Flashback 1986, part five

You can read part one here

You can read part two here

You can read part three here

You can read part four here

Juan stopped at a motel next to the highway on the edge of town. “I wonder if they’ll take cash for a room,” he said. “I really don’t want to use a credit card.”

“Let me put my feminine charm to work,” Laura suggested. “It might also require a little tip, but I think I can manage this.”

Ten minutes later, she was back in the car. “Did it work?” Juan asked. In answer, she showed him the cardkey. “What did you tell them?” he asked.

“Mostly, I told the truth,” she said, smiling. “I said I had been in an accident and my purse was lost with all my credit cards, my driver’s license, and other identification. The only lie I spoke was my name—I told them that I’m Martha Jones.” Juan smiled, and he moved the car closer to their room.

After unloading the car, the two drove down the road to a Walmart. Laura took some of Juan’s money and went shopping for clothes, while he wandered from department to department: outdoor furnishings and supplies, paint and home repair, automotive, toys, electronics—anything but clothing. When that bored him, Juan went to the front of the store and sat on a bench. Soon he saw Laura getting into a line for a cashier. He waved at her, and she smiled and waved back. Juan stayed on the bench until she had paid for her clothing, then stood up to join her.

As they walked through the doorway to the parking lot, they heard a firm voice behind them say, “Please stop, folks—I need to talk with you.”

Both were tempted to break into a run, but they controlled their fear and turned. The man who had spoken to them was wearing a dark suit and a tie. “I’d like to check your bags and your receipt, please,” he said in a gruff voice that clearly offered them no choice.

“Could we see some identification first?” Juan asked. The man shook his head. “I’m store security,” he said. “That’s all you need to know.” Juan wondered if he and Laura should just walk away, but it seemed safer not to cause a scene.

Wordlessly, Laura handed him her bags of clothing. With care he matched each item to the receipt. Then he reloaded the bags and handed them to her. “Now, sir, I’d like to check your pockets.”

“What’s all this about?” Juan asked.

“You were acting suspiciously in the store,” the man told him. “Just let me search you, and if I don’t find anything wrong, you’re free to go.”

Juan took his wallet and keys out of his pocket and handed them to Laura. So long as the man from Walmart didn’t demand to see identification, Juan thought, they would be fine. The man patted Juan’s pockets and also checked to see if Juan had anything between his shirt and his body. His touch was professional, and in less than a minute he was satisfied that Juan had stolen nothing. “I apologize for the inconvenience,” the man said, no trace of apology in his tone of voice. “Catching thieves saves you money, you know.” Without waiting for any acknowledgement, he turned and went back into the store.

Juan sighed loudly. Laura laughed and gave him his wallet and keys. They returned to the car and went back to the motel.

Laura went into the bathroom to change clothes. She left the door ajar, but Juan averted his eyes. He saw the television and decided to turn it on.

“Do you want to eat some of the food we brought, or should we go out for dinner?” Laura asked as the came out of the bathroom, but Juan hushed her. She didn’t like being ignored, but she understood when he pointed at the TV. She saw her own face looking back at her. A voice proclaimed, “Investigators today released their first findings regarding the explosion, evidence that the airplane had been sabotaged.  No motive for the sabotage has been determined. Although personal items belonging to the actress were recovered, her body has not been found. The partially-burned body that was recovered from the scene was identified as a male in his thirties. The coroner indicated that the man suffered from a terminal case of lung cancer. His name has not been released.”

Laura dropped to the bed next to Juan. “It sounds like the investigation has gone well so far,” she told him. Her face had disappeared from the screen as the newscaster went on to a different story.

“They are still searching for your body at the airport,” Juan said. “They don’t realize that you’re alive.”

She reached out and stroked Juan’s hair. “Suddenly, that doesn’t seem so important,” she cooed.

Juan stood and said, “And they probably don’t know anything about the other man who kidnapped you.”

Laura sat up straight. “That other man…” she began angrily. Then she lay back on the bed and said more calmly. “That other man will be found soon enough.”

Juan didn’t know what to say, so he just nodded. Then he said, “Were you talking about dinner a little bit ago?”

They looked at a phone book and discussed their options. Westfield had several restaurants. Neither of them was in the mood for hamburgers or pizza, and Juan didn’t want to spend his money too quickly. They chose a Chinese food buffet, drove there, and ate their fill. Leaving the restaurant half an hour before sunset, they noticed a park with grass and trees and flowerbeds across the street. “Let’s go for a stroll,” Laura suggested.

As they walked through the park, Laura reached out and took his hand. He wanted to let go, but his hand felt good and also natural in hers. Neither of them spoke as they wandered from one flowerbed to another. The western sky became pink, then rosy, and then purple. Soon the evening star was glowing above the horizon.

“This is a perfect evening,” Laura said. “Every day should end this way.”

Juan saw some flying creatures—he did not know whether they were birds or bats. “I think the car is in this direction,” he said, turning away from the sunset and walking east, Laura’s hand still in his. Their closeness made Juan bold enough to inquire of her, “How did you get into acting? And do you enjoy it?”

Laura began telling the story she had told so many times before. She described a little girl growing up in a poor but happy family. When she was in high school, she suddenly decided to turn away from poverty and happiness in pursuit of fame, money, and loneliness. Skipping quickly over three years of waitressing, snatching food from plates the busboys had cleared from the tables so she could save her tips to buy make-up and clothes. She related how, without great expectations, she took part in an audition her agent recommended. The character made no sense to her, and the entire show seemed nonsensical, but the directors and the writer insisted that she was perfect for the part.

The show bombed. It never even appeared on a television screen outside the network offices. The director did not forget Laura. He kept in contact with her agent, invited her to three more auditions over the next two months, and also told his friends about her. One of his friends decided to take a chance on her. His show became a sensational hit. Now, four years later, Laura Kinser was riding the crest of public favor and adulation. That brought them to the present, to the sudden unexplained kidnapping and the staged plane crash and her escape.

“You know the rest,” she told Juan as they reached the car. “That’s all there is to tell. Anything else about my life,” she lied outrageously, “would be too boring to tell.”

As Juan drove back to the motel, Laura yawned. “It’s funny,” she said. “Half the world thinks I’m dead, and the other half probably thinks I staged the whole incident to take a long vacation. They’re probably imagining me on a beach in Tahiti or southern France, some place exotic like that.” She reached over and squeezed his shoulder. “Can’t say that I’m disappointed that they’re wrong.”

As they pulled into the motel parking lot, Juan said, “Tomorrow we can visit with an investigator I know here in town. He will be able to prove that you are who you say you are, and he can get the authorities started on track to find your kidnapper. That should just about wrap things up for me.” He put the car into park, and then he said, “What do you plan to do after that?”

Laura smiled. “I don’t know. Do you have any suggestions?”

Juan said, “You’ve told me several times how lonely you are. Now that we’ve spent all this time together—and now that we’re about to spend the night together in a motel room—well, would you be interested in having a boyfriend?”

In the dark car, Juan couldn’t see Laura’s face, but he could hear her low-pitched chuckle. “Maybe we should see how the night goes before I answer that question.”

“Listen,” Juan said quickly, “Nothing is going to happen between us tonight, not even if you say you want me as your boyfriend. I don’t move that fast.”

“Oh, please don’t be so old-fashioned,” Laura retorted. “Until now, I’ve wondered if you even liked me. You’ve been so distant, so cold, so… so gentlemanly it almost frightens me.”

“Not even like you?” Juan spluttered. “Laura, I’m crazy about you. I’d do almost anything for you. Why else would I set aside my job to protect you, to bring you out here where you’re safe, where you’ll have a chance to prove who you really are?”

“Oh, I appreciate that,” she said airily. “And I’m grateful, I truly am. But before you offer to be my boyfriend again, let’s try to do a few more romantic things together, OK?”

“OK,” Juan agreed. They left the car and went into their motel room.

When they went out for dinner, Juan had left his phone behind in the room. Returning, he saw that he had missed two calls from the same number, a number he did not recognize. Laura switched on the TV, so Juan walked down to the motel lobby. He made sure that his phone was programmed not to reveal his location, and then he returned the call.

“Hello,” a gruff, half-familiar voice answered.

“Yes, hello,” Juan responded. “You phoned me earlier this evening.”

“Is this Juan Rivera? The airport security guard?”

“It is indeed.”

“Juan, my name is Ron Lawrence.” When Juan gave no indication of recognizing the name, the voice continued, “I’m Laura Kinser’s husband.”

To be continued… J.

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Flashback 1986, part four

You can read part one here

You can read part two here

You can read part three here

The next day at work was startlingly normal. Juan left the apartment before Laura awoke and drove to the airport. Pilots came and went as they usually did on a bright sunny day. Some walked past him without a word; others exchanged pleasantries with him. None of them mentioned Laura Kinser. Even Juan’s supervisor did not ask him again about Laura. It seemed to Juan that she should still be at the center of everyone’s attention—after all, she was at the center of his—but her tragedy seemed forgotten. The woman running through the airport thinking that she was Laura Kinser also was apparently forgotten.

Juan pondered the situation. He had already thought of various ways for the woman to prove that she really was Laura. Fingerprints should help—surely some of the actress’ fingerprints could be found in her home and compared to those of the woman back at Juan’s apartment. Dental records could also be consulted and compared. A DNA test was not out of the question, but fingerprints and dental records should suffice. If Juan believed that the woman was telling the truth, he would have suggested these things to her. As it was, he feared that they would prove that she was lying, and Juan was not prepared to handle her reaction to that discovery.

When Juan returned home from work the next afternoon, he was surprised to see the apartment door open wide. He was even more surprised as he entered the apartment to find two uniformed police officers inside. “We’re sorry to disturb you, sir,” one of the officers said. “We have a warrant.” He showed Juan the search warrant. “We’re trying to find a girl who escaped Monday from the mental ward of the state hospital. She thinks that she’s Laura Kinser. Unfortunately, she also looks a bit like Miss Kinser.” Juan stood mutely in his living room as the officers thoroughly searched his four rooms and his two closets. He expected any minute for them to find his guest, for them to drag her, kicking and screaming, from a closet or some other hiding place. When the officers had completed their search, she still had not appeared.

“We’re sorry for the inconvenience,” he officer said again, disappointment in his voice.

“Whatever made you come here to look for her?” Juan knew that it was a bold question, but it seemed to him that quietly accepting their search would be suspicious.

“One of your neighbors phoned this morning. She described a woman she thought she had seen in the apartment. Obviously she was mistaken. Have a good day.”

After they left, Juan collapsed into a chair. He gazed around his apartment, now a bit disorganized, and wondered where the woman who claimed to be Laura Kinser had gone. After resting for a minute, Juan got up and began putting his things back into place.

The apartment door was still open. Juan looked up with surprise when he saw Laura standing in the doorway, clutching a stack of folded clothes so high that she had to hold it with both arms and her chin. “I hope you don’t mind,” she said as she walked into the living room, setting the clothing on the chair where Juan recently had been sitting. I decided to wash the clothes I’ve been wearing, and I grabbed some of your dirty clothes too, to make a full load.” She looked down at the floor, a little flush creeping across her face. “I filched some of your quarters, too. I’ll pay you back—I promise—just as soon as I can reclaim my identity.”

Juan wanted to laugh. “I don’t mind,” he assured her. He saw that she was wearing one of his flannel shirts and a pair of his blue jeans. The jeans were double-cuffed to keep them from dragging on the floor. He realized that he didn’t mind her borrowing his clothing either; in fact, she looked fine in it.

“You didn’t tell me about the washer in drier in the basement. I went exploring,” she said. Juan didn’t know what to say, but he didn’t have time to form a response. “What’s this piece of paper?” Laura asked, picking up the search warrant that was lying on the table. “This wasn’t here before.”

Juan tried to sound casual as he said, “Oh, it’s just a search warrant. Some police stopped by apartment looking for you while you were down in the basement.”

She frowned as she read it. “It doesn’t look like a search warrant,” she said.

Juan stepped next to her to examine it with her. “It’s the paper they showed me when I came home,” he said.

“But, look, half of it isn’t even filled out, and there’s no signature on the bottom. This looks like something someone printed off the internet.”

Juan shook his head, ashamed that he had been fooled by a clumsy forgery. But they were already in his apartment when he got home; there wasn’t much he could have done. After all, they were wearing police uniforms, complete with guns….

Juan turned away, striking his forehead with his hand. “Of course! I knew he looked familiar!”

“What? Who looked familiar? The police?”

“Yes—the tall one, the one who didn’t speak to me today. The uniform distracted me, but he’s the man from the airport yesterday, the one who was chasing you.” Juan sucked in his breath with another realization. “He was also with you at the airport the day your plane exploded!”

As Juan looked at Laura with renewed recognition, his telephone began to ring.

Juan and Laura jumped, glanced at each other, and then both of them stared at the phone. It rang a second time, then a third time. Finally, hesitantly, Juan picked it up. “Hello?” he said. His voice crackled; his throat was suddenly very dry.

“Well, it’s about time,” the voice of his landlady hissed at him.

“Yes, Mrs. Cook,” Juan said, his tense shoulders relaxing. “What can I do for you?”

“I’m calling to warn you,” she growled. “There was a pair of phony policemen looking for you about an hour ago. They asked all kinds of questions about you—when you’re home, if you have guests often, things like that. I saw through them right away. I asked for badge numbers, and when they didn’t produce any, I told them to leave the building and never return. I think they might be thieves, casing the place to try to rob you.”

Juan smiled. “Thank you for the warning, Mrs. Cook. I’ll be sure to keep the door locked, and I’ll ask the neighbors across the hall to keep an eye on the place.”

“And another thing,” she continued. “I don’t like the looks of that tramp you brought home yesterday. My building has a good reputation, you know.”

“Yes, Mrs. Cook. She’ll be gone before nightfall,” Juan said. “Good-bye, Mrs. Cook.” He set down the phone.

“’Gone before nightfall’?” Laura repeated. “Juan, are you kicking me out?”

“Not exactly,” Juan answered. “You and I are leaving town together as quickly as we can. Grab what you need for a trip. I’m due for some time off, and I’m going to take it now.” He picked up the phone again and called the security office.

Laura waited until Juan had finished arranging his vacation. “Where are we going?” she asked as he set down the phone.

“Somewhere safe,” Juan replied. Without another word, he began grabbing clothes and toiletries. Laura shrugged and went into the kitchen, where she found two bags and started filling them with food that would travel well—crackers, fruit, breakfast cereal, raw carrots, and granola bars. By the time she finished, Juan had filled a suitcase, including Laura’s clothing that she had just washed. “Quickly!” he whispered, ushering her to the hallway. He locked the door, and they took the stairs down to get to his car.

First Juan drove to the bank. “Walk with me,” he invited Laura as he got out of the car. At the ATM, he said, “I don’t think we’ll be overheard here. It’s possible that your friends had time to bug the apartment. Possibly they bugged the car too. I think it’s best for us to get out of town, a hundred miles or more, and find a place to stay. You’ll want to buy some more clothing, I think. Then, tomorrow, we can find a private investigator who will listen to your story and figure out how to help us.” Juan put his card into the ATM and withdrew the maximum amount of money allowed. Then he took out a credit card and got a cash advance from that as well. “That should cover the next few days,” he said. “I’m counting on you to be able to pay me back when this is over, you know.”

Laura stepped next to him and lay her head on his arm. “Absolutely,” she guaranteed.

“OK—let’s go,” Juan said. They returned to the car, and headed to Westfield.

To be continued… J.

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.