too,” Grant directed, and the officer’s hat joined the coat on the floor. Both police officers stood behind Fred, watching to see what Grant and Marsha would do next.

“Very good,” Grant said, still using a rough voice. He handed one of the pistols to Marsha, set down the shotgun, and donned the jacket while she held the three men at bay. Grant put the hat on his head, pulling it down to hide his eyes. Tucking the second pistol into a picket, Grant seized three more rifles from Fred’s display case. He tucked them under his left arm, and then pulled the pistol back out of his pocket. “Now the three of you stay back here and keep quiet for at least ten minutes,” he demanded—“that is, if you want to live.” As the three men nodded obediently, Grant turned to Marsha. “Hide the pistol,” he told her. “For the next two minutes you are my prisoner. Do whatever I say, no matter how stupid it seems, OK?” She nodded. “OK,” he repeated. “Good day, gentlemen.” With a wave of the pistol, he directed Marsha out the door and followed her through the store. Like any captive, she walked slowly and cautiously.

As Grant and Marsha moved wordlessly through the ruins of the grocery store, police officers and ambulance attendants parted to let them through. Marsha and Grant proceeded outside. Grant chose a police car, of the five in the parking lot the one nearest the street, and pointed Marsha toward it. The car was unlocked, and the keys were in the ignition. Gawking onlookers cheered as Grant pushed Marsha into the back seat, climbed in front, dropped the rifles on the seat next to him, started the siren, and began driving in the direction of downtown.

Before they passed the police station, Grant shut off the siren, slowed to normal driving speed, and began cruising down side streets through residential neighborhoods. Once Marsha leaned forward and asked conversationally, “Where’re you going?”

“Sit back and shut up,” he grunted back. She did as he said.

After ten minutes of driving, Grant had worked his way to the bowling alley behind the apartment building where he lived. Seeing no one in the immediate area, he stopped the car, removed his disguise, and opened the car door. “Follow me,” he told Marsha, “and don’t ask questions.” He left the guns in the car; they had been needed to escape the store, but Grant had no intention of using them.

Racing across the field that separated the bowling alley parking lot from that of the apartment building, Grant was pleased to observe a large crowd still surrounded the grocery store. Their presence would diminish the visibility of his homecoming. With Marsha’s hand in his free hand, he slipped across the side of the building and opened the door to its one entrance. A quick run up the stairs followed, and a moment later the door to Grant’s apartment was closed and locked behind them. The crowd outside began to dissipate as Grant and Marsha gasped to regain their breath. Grant saw that already the steel of command was beginning to harden in Marsha’s eyes.

“Now can I ask a question?” she inquired after a minute or two of silence.

“Ask,” Grant invited.

Marsha crossed to the window. Hiding behind the curtain she gazed carefully outside. “How long do you expect to hide me up here?”

Grant shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“How soon do you expect the police to come over here, looking for witnesses about this morning’s drama?”

“Four, five minutes at least. We’ll think of something.”

“Think faster,” Marsha commanded, dropping the curtain. “They’re on their way now.”

Grant wondered why Marsha was asking him to do the thinking when she had been in charge of the local terrorist group. Then Grant recalled that she was used to having Tim Bernard as a partner. He also realized that she was used to striking and running, not to hiding. Even now she was approaching the clothes closet, surely one of the first places the police would check.

“Not there,” Grant commanded. “Get in the shower.”

Marsha balked. “Clothes and all?” she asked.

“Do you think your clothes would look better out here?” Grant asked, indicating the masculinely-furnished apartment. Marsha glared at him, but she then darted into the bathroom and started the shower, clothes and all. Grant slid the shower curtain shut, ordering, “Turn the water on and leave it on until I tell you to shut it off. Don’t say a word, no matter what I say or do.”

“I’ll get all wet,” Marsha hissed at him, but when someone knocked on the door of the apartment, she turned on the water.

Grant answered the door, welcoming two police officers into the apartment. He was relieved to see that they were not the officers he had encountered in the manager’s office.

“Excuse me, sir,” one of them said as they stepped into the apartment. “We’re here because of that business across the street.”

“Yes, the noise woke us up,” Grant lied. “There was such a crowd, though, we couldn’t see what happened.”

“Armed robbery and vandalism—turned into a shoot-out,” the second officer informed him. “A couple of them got away and a witness told us she saw them run into this building. Mind if we look around?”

Grant shrugged. “Don’t tear anything apart,” he said. He opened the bathroom door, which he had closed just seconds earlier. “Hey, Jim,” he called, “Some police are here because of the melee across the street. Mind if they look around the apartment?” As he expected, there was no answer. “He’s got to be at work by noon,” Grant told the policemen.

“That’s OK—we won’t bother him,” they promised. Casually they looked into the closets, behind and under furniture, and even behind the drapes. “Where does this door go to?” one of the officers asked, coming out of the bedroom.

“Storage,” Grant said. “I’ve got the key.”

When the officers had checked the storage room thoroughly, they met Grant again in the living room. “Don’t you or Jim go anywhere without checking with us,” they commanded. “We’ll need to ask you both some questions, but we need to search the rest of the building first.”

Grant shrugged. “Sure,” he said, and they left.

When they walked out of the door, Grant had the phone in his hand. This was not just a ruse. As they went down the steps, he dialed ten numbers and listened to the phone ring. On the third ring, Tony answered. “Hey…Tony,” Grant said.

“Hey, Grant,” Tony shouted back, “How’re you doing, old boy?”

“Not bad, not bad,” Grant said. “Listen, Tony, I need a favor.”

“Sure—what is it?”

“Can you put me and a friend up for a couple of weeks, starting tonight? We really need to get away.”

Tony chuckled. “What’s her name?”

“I’ll introduce you when we get there. Any problems?”

“No, none at all. See you tonight.”

Grant sighed with relief as he hung up the phone. Tony was always good for a favor. Going into the bathroom, he rattled the shower curtain. “C’mon out,” he called.

“They’ve gone?” Marsha’s voice queried as the water stopped.

“They’ve gone,” Grant said. When the shower curtain opened, Grant saw Marsha in dripping clothes, crossing her arms tight against her body and shivering. “You ran out of hot water,” she told him, her teeth chattering.

“Sorry,” he said, while his mind raced, planning their trip. “There’s towels on the rack there.”

“Just towels?” Marsha snorted.

“Oh, Yeah, Right.” Grant went to the closet, opened it, and pulled out a flannel shirt, a pair of jeans that were pretty tight on him, and a belt.  “Here,” he said, tossing them to Marsha. She grabbed them and closed the bathroom door.

While Marsha dried and changed clothes, Grant found a suitcase and tossed in the clothes he expected to need. “She can buy what she needs in Marshalltown,” he told himself. That thought reminded him to grab some extra cash and toss it into the suitcase. Then he took several post cards from Jim’s collection, some writing paper, envelopes, and stamps, and a couple of books to keep him busy.

As he zipped the suitcase closed, Marsha stepped out from the bathroom. Her long black hair had a tendency to curl when it was wet. Without makeup her face was freckled. The shirt was baggy, but it looked good on her. Grant’s jeans fit her waist but were double-cuffed to keep from dragging on the floor. Without her boots, Marsha was fully twelve inches shorter than Grant. Her curly hair, freckles, and outfit changed the sparks in her eyes into a twinkle.” Now what?” she asked him, mostly in a commanding tone, but with a hint of teasing in her voice.

“Now we leave town,” Grant said. He went into the bathroom and opened the window. First he tossed out the suitcase, then he looked at Marsha and pointed to the open window.

She winced. “Is it a long way down?” she asked him.

“Not far. You just slide down the drainpipe.” She put her hands on the windowsill and looked outside.

“It’s too far,” she told him.

Grant put his hands on her slender waist and boosted her through the window. “Fall or slide,” he told her. She took hold of the drainpipe, he released her, and she slid to the ground.

Grant had never liked heights. Even after forcing Marsha out the window and down, he had to take three deep breaths to steady his nerves. Then he put one foot out the window, then the other. Next he tried to convince himself to remove the rest of his body from the windowsill. Marsha beckoned urgently to him, but he didn’t dare look down. “Hurry,” she hissed. He dangled from his hands, took another deep breath, and let go. Landing on his feet was a jolt, but it was over and he wasn’t hurt.

“That’s my car,” he said, pointing. They rushed to it, he unlocked the door, and soon they were in the car and on the road. There was no pursuit.

“Hey, neat hat,” Marsha exclaimed. She was holding the formal hat that Grant’s grandfather had worn in the forties and fifties. Grant had forgotten that he had left it in his car.

“Wear it,” he said. “No one will recognize you.” The two chatted and got acquainted as they drove toward Iowa.

Grant Caldwell’s friend Tony welcomed Grant and Marsha when they arrived at his house. He offered them both the guest room, but Grant insisted on sleeping on the living room sofa, leaving Marsha the guest room. Intently he read the newspapers when they arrived and watched the news at six and ten on TV.

The day after they arrived, Grant set himself to work. Taking out the postcards he had packed, Grant wrote brief notes to his parents, to his roommate Jim, to his boss, and to his friend Wayne. “I am fine,” the notes said. “I have done nothing wrong, but to keep out of trouble I am hiding. Please do not look for me. I will see you soon.” He signed and stamped the post cards and set them aside.

Next, he took out his stationery and removed four sheets. On these he wrote four short letters, similar to the notes on the post cards. To each letter he added, “I need a favor from you. Please mail the enclosed post card, today if possible. And please destroy this envelope.” He addressed the envelopes to his cousin in Phoenix, Arizona, to another cousin in Washington, DC, to a friend in Memphis, Tennessee, and to another friend in Cincinnati, Ohio. When the letters and postcards were sealed in the envelopes, his work was done.

“Tomorrow,” he told Marsha, “I’ll drive to Cedar Rapids and mail these. Nobody will find us here in Marshalltown for quite some time.”

Marsha snuggled up next to him. “Can I go with you? I’d love to go shopping at the Terrydale mall.”

Grant shook his head. “Someone might recognize you. After I’ve gone through this trouble to get you out here and safe, I’d hate to blow it.”

“Thanks.” Marsha took hold of his arm. “Why did you do it?”

“Do what?” Grant asked, stalling for time as he thought of an answer she would accept.

“Why did you save me? You aren’t one of us. You could’ve hidden, said you were a shopper, and gotten away. Why did you stick with me?”

Grant leaned back and closed his eyes. “It’s hard to describe. Something in me hated to see you lose. I hated what you were doing, too, but striking out against rich people and those who make the rules—I understand that. If I let you lose, I guess I felt that I would’ve betrayed every kid in town.”

Marsha rested her head on his shoulder. “I don’t understand,” she told him.

“Neither do I. I just did what I felt I should do. That’s all.”

Marsha then did what she felt she should do. Tony saw them embrace on the couch and, quietly, he left them alone.

Later that night Grant sat in front of the TV, newspaper in his lap, news on the screen before him. Marsha came into the room and asked, “So, what’s the news? What are they saying about us?”

Grant chuckled. “They say you kidnapped me and forced me to take you to Chicago. They’re searching the city for us—mostly for you.”

Marsha sat down beside him. “They’ll find us sooner or later,” she said, stroking the back of his hand. “There is no point in hiding.”

“We have to hold out as long as we can,” Grant insisted. “We owe it to ourselves and to everyone who believes what we believe.”

“And what do we believe?” Marsha whispered.

The next afternoon, Grant Caldwell whistled as he drove back into Marshalltown. All seemed to be going well. He had mailed the letters in Cedar Rapids as planned. Then he stopped by the shopping mall to buy a couple surprises for Marsha. He enjoyed revisiting his hometown, even though he could not stop to visit his friends. The weather was beautiful, and all his plans were working as well as he could expect them to work.

He was surprised to see a great number of cars parked outside Tony’s house as he pulled into town. He was dismayed to see that most of them were police cars. His first thought was escape, but he knew that he had to find out what had happened to Marsha. He stopped his car and opened the door. Climbing out, he slammed the door shut, and began walking toward the house.

Police officers were leading Marsha out of the house as Grant approached. Her wrists were held by handcuffs. Grant rushed up to an officer and blurted out, “Please, sir, she is my sister. Can I talk to her alone for a minute or two?”

The Iowa state trooper was friendly, and he did not recognize Grant. “Sure, son,” he said, “but only for two minutes.”

“What happened?” Grant demanded when they were alone. “Did someone in town recognize you? Did Tony report you? Or did they track my phone call the other day?”

Marsha smiled sweetly. “No, dear,” she assured him. “I just turned myself in.”

Grant was speechless.

“Don’t ask me to explain, ‘cause I can’t. It just wasn’t working. Oh, you were great to help me, and I love you for it, I really do. But there’s no action in this town—nothing worth blowing up. I might as well suffer for my crimes if I can’t cause any more trouble.” She winked. “Who knows? I may learn a thing or two in jail.”

For this Grant had no answer.

“I’ve got a story all set. I kidnapped you, like they said on the news, and I made you do everything that you’ve done. None of it is your fault.”

Grant shook his head. “You can’t say that.”

“Isn’t it true? Tell me, did you hold Fred and the police at gunpoint and lie to the cops in your apartment and drive all the way out here for anyone besides me?” Grant denied it. “Then it’s true. I charmed you, or I forced you. In the end it’s just the same: it’s not your fault.”

“Marsha,” Grant said, “It didn’t work for Patty Hearst. It won’t work now.” A tear slid from his eye. “I had hoped we’d be together for a while—maybe share some adventures. I was getting to like your company.”

She smiled. “There’s plenty of time ahead of us. Our paths may cross again.” She winked once more. ”Meanwhile what’re you going to do?”

Grant thought for a second. “I’ve got friends in Nebraska I could visit,” he declared. “Of course I didn’t tell you that.”

“You’re going to Minneapolis,” she told him. “That’s what I heard.”

Grant kissed her, one quick kiss, then pulled himself away. “I’ll miss you,” he confessed.

“Don’t look back,” she replied. “We’ll meet again… unless we don’t.” With that, she returned to the custody of the Iowa State Police.

Grant climbed into his car and headed west.

 

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