|A Byte of Time
Author: sheeplady46 PM
Part 1 of 5. Trying to be slick in eluding Fox's close pursuit, Paul sends himself and Scott off on a road to nowhere, a new job, and a family in need of a Starman.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Family - Words: 68,489 - Reviews: 1 - Published: 05-27-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8156037
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
To my husband, Ray, for his continuing patience with my extended association with my computer; to my friend Desertgal for her hours of reading, correcting, and suggestions; and to my good friend Zena, for without her support and encouragement I would probably never have taken the first steps towards writing.
A special thanks is given to all those who brought STARMAN to life and to those who continue to keep it alive. To all of you this work is dedicated.
This story fits into the timeframe before "Starscapes". The general locations are basically accurate. The Columbia River does separate the cities of Wenatchee and East Wenatchee and they are in separate counties. Pangborn airfield does exist as does Boeing Field in Seattle. The Columbia Plateau and its agriculture are pretty much as described. The initial road is fictitious, though many such roads to exist, as power lines and their maintenance roads criss-cross the area from the various hydro-electric dams.
This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, or incidents are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © February 1, 1990 by Sheeplady46. "A Byte of Time" is a non-profit, amateur publication written for the enjoyment of STARMAN fans, and is not meant to infringe upon copyrights held by Henerson-Hirsch Productions, Michael Douglas Productions, Columbia Pictures Television, or ABC-TV.
Materials contained herein may not be copied or reproduced without the express permission of the author.
A Byte of Time
© February 1, 1990
"Mr. Fox. Mr. Fox!" the excited voice of Agent Wylie rang out loud and clear over the din in the cafe in the Eastern Washington lakeside town of Chelan.
Immediately a shorter man standing beside the cafe cashier's till rushed over. "Wylie, have you found out something?" he said almost scowling at his assistant.
Wylie pointed excitedly toward the far side of the diner. "That waitress over there gave me a positive I.D. on Forrester!"
Fox, with Wylie trailing behind, charged off across the diner toward the table where the waitress was just finished taking an order. She was starting back toward the kitchen when Fox caught up with her. He continued following as she quickly picked up another order and delivered it to another table. He finally caught her by the arm. "Miss, would you stop for just a moment and answer some questions for me?"
"Just a minute, sir, I have another order to deliver to this table," she replied quickly.
"Not just a minute," Fox barked impatiently as he pulled out his photographs and pushed them in front of her. "My associate here says you saw this man!"
She cast a hasty glance at the picture of Paul Forrester and looked back at the man who was assaulting her on her duty run. "I told your friend everything I know already, sir. I'm sorry but I have to pick up another order."
"Never mind your order, just answer my question. Have you seen this man?"
"Sir, the customer is waiting and his friends already have their dinner. In this line of work my tips depend on providing service and you are preventing me from earning my living. Would you like to place an order, or will you please step aside?"
Fox glared at her. What could be more important, he thought, than apprehending this menace from another world? If I blurted out to her the facts about my quest, I'd get the attention of this piece of incompetent humanity who's more interested in a dollar tip than saving the human race. I'd like to tell her the facts, but General Wade was more than direct when he ordered me to keep the alien's existence under wraps until someone has a chance to examine and interrogate It. For some reason Wade wants to avoid public involvement.
Fox gathered his composure once again and reverted back to the pattern he had established in his quest for information; he pulled out his government identification. This usually causes people to start quaking in their boots sufficiently to become much more cooperative.
The waitress waited for Fox to get out of her way and when she saw him reach into his pocket for his identification, she deftly walked around another table and continued toward the kitchen, Fox, once again, following doggedly behind.
Wylie grabbed his boss's arm, trying to get his attention and stated with complete confidence, "Sir, I have the information written down already, sir. She said Forrester and the boy were here late last night. They had come in with a cattle rancher who lives west of here and were talking to another trucker about a ride east. I have his name and a good description of the truck."
"Why didn't you say so in the first place", Fox barked critically as he turned to face his associate. "Now we've wasted more time. Every minute means they're further down the road." He looked Wylie in the eye, speaking impatiently, "Well, give me the details."
"She says the driver's name is Don Prentice. He's an independent and he drives a Peterbilt with a commercial Washington state license. She said, if she remembers right, he told her he was making a delivery, and then picking up a load of produce in a town called Quincy and hauling it into Spokane. I think there are only a couple routes he can take."
"What made her think they went with him?" Fox retorted, his eyes narrowing as he thought of the many informants he had encountered, during the past six and a half months, who had volunteered information easily only to find out later they had sent him off on a wild goose chase.
"She said this Prentice stops here regularly. She didn't see the subjects actually get into his truck, but they all walked out together. I think she was telling the truth, Sir, and she was certain Prentice was heading east," Wylie replied confidently "Do you want me to check with the state licensing department for the license number for the truck?"
"Of course, otherwise how are we going to get them stopped," Fox replied impatiently. "I also want you to give the state highway patrol the particulars when you get the license number and have them alert all personnel to the east of here." Fox thought for a moment, contemplating his next move and turned back toward his assistant. "There's certainly no use in us just driving aimlessly until the truck is stopped, so tell them we'll be staying in Chelan tonight and we'll call them when we find a motel."
Wylie went to the pay phone and made his calls and when he returned to confirm his contacts, Fox seemed satisfied the proper authorities were on alert for the trucker and everything was being done that could be. "Hopefully this time the alien and the boy will still be with this trucker when the authorities stop him, Mr. Fox, and our mission will be complete."
"If the two of them are no longer with him, though," Fox replied, "there will be many questions we'll have to ask around here yet."
Wylie followed Fox back their van, and they headed for the motel next door. "Call the state patrol for a progress report as soon as we get checked into a motel, Wylie," Fox ordered curtly, often finding his associate would not remember details unless each was presented in a definite order.
After they got into their room, for want of anyone else to discuss the case with, Fox looked at his bumbling assistant and shared his frustration out loud. "God, but we were close in Okanogan. I'll never understand how It can always manage to slip away at the last second. How could a cattle truck be in just the right place at the right time, and out of our sight? We must have spent an hour, at least, interviewing locals before we found this woman who says they got in a truck."
"Forrester does seem to have an uncanny way of doing that doesn't he Sir," Wylie confirmed. "It's almost like he knows when we're getting close and it does seem like someone, or something, is always around to help. Sometimes I wonder if he has some special power over people. At least we were able to determine the cattle truck left them here and now we know they're heading east."
"But we wasted several hours finding that out; and do we know for sure they're heading east?" Fox stated with more than a bit of doubt in his voice.
"You don't think he's heading east then," Wylie questioned. "But the waitress said...?"
"I just don't know anymore," Fox returned skeptically. "It does appear that way," but the look on his face reflected his doubt. "Maybe you're right; It has some power over people. If It can mesmerize people into helping It so easily, this might just be a long chase. We'll just have to wait and see what we get from the state highway patrol when they pick up the trucker. Each time we manage to get close, though, I know It's also getting smarter."
Don Prentice had stopped shortly after leaving the restaurant to unload the cargo of wooden boxes he was hauling. Even with Paul and Scott's help, it was quite late by the time the truck was empty and cleaned for the next load and it was decided to remain for the night in a motel and take off fresh in the morning.
Paul and Scott had a decision to make whether to leave their ride and hope for another late at night, or share the motel bill. Paul was nervous about spending the night without putting more distance between them and Fox, but the motel Prentice selected was well off the highway and not easy to see. Fatigue and the thought of a bed and bath was all it took to remain with their ride even though their half of the bill would take all the money Paul had left.
Don got them up well before dawn and after a quick breakfast stop had continued driving south, then taken off across a long bridge over the Columbia River and through a city. They were now heading southeasterly on the highway along the east side of the Columbia River in Eastern Washington. Prentice was on his way to pick up a cargo and take him east away from the river. After a short stop to pick up his load, he would be continuing on his way toward Spokane.
Settling in, Paul noticed the country to be almost desert-like on the east side of the highway, while on the west, a profusion of obviously planted trees grew. In an attempt to break a long silence he asked about the trees and Prentice indicated the trees were mostly apples and pears, for which the Wenatchee valley was known worldwide. He soon pointed out a different type of crop, identifying them as grapes, probably a variety of grape grown for wine. Paul and Scott, alike, listened with interest to his explanation about the passing country and the miles passed quickly. Soon the road turned east and they were heading up a long hill.
Suddenly Paul decided it was time to make a change of direction, the first of possibly many being a part of his present plan to elude Fox. He had thought about the chase a great deal lately and figured if his decisions were made on impulse it would further confuse Fox. He told the truck driver, confidently, to let them off at the next road intersection.
As father and son got out of the truck, Paul turned back and thanked Prentice for the lift. He swung the duffle bag over his shoulder and he and Scott left the edge of the highway at a brisk pace. George Fox had almost been successful in Okanogan and it was imperative to get some distance and some direction changes between them.
They were walking north and uphill on a gravel road through green, growing wheat fields and interspersed with planted crops for almost an hour. Then the crops became a massive expanse of sagebrush and grasslands and the road degraded to packed dirt. Another half hour passed. They had not passed any visible signs anyone lived on this particular road. Having no traffic was a relief. They had passed a number of intersecting roads, but determined the one they were still on was the only one showing any signs of recent use.
Paul felt somewhat hurried as they walked along through the now almost flat open country. How long will it take Fox to determine a description of the cattleman's truck that gave us the ride out of Okanogan? he thought. We left him at the restaurant to stop our southerly escape then had caught the ride with Don Prentice, because he indicated he was heading east. If Fox caught up with either of the truckers, they would certainly remember where they let us out. Fox was close, too close for comfort, but I hoped making impulsive changes would confuse him.
Paul returned from his thoughts and another half hour passed. In the distance they saw what looked like a house. Perhaps someone will be home and we could find out where we are and if there is an easier way to the next town. Perhaps someone could give us a lift. That would put even more distance behind us. As they approached the house it became quite obvious, from the state of disrepair, it had been deserted to the sagebrush long ago.
Scott glanced over at his father as they walked closer, "I think we really took the wrong turn off the highway this time, Dad."
Paul looked as far as he could see up the road, confirming his son's observation. "This is beginning to look rather disappointing, but the road is still going," Paul replied. "It has to go somewhere."
"I guess, but its somewhere is beginning to look like nowhere," Scott replied, "and the road is getting worse all the time."
"It's obvious that someone is using this road by the vehicle tracks so there must be something up here," Paul stated confidently, "and we are still heading north and that is a change of direction that might confuse Fox."
"Dad, I think early April is too early in the spring to be heading north again without a car. It's cold and the wind isn't helping matters any. I feel like a duck heading back north in the spring."
"I'm sorry we had to leave the car again, but it would have been too easy to identify. When we had the car we didn't notice it was so cold." Paul's face then took on a questioning expression as he looked over at his son, "What would make you say heading north makes you feel like a duck?"
"Because they always move north in the spring."
They continued to walk as Paul worked the statement over in his mind before turning to look at Scott again. "Why would they want to fly north in the spring? Why not east or west, and where have they been in the meantime?"
"I don't know. I just saw it on TV once and that's where ducks migrate to raise their families".
Paul's face reflected that his inquisition was not yet over as this new concept was not yet clear to him. "Migrate?"
"Move from one place to another, kind of like what we do. The program said almost all birds in the northern hemisphere migrate south in the fall when the weather starts to get cold, and then north in the spring as it begins to warm up. I guess they don't like being cold either."
"So you mean since it's spring and we're heading north, is why you are saying you feel like a duck?"
"I thought ducks were birds that liked the water?" Paul asked inquisitively.
"Well there's certainly very little around here for them. Why would they want to migrate here?"
"I don't know. They may not come just here, Dad. They probably go much further north into Canada where there are lots of lakes," Scott replied a bit impatiently. He pointed with a look of distress toward the sky up ahead of them, "From the looks of that sky though, I think there may be some water here soon."
"You may be right, maybe we'd better find some shelter until it blows over."
"Where? There's not a tree around here. Maybe we should go back to the house?"
"We'll have wasted an hour's walking time if we do that. I don't want to take the chance Fox might find Don quicker than we anticipated and find out where he left us. It wouldn't be hard for him to find us on this road."
"Yeah, we'd certainly be like a sitting duck out here on the road."
Paul's face once again took on his inquisitive look as he visualized a duck sitting on the road.
Scott recognized the look again and wished he hadn't used the expression, but he knew it was probably too late. "Forget it Dad," he said quickly, trying to beat him to the question he knew was going to come, "it's just another saying. I don't know why a duck should be sitting out in the open, especially on a road. What I meant to say was someone could see us out on this road for a long way and there's nowhere to hide."
"I wonder why in your spoken language you don't just say what you mean, instead of referring to things which have nothing to do with what you're trying to explain."
Scott smiled at his father's puzzled expression, thinking how often his father's simple observations made things more interesting without him even trying. He suddenly saw his father's puzzled expression again and realized he was daydreaming while his father was waiting for a further explanation of something that still remained a mystery to him. "I don't know why," Scott finally replied, "but in English class they try to teach us to use more colorful language to make things sound more interesting," and Scott knew the explanation to be true. "I guess they just expect everyone is going to learn about sayings and expressions while they're growing up and going to school."
"It sounds like a good reason, but it wasn't in the English book I read. You must only hear it from the teacher and it certainly makes your language difficult to understand for someone who is foreign and doesn't have a chance to go to school."
Scott returned, once again, to his contemplation. He had observed many times something stated simply was often more thought provoking than the most contrived statement from a so called colorful language expert. He was beginning to listen, more and more often, to his father simple statements and think about what he was, in reality, saying. "I guess you're right." They continued to walk silently for another half hour.
Scott stretched, and shifted the load he was carrying. "Boy we sure did take the wrong road this time. I wonder how far it is to the next human settlement."
Paul glanced over at his son. He stopped and his puzzled look appeared once again. "Do you expect to find a group of any other kind around here?"
Scott noticed his father had stopped again and spun around to meet his questioning expression once again. "Other kind of what?"
"Come on, Dad, you know what I mean."
"Sometimes I'm not sure. Were you using 'human' to mean there might be some 'not quite human settlements' out here, or just to show another use of colorful language?"
"Just forget it," Scott returned, realizing his father was now trying to needle him. "I'll state my question differently. I wonder how far it is to the next town?"
"Now that's a question I can understand. It's simpler when you just say what you mean." Paul smiled back at his son as he started walking again. "I don't think wondering is going to get us any closer to the next human settlement, however. We just have to keep walking until we find something, or until someone comes along. We already looked at the map and since we don't know where we turned off it's rather difficult to tell where we are."
Scott got a twinkle in his eye as he recognized a chance to get even. "And you told me you were a navigator!"
"It's not dark yet or I would know where we are. My kind of maps don't agree with yours in the daylight," came his father's equally needling reply, accompanied by a rapid raising and lowering of his eyebrows.
Scott was beginning to notice his father was becoming much more aware of when he was kidding him and that he, likewise was beginning to enjoy the mental exercise it provided.
They continued walking, and by some stroke of luck the cloud Scott had been watching moved east and a generous amount of rain could be seen falling from it several miles away. Only a few drops made pockmarks in the still dusty road in front of them. A short rest stop gave them the opportunity to take an overall look at the country around them and they saw what looked like a cloud of dust approaching from behind. Shortly a four-wheel drive jeep like vehicle was upon them.
After a moment's alarm, Paul saw the vehicle. Fox would not have used such a vehicle, he thought, seemingly preferring to use a van. This could not be him. Maybe this is a ride. Father and son simultaneously stuck out their thumbs. As the vehicle moved out into the sagebrush and around them then simply continued over a small hill, father and son looked at each other in disbelief. Their disappointment was evident as they continued to trudge slowly up the hill wondering if they'd see another vehicle anytime soon.
Reaching the top of the small rise they saw the vehicle had stopped about two hundred feet beyond them and they hastened their pace to catch up. Approaching the driver's side Paul's attention was drawn to the driver whom he saw to be a young dark-haired woman, whose general appearance and hair style reminded him very much of his memory of Jenny as she appeared sixteen years before. A large dog in the seat beside her had its neck stretched out toward them as far as it could reach across in front of her. Its tail was definitely not wagging.
"What are you guys doing way out here?" the woman asked inquisitively as she rolled the window down about two inches.
Paul decided an introduction was in order immediately as he noticed her nervousness. "My name is Paul Forrester" and turning to Scott, "and this is my son, Scott. We're walking down this road."
"But what are you doing way out here?" she repeated almost demandingly.
Her tone of voice confused Paul briefly and he hesitated before replying. "There are actually two things we're doing out here," he replied calmly. "We're trying to find out where we are and we're trying to find the next town. We're strangers to this area."
"Mister," she replied, "you're a long way from any town! You shouldn't have come down this road."
"Could you give us a lift?" Scott asked hopefully, trying his best to convey the weariness he was feeling.
"I don't pick up strangers," she replied without a moment's hesitation.
"I understand if you really don't want to pick us up," Paul stated calmly, "but could you tell us how much further it is to the next town?"
The woman's face reflected her desire to hold fast to her rule of not picking up strangers as she continued to push the dog back onto the passenger's side of the jeep. "You've got a long way to go yet," she stated succinctly, pointing forward. "It must be seven miles to the main county road," and indicating with her hand bent to the left, "then left another four miles to town. You should be able to catch a ride when you hit the main road though."
"Thank you", Paul replied politely, "we're just glad to know there is a town down this road."
"Just don't forget to turn to the left when you reach the main road, or you'll be walking out into the wheat country again," she stated, apologetically.
Scott's face reflected his disappointment at apparently not getting a ride, but he supported his father's desire not to make an issue of it if the woman really didn't want to pick them up. Following his father's lead he backed away from the Jeep and she started to drive off.
The jeep stopped again a little ways further, then backed up. The woman rolled down the window, and said with a sigh, "Get in. I'll give you a lift". She watched them start to walk around the jeep and gave the dog a command. "Brutus, get in the back." The dog obediently jumped into the back seat, turned around then hung his head over the back of the front seat by her right shoulder.
Paul and Scott were walking around the vehicle and heard her instructions to her dog and their attention was drawn once again to him. As they continued around the vehicle they observed his eyes and then his entire body following their movements. They reached the door on the other side and looked directly at him, noticing he had jaws the size and shape of a shark that fit his extremely large head. The cropped and pointed ears made his head appear excessively large and seemed to make his body seem undersized in proportion. His posture was definitely unfriendly. The jeep had front bucket seats meaning somebody was going to have to sit with the dog.
Scott opened the door and started to swing the seat forward so he could climb into the back seat when he heard the woman's words of caution.
"Don't try to pet the dog." Then she told the dog to sit as Scott started to climb in. The animal obediently sat down and looked at her, then back at Scott.
Scott's attention was drawn once again to the dog's menacing presence. He hesitated.
Paul put his hand on Scott's shoulder and spoke softly to him, "Don't forget - you can do it." Paul continued to watch attentively and was ready to intercede if it became necessary as Scott reached his hand out to the animal. He could see his son was not totally at ease in using his communicative power as Brutus commenced to give him the once over.
Suddenly a smile appeared on Scott's face. As the dog suddenly cocked his head sideways, Scott lowered his hand. The animal did not seem to be able to take his eyes off of him, but his look was now calm and his body relaxed. A few moments later Brutus was totally at ease and belonged to Scott. He had moved over closer and then laid his head down in Scott's lap, his eyes partially closed.
A look of satisfaction on his face, Paul pushed the seat upright and finally climbed into the front; seat belts were buckled and the woman put the jeep into gear. Paul noticed her glancing into the back seat several times.
The next time she glanced back over the seat, she couldn't stop herself from commenting. "I don't believe it! I've never seen him do anything like that before! Brutus, what kind of pit bull are you? Are you becoming fickle in your old age? Some guardian you turned out to be the first time I break my rule of not picking anyone up."
"Pit bull?" Paul repeated, his eyebrows rising along with his question.
"Pit bull terrier," she advised, awaiting an appropriate response, and when she got none she continued. "Haven't you ever seen a pit bull terrier before? With all the publicity they've gotten as being vicious, I thought everybody knew what they looked like by now. Brutus was my father's dog and when Dad died last year he became mine. I kind of worry about him around strangers though, but he's never tried to bite anyone."
"We're glad to know that," Paul offered with a smiled.
"I live alone now," she continued, "and he does give me some peace of mind. Just his presence seems to impress people." A frown appeared on her face. "Now he's your son's lap dog."
"Scott has a certain way with animals," Paul explained quietly, "I think he inherited it from his mother. They seem to like him quite naturally."
Scott stroked and looked up from Brutus's head lying in his lap. He looked over to his father, stifling a smile that wanted to break out on his face, but made no comment about his father's way with animals that would seem disrespectful of the reference to his mother.
"I guess they like him," she replied. "By the way, my name is Ellen Ramsey. Where are you guys headed?"
"Right now, wherever you're headed," Paul replied. "We had no actual destination, except away from where we were."
"That's an interesting concept Mr. ...uh... What did you say your name was?"
"Paul Forrester and this is my son, Scott."
"Well Mr. Paul Forrester and his son, Scott, I'm on my way to Wenatchee, so I guess that's where you're heading now."
"Thank you for picking us up, Ellen Ramsey", Paul said thankfully, following her use of his full name.
"It's Ellen, please."
"Please call me Paul," came a response in kind. "We're grateful you picked us up, but what made you change your mind?"
"You both seem to have honest faces and I couldn't just leave you out here, now could I? I will have to admit, though, I thought Brutus was going to offer more protection."
"Do you think you need it?" Paul asked in all seriousness.
Ellen glanced over at Paul and quickly returned her eyes to the now winding roadway ahead as they began traveling through a large channel-like break in the terrain. "No, I don't think so," she stated somewhat nervously.
She continued driving down the dusty road, saying nothing for a long while, as she navigated a steep and narrow winding road. A couple miles further the Jeep's engine began to miss, then finally died and they rolled to a stop in the middle of the road.
Paul saw a concerned look come over her face. "I'm sorry, I really don't know much about cars", he volunteered, "but I'll take a look and try to see if it's something simple that I am familiar with".
"I know what's wrong with it," she responded without hesitation, a concerned look on her face. "My friend told me the alternator's not working right and it's drawing the battery down. The little red light has been on for a couple days. He told me yesterday if I didn't get it fixed right away I was going to find myself walking. I just hadn't expected it would be this soon or I surely wouldn't have been on this road. Nothing but a new battery or a battery charge is going to get it going and I think the odds of someone coming along out here with either, are not too much in our favor. It looks like we're all going to have to walk now."
"I'll take a look anyway," Paul said as he got out of the car, motioning for Scott to do likewise. He turned himself away from the car and whispered to Scott. "Do you think you could keep Ellen occupied for a few minutes?"
"Yeah, what are you planning to do?"
"Give the battery a quick charge," Paul replied casually.
"Do you think you'd better do that Dad? She might notice."
"Not if you keep her busy," Paul smiled, followed by the double rise of his eyebrows Scott now recognized when his father was 'thinking slick'.
Paul watched Scott pull his road map out of his pocket and walk around to the driver's window. He then turned his attention to the problem at hand and started to fumble around looking for the hood latch. Finally finding it he lifted the hood, but it wouldn't stay up on its own like all of the other cars he had encountered. He was holding the hood up with one hand while he looked for the battery. He then reached into his pocket for his sphere and commenced to electrically stimulate the battery to a full charge once again.
From where he was standing, Scott could see the blue light glowing under the hood and was trying his best to keep Ellen's attention on his map, but was having some problem.
She quickly tried to show him approximately where they were on the map, indicating the particular road they were on was not shown on anything but local maps, but she kept glancing away, looking toward the open hood. She had noticed Paul's dilemma with keeping the hood up and finally gave Scott some further instructions. "Scott, tell your father there's a rod to hold the hood up, over on the left."
The instruction was, however, too late. The light faded and Paul spoke as he peered around the side of the raised hood he still supported, "Scott, will you ask Ellen to try the starter. Tell her I found a loose wire. Maybe that's the problem."
Scott relayed the message, the key was turned and the engine roared into life once again. Scott returned to the back seat to Brutus' wagging tail and Paul climbed back in the front. They secured their seat belts once again and continued down the dirt road.
The mood was now more relaxed and Ellen became more talkative. "How in the world did you get walking down this road?" she questioned once again.
"Lucky, I guess," Scott replied a bit apologetically. "I'm supposed to be the navigator and I think I read the map wrong."
"I wouldn't consider it much luck. You're probably going over one of the only roads in the entire county where no one lives. It's a maintenance road used by the power company to service these transmission lines." She pointed up toward a huge metal and concrete structure standing just off the roadway. "You'd have been walking for a long time and I don't think this thundershower weather is quite over yet. We don't get much rain in this part of the country, but when it rains it really rains."
"I think you may be right about the weather," Paul responded, as they heard an ominous roll of thunder. Ellen quickly shifted the jeep into four-wheel drive as they drove into a cloudburst that soon had the road a sea of mud.
"I figured we'd be getting a thundershower soon," she volunteered. "I thought I saw some lightning flashing up ahead of us while you were fixing the jeep."
"We're certainly glad you came this way", Paul remarked with an air of gratitude, preferring to ignore the reference to the lightning that had just recharged her battery, "...that you decided to stop and then changed your mind about picking us up. We'd have certainly been wet by now."
"I'm the one who's glad I picked you up or I would have been walking with you," she responded, "but we'd have all been wet walking about three miles apart. As I said, hardly anyone uses this road except the power line crews and a few ranchers; and that's only occasionally." She glanced over at Paul, who was again looking out the window watching the miles go by. "Not thinking about the battery problem, I was using it today because I had the jeep. It's just a more interesting route from my cousin's place to Wenatchee."
"Well we're certainly glad you forgot about the battery today," Scott remarked with a growing smile. "Hitch hiking wasn't proving to be too successful until you came along."
"You guys have been hitchhiking?" she remarked, her eyes narrowing.
"Yes, we hitchhike most of the time," came Scott's honest comment on a fact of their lives.
"That's an easy one", Paul replied. "We have no car, no money and I need a job."
"What kind of work are you looking for?" Ellen asked with interest. "Maybe I know of something."
"I'm a photojournalist," Paul replied. "Are there any newspapers or magazines where we're going?"
Ellen responded immediately, "There's a newspaper, but I know most of the people there and I don't think there are any openings right now. They might be interested in some freelance work, but I think you'd be better off checking with the employment office." Ellen thought to herself for a moment and a hopeful look appeared on her face and in her voice, "I don't imagine you know anything about computers?"
"No, why?" Scott questioned.
"Dale really needs someone," she replied, glancing momentarily in the rearview mirror at the boy.
Scott's eyebrows rose with his question, "Dale?
"My part time boss and 'gentleman' friend", she clarified. "He sells and installs several computer brands and services all kind of computer systems. Dale moved here a couple years ago and started his own business. It's really built up the past year and he's definitely not able to handle all of it anymore by himself."
Paul's face took on an almost apologetic look, "I'm sorry. I wish I knew something about your computers, I could sure use the job."
Ellen's face reflected her disappointment, "So am I, but that would have been too much to hope for. One doesn't usually just pick up a stranger on the road and find him to be just the person they've been looking for. That kind of coincidence only happens in books and in the movies."
Another half mile down the road the rain stopped once again and Paul, attempting to make continued conversation as they drove along, began to ask questions of his own. "Your friend just came here a couple years ago?"
"Yes, Dale used to be with NASA," she related enthusiastically, "basically at Houston Control, but actually all over the world wherever there were tracking computer installations."
Paul's eyebrows rose with his question, "NASA?" he asked in all seriousness.
"National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Dad", Scott quickly covered.
Ellen responded with a questioning look, noticing the boy's tendency to explain something to the man who should have been familiar with the reference. "You've never heard of NASA?" she asked inquisitively.
"Oh, yes, I know about NASA," Paul replied sincerely. "I saw the word once in connection with one of your space probes and later, tried unsuccessfully to find it in the dictionary. Scott explained acronyms to me in connection with some of your government offices. Sometimes I still get a bit confused when someone uses just the letters to represent things. I don't know if they're talking about a word with a specific meaning or a group of words shortened into one."
"I guess we just get so used to using them," Ellen replied, "We just assume everyone knows what they mean. This area is full of them with the BPA, the AEC and AG and all the irrigation districts."
"The what?" Paul questioned again in all seriousness.
Ellen looked at him in disbelief, "The Bonneville Power Administration?" she stated confidently, but saw no recognizable response from the man sitting next to her; "...the Atomic Energy Commission?" brought a similar response; "...agriculture," she asked hopefully. When no recognition was evident she responded emphatically, "You must be new to the region!"
"Yeah, we travel a lot," Scott covered quickly.
"You must really travel a lot to not know about the BPA," Ellen retorted, "it serves a great deal of the Northwest part of the country with power and some overflow into the Southwest; and Hanford was one of the nation's first atomic energy complexes. Where have you two been, living on the far side of the moon!"
Scott saw his father thinking about a way of answering Ellen's inquiry and recognized the need to change the direction of the conversation before he made a slip they would not be able to explain easily and he asked his question to produce such a change. "What did your friend do at NASA?" Scott inwardly breathed a sigh of relief as Ellen moved smoothly on to his subject, not having noticed his sudden desire to change from the other.
"Dale worked on Voyager and was on lease to the Space Shuttle up until a couple of years ago. Then he lost his wife and I guess he just couldn't stand living in Houston any longer. He took Teddy and decided to go out on his own."
"Teddy?" Paul questioned, his eyebrows rising.
"His son," Ellen offered. "Well he doesn't like to be called Teddy anymore. He's already 15 and prefers Ted. I still like to call him Teddy at times. I know I shouldn't because it's kind of teasing, but to me he is Teddy. Dale's first wife ran out on them when Teddy was little. No one knows what finally happened to her, but Dale remarried about a year later. His second wife was killed in a plane crash a couple of years ago. After their affairs were settled, Dale just packed up the car and a U-haul trailer and started driving away from the memories, I guess.
"He ended up in East Wenatchee on the way to Orondo. It's kind of the end of the world next to NASA and big city Texas, but I guess he saw something here he liked and finally decided it was time to stop running. He started a little electronics and computer sales and repair business and since he knows his computers and electronics inside out, his reputation has built up such that now he's in demand in the entire area and just can't keep up".
Paul's inquisitive look appeared once again, "Isn't there anyone else who does the same kind of work?"
"A few," came her response, "but the word got around that he's the best and he has a little, personal, problem. He just can't seem to say no to anyone."
"Why doesn't he find someone to help him then?" Paul asked, the inquisitive look still on his face.
"He tried a lot of guys, but no one seemed to satisfy him," she replied. "He's quite a perfectionist when it comes to his work. I guess he came by that with the shuttle project, especially after the 'Challenger' thing."
Scott could see his father ready to ask another question to which he should have known the answer and he quickly moved to cover for him once again. "Yeah, the explosion of the space shuttle was terrible, wasn't it Dad?"
Paul immediately caught his son's hint and responded convincingly. "Yes, it was terrible."
Ellen made a left turn onto another more traveled gravel road, leaving the now familiar power lines and the crude dirt road of the plateau and the conversation ebbed and flowed for a while. The wheat fields ended and then Ellen became less talkative as they began descending down through a break in a steep palisade type bluff, then out across a long flat area. It was becoming evident they were now coming into civilization once again as the road continued down another steep descent and through highly eroded hills. Soon the broad impounded Columbia River and East Wenatchee could be seen in the valley below; across the river stood the City of Wenatchee.
The gravel road soon changed to pavement and the signs of civilization became apparent once again. Homes on larger tracts appeared and then gave way to city dwellings and finally a business district.
"Where would you like me to drop you guys?" Ellen inquired, as they entered the business district.
"Wherever it's convenient," Paul responded as he looked over at her and then around the area. "It's still early and I can start looking for some kind of work. I need to get us enough money to buy something to eat tonight."
"Do you really need a job that bad?" she inquired.
"Yes. We're really short right now," Paul said quietly. "We've been on the move quite a bit lately. We're prepared to sleep outdoors, but we still need to eat."
"Hey, maybe you can help me out today by taking care of the phones at the shop. I used to work part-time for Dale, but then got a full time job across the river in Wenatchee. I still try to work for him on Saturdays, but today I have a dentist appointment at eleven. I traded some time with my friend Bernice who has a social obligation to go to this afternoon, so I have to go to work. I was going to call Susan, his weekday gal and ask her to come in for a while, but since you don't seem to be doing anything, how about you filling in?"
Paul shrugged his shoulders. "Sure, I'll do anything".
"It'll only be for a few hours and pays minimum wage, but it'll give you a few bucks. I'll show you what to do. I'm sure Dale will agree it certainly doesn't take someone with super intelligence to answer phones and write down messages. Most important, it also doesn't take much training."
Ellen drove through the business district and soon headed north on a major highway. They were just out of the residential areas once again when she turned on a short lane, drove past a house and up to a concrete block building. On the front of the building was a business sign, 'Comptronics East'.
"Well this is it," she announced. "I'll show you around, and then I guess you're on your own until about three, or until Dale gets back. I thought he might still be here, but his van is gone so he must be out on a call. The loose wire made us a little late. In fact, I think I'll drop the jeep at the station and get it taken care of, so I might not be back 'til about three-thirty."
Paul nodded his understanding of the first message of many he would take during the next few hours.
Ellen took them into the building just in time to answer the telephone. Paul made note of her manner of handling the calls and after she hung up, she showed them the office situated in one corner of the building. At the same time she gave Paul further instructions about what he was supposed to do. She then showed them around the parts and testing equipment and some demonstration models that were set up and running. She turned to Scott, "I guess you'd like to play some games, right?" Scott gave her a wide grin and she smiled as she pointed to a floppy disk file box. "Dale uses them in some demonstrations, so take your pick."
The entire structure was equipped with both heating and air conditioning designed to maintain a somewhat even temperature for the delicate electronic equipment in the work area. About one-third of the large portion of the building, she said to Paul, was a backlog of equipment Dale hadn't been able to get done that were creating problems with the customers. She further explained many of the calls would be about them and he should be courteous and tell them Dale would call. Ellen then indicated she had to leave for the dentist and was on her way out the door with "Have a good day."
Paul watched her drive away then turned to his son. "Scott, did you see a 'Wenatchee' sign when we went through town? Didn't we see a sign just like it this morning just after breakfast?"
"Yeah, I think you're right, Dad. It looks like we've made a big circle and backtracked through the back roads."
"I thought so." Paul raised his eyebrows and grinned. "I think this should throw Fox off our trail some, don't you think?"
"Right," Scott stated, "why haven't we thought of it before?"
Paul's eyes brightened at the discovery. "What happened accidentally, might actually work in our favor. Maybe we really didn't take the wrong road after all."
The telephone rang again. "Scott I think I should stay in the office if I am to properly do what my job requires. Why don't you look around some more?"
Scott remembered the computers and computer games he had been offered to try and with a grin excused himself and walked back to the shop. He had never worked a game on a computer before, but had played them in arcades before his foster parents were killed and in restaurants and bus stops while they traveled and he was anxious to try out the games.
Paul looked around the office between phone calls and found a shelf full of technical manuals. He curiously leafed through one whose name he recalled as being the same as on one the inoperative machines. He then answered a couple more telephone calls, carefully writing down the messages and telephone numbers for his unknown employer to call. When his job was once again completed and a quiet time returned between calls, he sought out the manuals and started reading and absorbing the concepts of operation. Within the hour he had finished reading the technical manual instructions and perused the schematics, and then he turned his attention to instruction books for various programs, going through them rapidly.
Scott tried, for some time, to get a game loaded into one of the demonstration models in the shop area and was meeting with little success. His hands-on computer opportunity was leading, instead, to extreme frustration. He wished now he might have had an opportunity to enroll in a computer lab class in one of the schools he had attended, however, computer classes were almost always at capacity and entering as a short term student, he had to take whatever classes were available. He soon gave up the efforts in the computer shop and came back into the office to talk to his father. He saw his father look up at him from a book lying on the desk. "Well, have you learned anything?"
"Yes, actually it's rather interesting, Scott," his father stated confidently, "even though the systems are rather crude and the concepts simple. It's much like a lesson in ancient history." He hesitated a moment before closing the book. "The ones I worked with have the ability to handle a great amount of material and don't need much personal input."
"Simple and ancient history to you, I'm sure," Scott replied with a bit of sarcasm in his voice. "If they're so simple, how come I can't get one to do anything but give me a message saying I made an error or some kind of instruction I don't understand?"
"Probably because you're looking at the operation like a human dealing with basic thought processes. These machines have no basic intelligence, Scott. You have to tell them everything you want them to do, in detail."
The telephone rang again and Paul walked over to answer it. He carefully wrote down the message, noticing most of the calls were complaining about late work. Remembering Ellen's routine, he tried to explain Mr. Taylor was doing the best he could and that he would deliver the message when he returned.
During a long period of telephone silence during the lunch hour, Paul walked out into the shop and looked over the machines Ellen had pointed out as being in need of repair. He recognized the one on which he had read a manual and noticed it had one of the recent callers name attached to it. He looked it over for a moment then began taking the cover off both the computer and the monitor sitting on top of it. He took out his sphere.
Scott had been watching his father intently from where he was, once again sitting at the cranky demonstration model. Seeing his father taking the two pieces apart, he became alarmed. "Dad, what are you doing?"
Paul activated the sphere briefly and directed it to project a three dimensional schematic image of the units in the air above them. He gazed intently at them for a moment and then moved his attention back to the machines. "I'm finding out how it works and why it isn't."
"But you said you don't know anything about our computers." Scott remarked as he got up and walked over to join his father.
"I didn't," Paul replied casually, "but I know something now. I read a number of the books, one of which was for this particular machine."
Scott gave his father a perplexed look, "Hey, Ellen said her friend is pretty serious about his work. He might not like you fooling around with it."
"I'm not fooling around with it, Scott," Paul said confidently. "I'm fixing it." The sphere glowed brightly for a brief moment as he adjusted and re-routed certain components inside the monitor. The sphere then faded once again to its normal metallic facade. "There, it should work now."
Paul tried the keyboard and several function keys, checking it against the information appearing on the monitor. "Yes, it's okay."
Paul was well aware Scott had not been enrolled in any computer classes and his son had indicated to him before, he felt left behind in that end of human technology. Paul had been content when Scott's classes in school included at least some of what he would need to eventually complete the schooling required of him. He knew learning did not just stop with school and that Scott's education would have to continue much further than any normal human child and thought this would be a good time to give him some basic instruction in the operations he had just learned.
Scott listened intently to his father's instructions, finding the concepts his father was explaining to actually be rather easy for him to understand. It was like learning astronomy had seemed simple.
Paul could see on his Scott's face that he understood what he was telling him. "Many of these concepts are a basic part of the genetic information I provided and you'll find them exceptionally simple for you to learn. That's one of the reasons I haven't been concerned about you not being able to take computer science in school. There are many things done by these machines you must first learn to do in your head before leaving it to machines."
"But that's why they invented the machines, Dad, so we don't have to do it in our head," Scott replied in all seriousness.
"If you don't know how the machine works, or you can't recognize it's not providing you with the right answer, you won't realize you might have given it poor instructions, the mistake could be compounded beyond belief," Paul stated simply. "Besides, you can't just carry a machine around with you all the time."
The telephone rang and Paul left Scott to return to the office. Scott continued to punch and play with the buttons on the machine his father had just repaired and was making some headway at getting some of the information he was seeking, but he still considered the machines to be cranky and totally perplexing adversaries when he got an error screen once again.
Paul returned shortly, just as a gentleman was walking into the shop. The man was slightly shorter and heavier in build than Paul Forrester and had brown eyes and dark wavy hair. He appeared to be in his late thirties and was dressed quite casually. Paul walked over and greeted him with his most courteous voice and a smile. "May I help you?"
His request was met by the man's startled expression. "Who are you and what are you doing back here? Where's Ellen?" He looked over at Scott who had just pressed the enter key and was intent on seeing what he had managed to get onto the screen this time. "Son, please stop playing with that!"
Paul calmly responded, "I'm Paul Forrester and this is my son, Scott. You must be Dale Taylor."
"I'm Dale Taylor, all right," he replied, "but you still haven't answered my questions. Where's Ellen and what are you doing in here?"
To Paul there was no mistaking the look of concern on the man's face and he spoke quietly, answering the man's questions. "Ellen picked us up on a back road this morning and asked me if I'd mind your shop until either you or she got back." He continued calmly to relate Ellen's message, almost verbatim, then remembered her afterthoughts. "And, yes, she also said she was leaving the Jeep at the shop to have the alternator fixed and would be back about three thirty."
The look on Dale's face reflected one of grave concern over these strangers being left alone in his shop. "You mean she just picked you up on the road this morning...and left you here?"
"Yes," Paul replied, now with concern, "I needed a job and she showed me what to do. Do you want your messages?" He paused momentarily, before completing his explanation. "She said Scott could try the demonstration machines." Paul's face now took on a look of extreme concern in response to the man's concern. "I'm sorry, if you don't want us to stay, we won't."
"Wait a minute, mister," he questioned, "Ellen has a rule of never picking up strangers...no matter what."
"I guess she felt sorry for us," Paul replied, "and she had Brutus with her."
"She had the dog with her this morning?" he asked. His eyes narrowed causing a wrinkle to form between them, "I thought she had left him over at her cousin's."
"She said she was coming from her cousin's, didn't she Scott?" Paul asked, looking over at his son.
"Yeah, she did," Scott replied, "that's the reason she was on the back road."
"You mean she took the Spring Hill Road when she knew her alternator was going out?" his eyes rolled in disbelief. "She's lucky she didn't have to walk," he said bluntly.
"It did quit after she picked us up," Scott related, "but Dad found a loose wire and fixed it."
"Maybe I'd better be thanking you instead of being so cranky," the man replied, relaxing slightly.
"We're the ones who were thankful she broke her rule and picked us up," Paul returned. "We would have been wet and still walking."
Dale broke into a grin and seemed satisfied Ellen had indeed broken her own rule with these strangers. He looked at the two, then at the machine he had obviously just taken apart, then at the boy who had been fooling with it. He gathered his composure and replied hastily, "Do you know anything about this kind of computer? It's an odd-ball variety."
Paul's eyebrows rose and he looked the man in eye. "Odd ball?" he asked.
"That means different, Dad," Scott interceded.
"No," Paul replied quietly, deciding not to confess to anything when he still wasn't sure of the question.
Dale looked at Scott, "Do you son?"
"No", Scott responded quickly. Scott wanted to say his father had taught him something about it, but knew he had better back off since his dad had just indicated he knew nothing about the computer.
Now two strangers had just confessed they knew nothing about the unit they were fooling around with and with a look of concern, Dale responded. "I hope your playing around with it hasn't damaged it further." A questioning look then appeared and Dale's eyes narrowed as he continued. "I didn't think I left this one running when I took the call this morning, but I must have and Ellen must not have been aware it was down if she said you could use it."
"Down?" Paul asked.
"Yeah, Dad, you know, broken!" Scott replied quickly, covering once again.
"Oh, yes. A gentleman called about it, so I thought I'd take a look at it," Paul offered.
Dale looked at the machine and typed the command to run a system check program. "Strange, it seems to be working now. What did you do to it?" he asked.
Dale continued to check out the machine as Paul continued. "Nothing really, but I might have found the problem. I just thought this," he pointed at a specific area in the monitor, "was where the problem was and," putting his hand further into the unit, "I moved this a little."
Dale grabbed Paul's hand with great urgency and pulled it out of the high voltage electronic monitor. "You could get electrocuted putting your hand in there while the system is running! Didn't you read the warning about electrical shock on the back?"
Paul responded with confidence, "The electricity was neutral when I moved it."
"How did you know that?" Dale asked, his tone of voice reflecting his skepticism. "You said you didn't know anything about this equipment."
"Well, maybe some, now", Paul stated matter of factly. "I was reading the manual you have in the office in between phone calls and it seemed simple enough."
Dale's eyes grew larger as he noted Paul's calm and unconcerned demeanor. "Simple! You read the manual on this odd-ball in the three hours I've been gone?"
"Well not thoroughly, but I learn concepts quickly."
Dale looked flabbergasted as he stared at this stranger he had found in his shop. "You can say that again!"
"Why should I repeat it?" Paul replied in dead earnest. Then his eyes narrowing in confusion caused lines to form on his forehead as he looked at Dale.
"Never mind, Dad," Scott said as he grabbed his father by the arm, "let's just get out of here!"
"Scott, we can't leave," Paul stated simply, "I haven't given him the messages I took yet." Paul started relaying a couple messages from the most impatient sounding customers who had demanded Dale call them as soon as he came in and they all moved into the office. Dale completed several calls as Paul handed him what he felt were the most urgent of the messages. Dale ironed out some problems by making further promises of quick attention to the customer's equipment. He had just hung up the phone when it rang again and he picked up the receiver himself. He did almost no talking and when he said good-bye, his shoulders drooped and he had a look of discouragement on his face that was evident to both of the strangers standing with him.
He turned toward them and spoke in frustration. "Now my regular office gal's mother is ill and she has to go back to Iowa. She's doesn't know how long she's going to be gone. Now what am I going to do? I'm already so far behind and now I don't even have someone to take care of the phones and the books during the week." He took a deep breath and let it go with a look of near defeat.
"I can take care of them for you," Paul offered hopefully.
Dale looked at the teenager standing beside the man and then at Paul, completely surprised at such an offer. "I can't pay you more than minimum wage just to answer the telephone and do a little simple bookkeeping."
"That's no excuse for not working," Paul replied. "I can call around about another job while I'm doing this one. At least it will give us enough money for maybe a room and something to eat while your office gal is gone."
Surprised, Dale looked at the two. "You don't have anything to eat or a place to stay?"
"No, we just got into town. We have no money to pay for a place to stay. Ellen was going to pay us something for taking care of your shop until she returned, but that won't last very long. We just figured on sleeping somewhere off the road or in a campground."
Dale continued to ponder his situation, scratched his head and looked at them. His face reflected he was giving consideration to Paul's offer and saw at least a possible temporary solution to his present problem. Then he came up with what he felt to be a reasonable compromise. "Since Ellen apparently thought you guys were all right, I'll tell you what. You've both got honest faces and I've got an honest problem here. I've also got a big house for just Ted and me; how about I throw in a room and a place to cook?"
Paul smiled. "That would be fine." A room was more than he had hoped for. Now with some money for food and a place to stay, things were looking much better.
"Yes." Paul reached out to take the extended hand being offered by his, now, employer. This was a gesture the Starman did understand.
"Can you stay today?"
"That's what Ellen asked me to do for her," Paul reaffirmed.
"I have to leave again and will be back in a couple of hours. One of those first calls was about the machine you were looking at. It seems to be working fine now. They'll be happy to get it back." Dale started back into the shop, then stopped and turned back to look at Paul. "Oh, by the way, what was your name again?"
"Paul Forrester, and we'll take care of things until Ellen gets back. ...Dale?" Paul said hesitantly, questioning whether his new employer was relaxed enough with them to accept a first name basis.
"Thanks again," and with only a moment's hesitation and a slight raise of his eyebrows, Dale reciprocated, "Paul."
Dale removed the computer from the power hook-up, put it and its monitor in his van and departed down the hill to the highway.
Scott turned to look at his father and their two smiling faces met. "So we're going to stay here?"
"I think this is a good place," was his father's happy reply as he raised and lowered his eyebrows twice. "We've doubled back on our own trail now and Fox shouldn't be able to find us as easily if we're not using a hotel, motel or public campground and this job, being other than photo related, might not attract his attention. It's off the beaten track and will be good for at least a week. At the same time we'll have a roof over our heads and money enough for food." He shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly. "What could be better? If we keep a low-profile, maybe Fox will have given up on us and will assume we've left the area by the time we have to move on again."
Scott's face now had a reflective look. "What am I supposed to do all day while you're being an office clerk?"
"Well, I think we should be thinking about school."
"Do I have too?" Scott replied, the look on his face denoting his displeasure at the prospect of having to face another short-term admission. "I can just keep studying with you."
"That's all right when we're on the move, but now it'll give you something to do. I'll ask Dale about school later. Besides, since we'll be new around here someone might question why you're not going to school."
Dale returned in just over two hours and Ellen a half hour later. Ellen took over the phones and Dale took Paul and Scott down to the house and showed them around. Ellen hung out the 'closed' sign and left for home about five. Dale paid Paul for the hours he had worked and told them there was a small grocery store about a mile from the house.
The two walked down to the store and bought a small bag of groceries for themselves. They cooked their meal and were in the process of cleaning up when Dale came in from the shop about six-thirty. Dale immediately started preparing dinner for two. Leaving the food on warm, he continued looking occasionally out the kitchen window toward the road. After almost an hour he finally sat down to eat. He finally placed the remaining food on a plate and put it in the refrigerator. Dale turned to Paul as he closed the refrigerator and spoke almost apologetically, "Ted must be practicing late again tonight."
During the early evening, Dale often looked out the window toward the road, and then seemed to give up. He picked up the newspaper and sat down in a chair in the living room.
Paul decided to talk to him before he became involved in his newspaper, as he didn't seem to want to interrupt his reading. "May I speak to you for a minute?" As Dale looked up, he asked. "If I'm going to be working for a week, I'd like to see about getting Scott into school," he inquired. "Can you tell me where it is?"
"The high school is back in town, but the bus stops at the end of the road. You'll have to take him in Monday to get registered. You can take my car if you want." There was a short pause before Dale's next inquiry. "...You do have a driver's license, don't you?"
Paul pulled out his billfold and showed him Paul Forrester's driver's license. Dale noticed the address. "Chicago?" he remarked inquisitively. "I certainly wouldn't have thought you were a 'windy city' guy, Paul. I took you more for real 'flat land', Nebraska, maybe."
"Chicago is what the license says," Paul replied casually.
"Right," Dale chuckled as he returned Paul's billfold. "Anyway, take the car Monday morning and get your son registered." He then turned toward Scott who was looking at his father rather unhappily. "I'll ask Ted to go in early with you, Scott. He can wait while you get registered, then show you around and maybe introduce you to some of the students. Then you'll be on your own."
Scott nodded his head in understanding and then looked back at his father, his distaste at having to enter another school for only a week reflected obviously on his face. "Dad, do I have to go to school?"
"I think it's a good idea. It will give you something to do and give us some idea of the things you should be working on."
Scott grimaced and asked Dale if he could turn on the television. Dale nodded and picked up his newspaper again and proceeded to read. They watched television until nine, excused themselves and turned in.
Paul awoke when he heard a noise around midnight and realized Dale's son had just come in when he heard Dale say a frustrated 'goodnight Ted', then heard a mumbled reply.
The next morning when Ted appeared in the kitchen, Dale introduced him to their guests. Ted Taylor was blue eyed with dark hair, taller for his age than Scott and only slightly lighter in build. Paul noticed he tended to stoop his shoulders and drag his feet when he walked, but he was polite. He also noticed he tended to be short in his speech and used the phrase 'ya know', repeatedly when he spoke. He agreed to direct them to the school on Monday morning and then to show Scott around and make some introductions. After breakfast they agreed on a time to leave on Monday and Ted excused himself and walked toward the door.
"Are you coming to the game this afternoon?" Dale asked before his son got through the door.
"I'm meeting some guys down at the mall," Ted replied tersely.
"Are you going to be home for dinner?"
"Don't wait for me. I don't know when I'll be home, kinda depends on what the guys want to do, ya know," the boy said as he walked out the door.
Paul and Scott walked around the area after breakfast so they would be familiar with the various routes that would take them out of sight and out of town if by chance Fox did show up. Dale had gone back down to the shop to work. He returned to the house for lunch. Paul had prepared him a sandwich from their groceries and the three ate together.
During lunch Dale invited them to come out to the ball field with him to watch the local soccer enthusiasts play in what must be a regular weekly free-for-all.
Paul figured that a general knowledge of area was to their benefit and suspecting Fox would never look for them at a ball field, quickly agreed. When they got to the field they saw Ellen standing beside the gate and joined her as she climbed halfway up the bleachers and took a seat. Meanwhile Dale and several men, two ladies and a group of teenagers gathered and quickly chose up sides. The games commenced in a vigorous and good-natured competition. Ellen rooted for anything she thought was a good play, not paying much attention to which side they were playing on. Paul thought it unusual she had apparently not chosen her employer's side.
After the game broke up, Ellen came over to Dale's house and fixed dinner. After the meal was finished Paul and Scott joined in, as best they could, in a critique over the afternoon's games. Paul finally gave Scott a nod and they excused themselves to clean up the dishes.
It was obvious to even a casual observer, from the conversation, that Ellen's interest in Dale had long ago become more than just as a friend or Saturday employee.
After the dishes were put away they all sat down in the living room. Paul looked at Ellen and seeking to restart the conversation and learn more about his companions, directed his first question at her. "What do you do now that you don't answer telephones all week, Ellen?" he inquired.
"I'm a computer operator", she replied.
An inquisitive look came over Paul's face. "You operate on computers?" he asked. "Why don't you help Dale?"
"No, Paul," she remarked with a smile, "I just make them operate, I don't operate on them! That's Dale's department, though I did learn a lot of what I do while working here."
"What kind of operations do you make on them?" he inquired in earnest.
"I'm in charge of records, research entry and recovery, and just a regular, all around 'Gal Friday'," came her casual response.
Paul cocked his head slightly and not wishing to question each individual duty, asked collectively, "What exactly does that mean?"
"I'm one of four employees who do the computer input and output for the overall courthouse operation and I, and another gal, do all the state and federal requests for information through the national computer system. We also computerize countywide information," she volunteered.
Paul was looking at her with a quizzical expression on his face and she recognized he was not quite sure of what she was trying to describe and continued. "When an officer calls in for a vehicle license or driver's license ID, I consult the state or national computer network for owners and any outstanding wants and warrants on cited individuals," she stated. "I also enter other information from the county offices."
"Ellen works in records for the Chelan County Courthouse over in Wenatchee," Dale interjected in an attempt to clarify in the simplest words what Ellen was apparently trying to describe in too much detail.
Both Paul and Scott's looks reflected concern at the mention of the courthouse. I know the police check license numbers, Paul thought and as her words sunk in he remembered being arrested on a bench warrant for Paul Forrester just for double parking while Scott bought a couple sandwiches. It had been another close call when Fox showed up because of the inquiry about his driver's license. His future on earth had been looking rather grim while he sat in jail until a mistake in the police department had worked to their advantage. "You're a police officer?"
Dale's face took on an inquiring look as he noticed both his guests reacted almost in fear to what should have been a matter of fact statement about Ellen's employer.
"No, I just work at the courthouse, handling data," Ellen replied, not noticing their adverse response, "although I've worked off and on in all of the offices, including the Sheriff's office, when they need someone, that's what being a 'Gal Friday' is all about."
"Oh, that sounds like interesting work," Paul stated nonchalantly, trying to cover for his alarm. It was difficult for Paul to determine from looking at them, if either Ellen or Dale had responded to his reaction to her work.
"Well I wouldn't call it all that interesting," she replied, "it requires a lot of sitting at a computer terminal and a lot of work with figures, but it does keep me in the manner to which I've become accustomed."
"The manner to which you've become accustomed?" Paul questioned in all sincerity.
"Yes, ...to eating regularly and sleeping indoors", she laughed, impishly.
Scott could see his father was obviously pondering over her response and he once again came to his rescue. "That's a good one, Ellen," he laughed coyly. Scott could see his father was still confused by Ellen's laughter about her work and added an attempt at further clarification. "It's a joke, Dad."
"Oh, I see," Paul responded. "You mean without the job you wouldn't have any money for those things you've become accustomed to? The same as our problem was yesterday, but ..."
"You got it Dad!" Scott chirped, in his continuing attempt to end the conversation. The look on his father's face reflected further contemplation and Scott decided to try to change the subject entirely, once again, and quickly turned to Dale with a question. "Ellen said you worked for NASA? Dad's always been rather interested in space exploration," he stated with a look of absolute innocence. "What did you do there?"
Dale thoughts were still on his houseguest seeming to try to act unenlightened, at a simple joke, apparently trying to cover for his alarm and it seemed so strange to him the boy seemed to intercede so often for him. The man must have some kind of formal education to be able to read technical manuals with the apparent ease he did and troubleshoot a problem in a piece of electronic equipment which he confessed he knew nothing about. It crossed my mind perhaps Paul might have been in prison for a long period of time, but even in prison there is contact with the world on the outside. The pair sitting across the table is an anomaly that I will try to explore further during this coming week. Right now, my motto must be 'don't look a gift horse in the mouth.' I really need someone in the office and the exchange for a meager wage, a room and place to cook is a gift from above.
"Dale!" Ellen chided, bringing him back from his reverie, "Scott asked what you did at NASA?"
"Sorry, I guess I was daydreaming," he apologized quickly, realizing right now the subject was turning to something he, at one time had loved and an apparent audience awaited him. Dale gathered himself and went into a long description of his roll with the government tracking and retrieval computers and a spirited discussion followed about the things already learned and still awaited from the Voyager probes as they traveled out to the edge of the solar system.
"I saw some of the pictures from one of your planetary probes some time ago," Paul stated simply. "You are right; there is still so much for you to learn."
"Yes," Dale replied, a sadness coming over his face, "I was rather sorry to leave NASA, but I just had to. We always had such a good time when new data started coming in from Voyager, showing us details of some of the outer planetary surfaces and the discovery of additional rings and moons. After Challenger a lot of the more progressive exploration, except Voyager, seemed to get bogged down and the money seemed to be going mostly to the military. It's kind of a sad comment on scientific progress."
"I talked to another scientist about that once," Paul stated with a fond grin, "but you must remember good can also come from such military research."
"Most of the military applications are to enhance the destruction of people, not to investigate for scientific purposes," Dale said with conviction. "You're right though, without the military application, Congress wouldn't allocate the necessary funds. I like to remember the many wonderful things about working at NASA, and the discoveries we made while I was there."
Paul noticed a grin come over Dale's face as he remembered something apparently funny to him.
"There's one thing I'll always remember from my early days at Voyager Central, and that was the joke they tried to pull on me when I first joined the project."
"Joke?" Scott repeated.
"Yeah, the old-timers always seemed to want to indoctrinate the new recruits and they circulated scuttlebutt around Mission Control that some part of one of the Voyager Probes had somehow been recovered a while earlier and for some reason the government had hushed it up. Never could make any sense out of the various stories the guys told, but they tried to feed me a bunch of hogwash that an ET had been encountered," he laughed.
"An ET?" Paul asked.
Scott jumped in before the conversation could get out of hand. "An extra- terrestrial, Dad. You know," he said with a chuckle, "...a spaceman."
Dale frowned as he saw the boy intercede, once again, on his father's behalf.
Paul's eyebrows rose in understanding and a slight smile appeared on his face. "Oh, ...and you didn't believe it, Dale?"
"Of course not," Dale replied as he dismissed himself from his observations of his guest's strange reactions once again, "but I guess the guys thought it was a pretty good joke to pull on a newcomer. They went so far as to try to convince me that one spaceship had been shot down and crashed in Wisconsin and another landing had been verified out in Arizona; of course the landing had to be at the meteor crater," he said with a stifled grin, before laughing again, "after all that was already a gift from space."
"I guess a meteor could be considered a gift," Paul confirmed earnestly, "but actually ..."
"Dad, just let Dale complete his story," Scott advised.
Paul's attention moved from Dale to looking at his son as he tried to figure out why Scott had interrupted again, and then back to Dale as he nodded his head in compliance, recognizing Scott was trying to make him aware of the fact that he was getting too involved in the subject of the conversation.
Once again noticing the boy attempting to cover for what the man had said or perhaps was about to say, Dale chose to ignore it and easily returned to his own story. "They even went so far as to show me an article out of a newspaper where someone had gotten an interview with a guy from the government who supposedly verified an alien had been here. Someone must have clipped the article out of one of those science fiction magazines or supermarket rags."
"Did anyone ever try to describe what either of the spaceships looked like?" Scott asked to move the conversation on.
"No, but they said the military definitely had shot one of them down and had it stored somewhere," Dale indicated with a grin, "but I've never seen anything in writing about it over the last fourteen years. They also indicated they had killed whatever came in it and the scuttlebutt was they had a body frozen out at the UFO Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio."
Paul's face took on a look of disgust, "Why would they want to do that?" he inquired, visualizing being still frozen in the body of the senior Scott Hayden.
"Do what?" Dale questioned. "Tell about a spacecraft being shot down, or a frozen alien body?"
"Why would they want to kill him and freeze the body?" Paul asked seriously.
Dale looked at the grim expression on his houseguest's face and could hardly believe such a question had come from the man. "Well, I guess if they did find one, they'd certainly want to examine it."
Paul's eyes narrowed into a frown. "Why?"
"I guess to find out as much as they could about it. Just think about what they could learn."
"Why would they want to shoot at, or kill such a visitor in the first place if they wanted to learn something? If they wanted to find out about it, or learn from it, why didn't they just wait until it landed and ask? After all the record you sent into space did seem to be an invitation for someone to visit."
"I don't think the government would have thought that far in advance and a concept such as yours would have been too simple for the military mind to digest. It's fear first, ask questions later. ...Anyway, I just dismissed the whole thing as a practical joke on a newcomer. The guys at the installation thought it was funny though and during the years I worked with them, I saw them try the same thing on others who came to the project as full of enthusiasm as I was."
Scott couldn't pass up the opportunity to further explore Dale's thoughts on the possibility of life existing, where he now was definitely certain it did. "Then you don't believe there may be others out there?"
"Oh, I guess there could be," Dale replied, shrugging his shoulders at the thought, "but space is so vast how could anyone ever manage to travel the distances needed to cross it? It would take many years to get to even the closest star system even if we could travel at the speed of light and those systems we don't believe to be inhabitable."
"I believe there must be others out there", Ellen interjected into the conversation, "after all there are so many stars and planets it would seem strange this would be the only one having people and I think someone would eventually figure out a way of crossing space."
"Perhaps others have technology well in advance of what you understand, Dale," came Paul's statement of fact.
Dale looked directly at Paul, the look on his face asking for a commitment. "Do you believe there are others out there and that they could actually visit us?"
"I'm certain there are and I'm also certain they can," Paul confirmed without hesitation.
"Dale," Scott asked in an effort to turn the subject in another direction, "Ellen said you also worked on the space shuttles?" and the conversation once again rolled into a second subject Dale loved to discuss.
"Yes, and again we were learning so much before the Challenger accident," Dale said sadly. "I hope the U. S. gets into gear soon. I think the loss of that challenge was what really made me finally decide to leave NASA; that and a personal tragedy. Most of the scientists had been sitting on their hands ever since Challenger exploded, not able to do much of anything without someone questioning its safety. The media had made such a big thing about the loss of life; and I'm not denying it was a terrible thing, but that's what any kind of exploration is all about; that's why they ask for volunteers. There was a tremendous loss of life when the pioneers explored any new land or sea, and the exploration of space is just more so because we know so little about how the universe works."
"There is still so much to learn about the universe," Paul interjected, "we're learning all the time that we know so little."
Scott looked at his father, questioning to himself whether his father was speaking as the space explorer from the outside or as a new resident to planet Earth.
"But anytime there is so much to learn," Dale continued, "it can't be without some dangers. Our shuttle is perched on fuel tanks containing many metric tons of highly volatile fuel. A leak and a spark in the wrong place and kerboom! The landings used to be only slightly less risky, though we have learned a lot since dropping capsules into the ocean. Even now, a little trouble with re-entry and the shuttle could be miles away from a place to land; then what? Even on the domestic side, if a person just lived near a facility used to store the fuel for the rockets, there could be an accident, but that's no reason to stop discovering."
"Yes, there are certain dangers in any kind of exploration or discoveries," Paul replied with confidence, as he looked over at the human/alien child he had innocently left and later needed to come back to this strange world to meet. What I have learned already about being a human parent at times still overwhelms me. There are both joys and problems, but the relationship among this species known as 'love' that has been growing between my son and me, is reward in itself.
I first felt 'love' when I gave Jenny Hayden a baby and then had to say good-bye, but the three days I spent with her did not compare to the love that continues to grow since I have been with my son. The feeling is no more, or no less, than what I felt with Jenny, but it has grown with time. Perhaps if there had been more time with her, I would have figured out a way to stay those many years ago; but the order was to return to the ship or perish on the planet, so return I did. I know, however, I would never have made it back to the ship without the timely help of at least two human beings who had decided for themselves my life depended upon returning to my own world and that it was worth saving ...from being frozen.
Paul was finally forced to return from his thoughts to the discussion, as Dale continued. "If some early man hadn't overcome his fear of the dark to go searching in a cave for a dry spot out of the weather, or his fear of an animal to provide food and clothing, mankind would still be living out in the open dressed only in what nature provided and be able to survive only in warm climates." Dale laughed. "And if we had questioned the dangers involved when Edison invented the electric light, we'd still be sitting in the dark or burning our homes down with kerosene lamps instead of electrocuting ourselves using electric appliances in the bathroom."
"But if you believe it's not possible to contact others who may be out there, why continue to search," Paul asked, "and why did you send the message to anyone who might be out there?"
"The record and the pictures sent with Voyager were probably 'just in case' and I guess to keep the people, like Ellen and some scientists who believe in space creatures, happy over the money we were spending. The other planets I guess we could eventually mine for some of the minerals we're depleting here," Dale replied. "I'm certain we can reach those goals."
"The other goals are just a continuation beyond that," Paul added.
Dale looked back at him but couldn't think of an answer to such a simple statement.
The subject changed and the conversations continued in a spirit of sharing their thoughts on many things about discovering and the rest of the evening passed quickly.
It was nine o'clock and Ellen took advantage of a break in the conversation as her opportunity to return home across the river to Wenatchee. "I hate to run, but I still have to get things ready for work in the morning and Brutus is still waiting. He's been locked in the house all day and needs to go out for a while."
"Will you say hello to Brutus for me," Scott asked.
She grinned then said a pleasant goodnight to everybody.
Dale walked her out to the car and watched as she drove past the shop. As she turned onto the highway, he slowly walked back to the house. Very shortly they all decided it was time to call it a day.
Before going to sleep, Paul and Scott re-evaluated the decision to stay to work for Dale. They discussed the apparent ease with which they had been able to come and go from the many smaller towns they had been through and how it seemed to imply Fox apparently had not been putting law enforcement on a broad alert for them for quite some time; doing so only when he was sure they were in a specific area. It seemed he wished, like Dale had implied from hearing from NASA people about the Arizona retrieval of sixteen years earlier, to keep his search and their identity a secret from prying law enforcement and ultimately the press.
It somewhat confirmed the government's desire to obtain live specimens for their research. The money they could earn in the coming week could well be used to make sure they had food and flexibility in the methods usable for an escape if they suddenly had to hit the road again. It was decided it was worth the risk. They turned out the light and said a warm goodnight. Monday would be a working day for everybody.
No one had seen Ted all day, but Paul was awakened about eleven-thirty and heard the same brief exchange between father and son as Ted returned from his visit with friends.
With Scott away at school for most of the day and Dale out on calls, Paul didn't have much to do in the office on Monday. Between phone calls he continued to explore the machines in Dale's 'to be done' section of the shop.
Soon Dale noticed his houseguest was able to understand the operation of the various machines and told him to go ahead and continue to look at the manuals and the machines if he felt the impulse.
Paul volunteered himself and Scott to cook the evening meals for everybody, thereby saving their host the duplication of effort. They had been eating all their meals together since then. Ted had never shown up for dinner. Dale handed Paul some money and Paul had done all the food purchasing. Dale never asked Paul to account for the monies he spent. Something was always prepared for Ted then put into the refrigerator after everybody else had eaten and after a few days of collecting Ted's left over evening meals each night, Paul would put all the leftovers together, cleaning out the refrigerator. Dale was obviously upset over Ted's behavior, but merely seemed to accept it. Paul wondered why they took so little interest in each other, but felt it to be a personal matter.
Ellen came over early the following Saturday and Sunday and taking pride in the fact she was a good cook, having done so for years for her father, she volunteered to prepare the weekend meals. After her home cooked meal, Paul and Scott could do nothing but agree she had the cooking arts well in hand and pizza would be delegated to weekdays.
Paul asked Ellen at the Sunday soccer game afternoon, about what she had done when she worked for Dale.
"I did basically what you're doing, Paul, except I also kept the books; sent out the bills; did the ordering; and took care of any necessary correspondence. I worked for Dale from eleven to three for about a year and a half. Ted would usually be home from school around 3:00 and would take over the office while he did his homework. The job provided all the money I needed since I was still living with my father, but when he died six months ago, I had to accept the responsibility of paying all my own bills and the house payment. The part time work just wasn't enough so, at Dale's insistence, I found the full time job at the Courthouse.
"I found a local lady to work at the shop," Ellen continued. "Susan was just what Dale needed to replace me, so I didn't feel bad about leaving. She merely wanted to work to build up a college education fund for her children. She has two, Billy, who's eleven and Tina, who just turned fourteen. Susan likes to be home when they come home from school, so the part time job, ten to three fits her schedule perfectly. I fill in on Saturdays because she prefers not working on Saturdays unless the children are involved in activities or their father is home." She paused and looked at the two for a long moment before continuing. "You know, Paul, you and Scott haven't been around very long, but I think I'm really going to miss you when Susan comes back."
"I know we're going to miss you and Dale too. Living at the house has been like having family," Paul said in all sincerity.
"Have you had any luck in finding other work?" Ellen inquired hopefully.
"No," Paul replied, "so I guess Scott and I will just hit the road again when Susan returns. We have a little money ahead now and newspaper or magazine work is a little easier to find around the larger cities."
"Don't you forget to give me a call before you leave so I have a chance to get over to say good-bye?"
"I won't," he said with a smile, hoping at the same time he would be able to keep the promise made in good faith. He couldn't tell her their departure might be hastened if a certain FSA agent came sniffing around the area.
Paul continued working on the down machines during the quiet times from the frequent telephone calls and had fixed most of them over the period of the week. Dale returned each of them to their grateful owners as Paul completed the necessary repairs. Dale now had definitely taken notice of his guest's obvious talents, but pondered the fact he rarely ever saw Paul actually work on any of the systems. Perhaps Paul was self-conscious of someone watching him and waited until he was sure he was alone.
Dale thought often of the expression he had seen on both Paul and Scott's faces when Ellen had been talking about working in the Courthouse and Paul questioning if she was a police officer. Their reaction had been hard for him not to notice, though Ellen, in her youthful way, apparently had not. He had thought about asking her to check the records at work, at the time, but then decided the help he was getting was more important than knowing more about his helper's private life. The thought had crossed his mind more than once during the past week about asking Paul, but he figured if he wanted to talk about it he would. Until then he would say nothing unless the subject just managed to come up.
Susan, Dale's regular office receptionist returned the following Wednesday. Susan was 36 years old, plump, good natured, industrious and easy to get along with, though it was obvious when she arrived for work Wednesday morning, she was worried. She certainly did not want to lose her 'perfect' job to the man she found sitting in her chair answering the telephone as she walked in.
She looked from Paul to Dale and gave a noticeable sigh of relief when Paul relinquished her chair. Dale introduced them and she gratefully shook his hand with a smile. Dale and Susan exchanged particulars about her trip to Iowa and about her mother's state of health, happily finding everything was going well now.
Paul, for himself, was sorry to see her return as it meant they must again hit the road. He planned to pack, realizing his work was now at an end, and they would leave as soon as Scott returned from school.
Dale surprised him by inviting him to go along on a service call. He graciously accepted, knowing the packing would not take much time anyway and he was also interested in seeing some of the machines he had been working on in actual use.
Dale was, understandably, flabbergasted by Paul's almost incredible knowledge and understanding of the computer and electronics technology. He has repaired almost the entire backlog I had sitting in the shop in his spare time from the telephones in only a little over a week. I've never seen anyone learn concepts so fast and with such obvious ease. Perhaps he hasn't told him everything about his background in the electronics field. When they returned in the afternoon, after handling several telephone calls, Dale pleaded with Paul to stay on with him, offering him a gracious raise in pay.
Paul discussed Dale's invitation with Scott that evening before retiring. Since they were quite comfortable with these people, the decision to stay was not difficult and Paul advised Dale of their decision in the morning over breakfast.
The next couple weeks saw accounts receivable grow rapidly with the backlog being completed. Income was coming in and Dale then increased Paul's wages to the level of a union scale technician. All seemed well with their world. Paul was enjoying his work with Dale and learning more about the present state of earth technology; Scott seemed to be happy in school and the only thing missing from contentment was the fact that Jenny was still out there somewhere and not aware they were searching for her.
George Fox was elated. The Washington State Patrol had finally found the truck driver who had picked up the two fugitives at the highway truck stop two days earlier.
Don Prentice had picked up a load immediately upon his arrival in Spokane for delivery in Idaho and was stopped as soon as he crossed back into Washington. The State Patrol escorted him back to Fox and Agent Wylie's motel where Fox questioned him at length and finally directing him to physically show exactly where he had left the pair. At the scene, however, there was no way Fox could determine whether they had gone north or south at the crossroad or whether, like before, they had merely caught another ride, leaving Prentice just to further throw him off their trail.
Fox put Wylie on stakeout at the road and he had been there for over a week and a half to determine who used the road regularly and to try to find anyone who might have seen his fugitives.
Wylie had to live in the van, though it was not designed for living in, but he made do. Personal hygiene was Wylie's own problem easily solved by a hike out into the sagebrush. Fox would return frequently for his reports and had taken the time to make arrangements with a restaurant up the road to bring meals, beverages, several plastic jugs of water and other necessities, out to his associate. One time he had taken over the road watch allowing Wylie to go back into town to take a much-needed bath when he found it distracting to talk to him within the confines of the van.
Wylie had interviewed several men from the power company who were doing regular maintenance on the overhead lines and several farmers and ranchers from around the area who had lands bordering the road, but everyone indicated they had seen no one walking along any of the roads in either direction and no one recognized the photographs when he displayed them. As the days passed, Wylie often found himself falling asleep while sitting behind the wheel, but would awaken with a start if someone turned onto the road to the south, passing where he was parked. His whole day was made when he would then have to pursue them for some distance to catch up and have someone to talk to, even if only for a little while.
Wylie worked stakeout, Fox continued to search to the east, stopping in any restaurants, grocery stores, motels and service stations along the way to see if anyone at all had seen the pair. He was thankful the country was so open and unoccupied and most of the settlements along the highway were small, allowing him to move quite rapidly. A large city would have caused him unneeded delay. He had gotten as far as the City of Moses Lake and then deciding to widen the search, moved north again.
There was nothing anyone said to indicate the two had gone to the right or to the left at the intersection and Fox was beginning to think perhaps they had just gotten out and hitched another ride, after all. As had happened a number of times before, the pair just seemed to have dropped off the face of the earth.
Dale and Paul had an out of town call from a potential sale customer that took them back along the highway toward Spokane.
Up ahead Paul saw a van parked alongside the road where Don Prentice had left them. As they traveled by, he was certain beyond a doubt he saw Wylie sitting behind the wheel. He ducked down out of habit, but it was already too late if Wylie had seen him. When the van did not take up pursuit Paul heaved a heavy sigh of relief. Wylie had apparently not recognized him, but it did confirm George Fox was still in the area and he knew where they had been left.
Dale noticed Paul's quick ducking movement as they drove past the van. He then noticed him gazing uncomfortably into the outside rear view mirror and watching nervously for a short while. Perhaps, he thought, this is my opportunity to ask if he's in trouble. "Paul, isn't the road we just passed the road where Ellen picked you up?"
"Yes." Paul replied nervously as he recognized Dale had noted his actions as they passed.
Dale paused for a long moment and then decided to attempt to find out more about the man sitting beside him. "It looked to me like you recognized somebody in that van and wanted to avoid them, Paul. There's something I've been meaning to ask you and maybe this is the right time."
Paul didn't say anything, knowing he did not want to explain why he had ducked down to avoid being seen, but he knew Dale's observation of his actions was going to bring the question anyway.
"Are you in some kind of trouble?"
"Not exactly," Paul responded, trying to avoid the question.
"Not exactly? What kind of an answer is that?" Dale asked, glancing quickly over at Paul a number of times as he continued to drive down a long, straight stretch of highway. "It looked to me like you were trying to avoid being seen."
"The guy in the van is with the Federal Government and they want to ask me a lot of questions about something that isn't really their business," Paul said matter of factly.
"Tax collectors?" Dale guessed.
"No," Paul replied quickly.
"Did you kidnap Scott from his mother?"
The question seemed so strange to Paul he couldn't help answering the question with a question. "What makes you ask that?"
"Because it seems to happen so often lately and because you indicated it was the Feds and not the IRS."
"I don't understand," Paul said a baffled expression on his face. "Why do you ask if I kidnapped him? I'm his father."
Dale answered with confidence. "So many times fathers don't get custody of their children in a divorce so they just take them and run away. You're not involved in one of those parental kidnapping things are you?"
"Then why are the Feds looking for you?"
Paul didn't quite know how to answer Dale's question but he knew he couldn't explain the situation in terms that would be satisfactory so he decided to try to put the entire matter to rest. "It's all rather complicated and that's all I can tell you. If with that knowledge you don't want us to stay at your home, Scott and I will leave as soon as he gets home from school."
Once again Dale glanced at Paul then returned his eyes toward the roadway ahead. At a second glance he saw the look on Paul's face and his decision seemed easy and logical. This is a caring father sitting beside me who had somehow managed to get himself involved with the law.
"I want you to stay, please, but if you ever need an ear to listen or a shoulder to lean on ..."
Paul debated with himself whether Dale's statement required an answer or not and he continued to think about it for a while, finally deciding that at least the mention of the ear meant Dale would be willing to listen to anything he might want to tell him. He could not quite understand why he should need to lean on his shoulder, however, and thought it best not to complicate the issue further by continuing the conversation about their situation.
Dale recognized immediately Paul's decision not to speak further about his problems and figured he would ease Paul's fears about discovering his deep, dark secret. He suspected Paul's problem had something to do with his son and he was familiar with family problems. "I guess things being complicated is kind of easy for me to understand, Paul, so I can understand why you don't like to talk about it."
Paul realized Dale was not going to try to push the issue. "Thank you for giving your friendship, I'll remember that."
"No thanks required, Paul."
There was a brief period when no one spoke and finally Paul decided he would try to find out more about Dale's life and possibly the problems existing between him and his son. "Why are you alone with Ted?"
Dale was willing to share his past to put his friend at ease. "I lost my wife, well, actually my second wife a couple years ago."
Paul's eyebrows rose. "Lost?" he asked.
"She died," he stated sadly.
"Me too," Dale replied sadly, "but maybe I should start at the beginning. Marla, my first wife, left us a year after I went to work for NASA. Teddy was three. Marrying her was the result of a college infatuation. She was beautiful and very popular and I felt so fortunate to be dating her. When she told me she was pregnant, she asked me to pay for having it terminated. I wanted to do what I thought was the right thing and talked her into getting married instead. When Teddy was born she just didn't seem able to handle the stress of a youngster making constant demands on her. She wanted to go back to school and have fun.
"At that time I was engrossed in making a living for the three of us in a computer technician job and continuing to go to college part time to better myself. I felt badly about not being there to help with Teddy when she needed me, but I felt the education would provide us with a future. I tried spending as much time at home as I could and things did go along well for a while, but then the NASA opportunity came up. It was an opportunity I couldn't turn down, paying very well in comparison to the technician job, but it did require a move half way across the country and away from all her other friends.
"I guess I became almost totally involved in the Voyager program and shortly thereafter the budding shuttle project asked for me and instead of spending more time at home helping her with Ted, I spent more and more time away, often flying endlessly between launch, tracking and potential landing installations in both the U.S. and overseas. ...But that was the job. It was what I was well paid for and subsequently a benefit to my family. We decided to hire a housekeeper, feeling it would help if Marla had less work to do around the house and more time to spend with Teddy, but she became more and more nervous and it seemed no one we hired lasted for more than a week or two.
"I was home for Teddy's birthday when I noticed he was acting strangely when he was around his mother and suddenly I suspected she was being abusive."
"Abusive?" Paul asked in disbelief, unable to visualize the concept.
"Yes, I found out she used to scream at him all the time and would often actually physically beat him. I tried talking to her, but she denied it. I told her I was going to have to take Teddy from her if it didn't stop, though I wasn't sure of what I was going to do with him if I did take him. I figured she'd make some effort to change. A week later a neighbor confronted me, confirming my suspicions that nothing had changed and warned me that she would call the authorities if I didn't do something about it."
"She was right in calling it to your attention," Paul remarked.
"The next day Marla made the decision for me. I came home to a note on the dresser stating simply, 'Since you want him, you take him. He's at the babysitter' ...and she was gone. Later I wished I had kept that note. When I told Teddy his mother had left, I couldn't believe his response, because even though she had abused him terribly, he cried. I saw and shared my son's grief.
"I took immediate emergency leave from the project to take care of him. I had to adjust my work schedule around my duties as a father, much to the chagrin of the project powers that be. Marla never even called to ask about Teddy after she left and I gave up on the marriage. I met Jean several months later, when she started working at the base childcare center for project personnel. We had a proper courtship and I started the necessary divorce proceedings. We were married immediately after entry of the decree by the court.
"Jean was everything Marla hadn't been. She was kind, loved children and was a good mother to him. She couldn't have a child and he became ours in her eyes. Teddy, likewise, thought of her as his own mother. I spent all my spare time, though it never seemed to be enough, with my new family." A big grin appeared on Dale's face. "It was a happy time for me. I seemed to have the best of both worlds; the world of exploration and a loving wife taking care of our son. Jean had been a child of the military; then a military wife and lost her husband in a freak training accident. She understood the life she could expect with me as a NASA Technical Advisor, but she never complained. She was happy being a wife and mother and she was also the woman I loved, very dearly, and who loved unselfishly in return."
Paul listened silently, taking in the feeling of happiness Dale experienced with his wife and tried to place himself back in time with Jenny, experiencing Scott growing up in a normal family situation, but he was brought back from the thoughts as Dale's story continued.
"We neither saw nor heard from Marla for the next three years, and then one day I received word from an attorney. Marla had remarried and had filed a court action to get Teddy back. A Judge had ordered he be returned to her pending the outcome of the hearing without even having examined the case thoroughly, relying on an old theory so common then in the courts, that a young child belonged with the mother."
"Many times people make judgments without knowing all the facts," Paul replied sadly, "causing great injury to those they misjudge."
"I watched it happen and I think Teddy still carries the scars," Dale stated sadly. "Teddy and Jean cried when Marla came to pick him up. I hadn't seen so many tears in the almost three years we'd been married and it hurt to see both my son and my wife hurting. I had already hired an attorney to argue the case to whatever court it might require to get Teddy back. I got to see him a few days later and it was evident he was extremely unhappy being with his mother and I thought about grabbing him and running away." Dale paused a long moment in his story, sympathizing with Paul.
"By the end of a week it was evident to the neighbors who saw the bruises and heard the screaming, Marla had beaten him again when he wouldn't stop crying and those 'wonderful' people called the authorities. Teddy was returned immediately by the social worker handling the case and there was no problem having the court decide in our favor. Jean filed to adopt Teddy and with the assistance of the state social agency, Marla was permanently deprived of any parental rights. We never heard from her again."
Their conversation ended as they drove up to the offices of the prospective client. The job was done in about an hour and on the return trip, Paul still attempting to keep off the subject of his problems, asked, "Would you continue your story, Dale? What happened after Jean adopted Teddy?"
Paul noticed Dale smiling happily and figured he was remembering something pleasant from the past. "The day the adoption was entered, we celebrated. Jean was so happy because now she was his 'real' mother." His broad smile suddenly gave way to a frown. "If I would have known it would make her so happy I would have gotten an attorney to file for the adoption earlier. After all, we hadn't heard from Marla for years and the court would probably have determined she had abandoned him, but I hadn't been thinking of Jean's feelings. Anyway, Jean did all the things a mother should, and more. She chauffeured him around; was involved in all of his activities; school functions; meetings; music lessons, even though Teddy never bloomed in the music department; she took care of all the mother/son needs. She was even active in the PTSA."
"PTSA?" Paul inquired.
"Parent Teacher's and Student's Association," Dale related, glancing once again at Paul with a unbelieving expression. "You don't know about the largest school organization in the country?"
Paul recognized another of those troublesome acronyms that abounded in this adopted verbal language and decided to learn more about it since it involved school, teachers and students. "No, I hadn't heard about it. What is it?" he remarked in an attempt to cover for his ignorance of something he apparently should have been familiar with. "It sounds interesting."
"It's an association, or rather a forum, where parents, teachers and students can talk about problems in the schools, but I didn't think there could be any parent with a child in school who hadn't heard about it."
"Well I had been away," Paul stated honestly.
Dale frowned, "You must have been a long way, away, my friend."
Paul sighed and said, "I guess you might say I had been." There was a short uncomfortable silence and finally Paul prompted Dale once again, "but please continue about Jean."
Dale was almost relieved to end the silence and rolled smoothly back into his story. "Jean did all of those things parents normally do. Needless to say I was rather limited because of the uncertainty of my job requirements with both Voyager and the Space Shuttle, so she also acted as father for me. After the shuttle went down, I was almost living at work with the investigations going on though we were still continuing to launch some unmanned missions."
Paul saw an emotional tremor go through Dale before he spoke again. "Jean was killed in an airliner crash just over two years ago. I was devastated, quit NASA and we moved from Houston to here in the Valley."
"I'm sorry," Paul repeated in all sincerity.
"Thanks," Dale replied, "it all seems so long ago now."
Paul desired to learn all he could about his host and was desirous of keeping the conversation going on Dale's life and not his. "How did it happen?"
"Jean and I were going to fly to her niece's wedding in Des Moines, but as usual, something came up at work at the last minute and I couldn't go with her." Dale's voice became broken as he apparently was forced to remember things he'd rather forget, but the question had already been asked and he continued. "I insisted she go anyway and the plane crashed on take-off while Teddy and I stood there, still waving good-bye." He remained silent for a long time, but finally gathered his grief back inside. "I think Teddy blamed me for her death."
"If you hadn't remained because of your work, he wouldn't have anybody now," Paul stated simply.
"But I've always wondered if he wouldn't have been happier if I had gone instead," Dale returned, an emotional tremor in his voice. "He missed her so."
"Those are things we can't change and must learn to accept," Paul added quietly.
"I know that and I have accepted it," Dale stated sadly. "When we came here he seemed to accept me; was settling down in school and was making friends again. He was around to help me on Saturdays and after school and I was trying to teach him the business, but after a while he just didn't seem interested anymore. He tried out for the track team this year and was accepted. I really missed his help and having him around work, but I didn't feel I should deny him the chance for some fun in school. The business responsibilities at the shop didn't allow me time to go to the meets and soon Teddy wasn't available to help me any longer."
"Being on a team can be important to a boy, but so can his family, Dale," Paul remarked simply.
Dale nodded in reply as he continued driving toward home.
Dale glanced over at Paul and noticed he was looking once again at the passing scenery on a long straight stretch of road and down a long hill. He then decided to remind him of the upcoming road intersection. "Paul, Spring Hill Road is right around the bend. Be prepared."
"Thank you," Paul replied as he looked at his friend.
"I didn't know if you'd recognize it coming from this direction. Just lay down across the seat. Let's not take any chances."
Within another week Dale noticed Paul could troubleshoot as well as, or better than he. Preferring to send him out on most all repair and service work left Dale to turn his efforts to the system sales end of the business. Paul was rapidly establishing himself as somewhat of an expert in the computer and related electronics field in the Valley.
Dale did notice at first, that on most Personal Computer and smaller systems calls, Paul preferred to bring the systems back to the shop to work on rather than spending his time attempting to complete the repairs at the business. It didn't bother him though, since the units were almost always on their way back within a couple of hours and never seemed to come back in for further repairs.
On some older systems that couldn't be moved easily, and multi-user systems, Paul often arranged to go back to do the work after business hours. On those units he would often observe Paul back in the shop with his nose buried in a manual prior to the evening call and customers were online again by morning. Everyone was more than satisfied with the service work. Now the work in the shop didn't seem necessary very often as Paul was getting more than familiar with the various systems they serviced regularly. Dale did notice Paul did most of his work while he was gone and that did bother him to some extent, for he would have liked to observe his techniques.
One day, Paul heard Susan ask Dale if he had bought some new equipment. On more than one occasion she indicated having seen a strange looking blue light emitting from the shop, and mentioned not having seen an invoice on any new lighting equipment to put on the inventory. Dale just shrugged his shoulders and told her perhaps Paul had been using some of the older bench lights from the storeroom.
Paul decided he had better be more careful with his shop repairs.
For the first time since they had hit the road together, Starman and Scott were enjoying a somewhat normal life. They were saving money for the days they knew would be coming when things would probably not be so good. The rest was good for more than just the body.
Paul noticed one day, how easy it was to get involved in one's work, or as with Scott, in school, if they enjoyed it. They both seemed to have temporarily forgotten about the search for Jenny. The search had been so random and their chances of finding her seemed almost as good staying in one place as they were on the road. She could have been in any one of the hundreds of towns they had gone through and they would never have known because they just passed through.
Paul had considered there was really no way Jenny would have been attracted to them as Scott certainly resembled her more than his father. If he had resembled Scott, Sr., she might have noticed him in a crowd, but having observed himself and having carefully studying the features of his adopted body in a mirror, he concluded it was difficult to recognize oneself for certain
Paul was more than happy because Scott was doing well in school and making friends his own age. The atmosphere at school was congenial small town where the major area income was from agriculture. Paul did notice Scott tended to stay out of serious relationships with the many girls who were obviously trying to be noticed since they called regularly. He still seemed to remember vividly, the pain of having to leave Kelly Jordan, when Fox suddenly showed up.
The threat of George Fox, however, was always in their subconscious. He could be waiting for them just around the next corner; a stranger waiting on a street corner; another shopper seemingly following either down more than a single aisle in the grocery store could be one of his men; a car or van with the driver sitting behind the wheel at a curb for more than half hour; any time a car they didn't recognize drove up to the shop, the person could be working for him. Noticing such things would always bring the past to mind and remind them of what must be the future. Fox was still out there and he would never give up his search, of that they were sure.
Paul often wondered if Ellen ever noticed their insecurity. She said nothing and Dale hadn't ask any more after their discussion on the road. They both just acted like the friends they were turning out to be.
The relaxation of the tension they always experienced during Fox's close pursuit was improving their relationship. It was difficult for Paul not to notice their host and his son, Ted, were not communicating.
It became more obvious to Paul that Ellen was experiencing the wonderful emotion called 'love' for Dale, but it seemed sad to him Dale did not return the same kind of affection, treating her merely like a friend. When he saw them together they reminded him of the first time with Jenny when he had been so naive, not understanding the emotions his host body was conveying to him. Dale must have been hurt very badly to not return her love. When the occasion arose he would ask her about the past.
A few days later, Paul was ready to duck when another call took them past the road where he had seen Wylie in the van. A quick glance confirmed the van was no longer there. Had George Fox given up or was he just moving closer? It did seem he must have been concentrating his search to the east or Wenatchee would have been contacted already. Had their accidental circle thrown him off?
If he was still in the area an attempt to run might be worse than just disappearing into the immediate area. There were many places he had seen which were not visited often and he had made note of them with refuge in mind. If Fox had been searching to the east, passage through an area where Fox might have been showing their photographs might also be dangerous. He knew he had to relax but he also knew he must remain alert.
On the return trip as they traveled through a large area of farm field crops, Paul noticed a pleasant fragrance in the air. In the spirit of relaxed conversation, he asked Dale if he knew what it might be.
Dale confessed to having no knowledge of the agricultural base of the area other than the fruits of the Wenatchee Valley. "You should ask Ellen. She has lived in this area her whole life and can probably tell you."
"Thank you, I will," Paul confirmed. The following Saturday morning he approached Ellen with his question. "The crop you're probably referring to is a field of carrots being raised for seed. The fragrance is the flowers which are currently blooming."
Paul was enchanted. "It's so interesting," he remarked, "that something as plain as a carrot could have a flower with such a pleasant fragrance."
"It's interesting how you pay attention to such things," she remarked. "Most people never even notice the things around them. You have such a different outlook on life." She grinned at him. "One day I was looking out the kitchen window and saw you investigating every individual flower and tree in the yard. You looked at each as though you had never seen anything like it before."
"Everything is new and interesting if one just takes the time to look," he stated simply.
Ellen smiled again and proceeded to explain about other things he might watch for. "In the same area of the plateau in which you smelled the flowering carrots, the farmers raise a large number of vegetable crops: onions, beans, peas, and asparagus. There are also various kinds of fruits and grains."
Paul was familiar with most of the crops from the names and from seeing them in the grocery store, but an unfamiliar one had to be questioned. "Asparagus?"
Ellen already knew another question was coming by Paul's look, even before he asked and she answered with a beguiling grin. "In the spring an asparagus field is identified by bent over farm workers in an apparently empty field of dirt."
Paul recalled seeing such a field not far from the town in which they had been doing the job that took them by Wylie's van. "I thought they must be out there planting something rather than harvesting it," he remarked. "What does asparagus look like?"
"It's rather hard to describe. I promise I'll show you next time we're in the market," she replied,
Paul already knew from experience she was good at keeping promises and would remember to point it out.
It truly amazed Ellen, the wide interest this man had in all things around him as she had answered many of his seemingly simplistic questions in the few weeks he and his son had been with Dale. She continued to be enchanted by the child-like simplicity of an apparently very complex man.
Wylie's disappearance from the roadway and hearing or seeing nothing further of either him or Fox for several days, allowed Paul to somewhat relax again even though he had no idea of where they might presently be searching.
They were continuing to enjoy the 'almost family' they had been brought into, but Paul felt very badly when Dale and his son were together they seemed to do nothing but argue as soon as Dale would bring up the subject of school and friends taking all Ted's time. The encounters got more intense any time Dale asked him about being out late almost every night, but the matters never seemed to get resolved.
George Fox and Agent Wylie had been at headquarters for two weeks after having been called in to file their reports on the Eastern Washington sighting. General Wade was understandably unhappy when Fox indicated Forrester had slipped away again. Wade was once again threatening the project with a loss of funding support if Fox could not come up with proof that the photographer was indeed the reincarnated alien.
Wylie saw a grim look on Fox's face as he came back into the office after a fourth visit with the General in the past two weeks. He quickly jumped out of his chair. I better get him a cup of coffee, before he chastises me for being tardy. That's normal when Mr. Fox is under stress, he thought.
Fox took the coffee without a word and bolted it down almost without tasting it. Wylie knew about the meeting, without asking. The meeting with General Wade didn't go well. He felt relieved when his boss did not start telling him anything further about it before drinking the coffee.
Fox looked around the office and without further explanation merely addressed him with instructions. "Pack up; we're heading back to Washington State."
Wylie's face took on a mild look of disappointment. I just managed to get a ticket to the Bullets basketball game and another trip out to the sagebrush country of Eastern Washington was not a high priority on my list for things to do this evening, he thought. "Again?" he asked with trepidation.
"Somehow we missed them," came Fox's terse reply.
"But sir, I talked to everyone using the cross-roads where the trucker left them and you scoured almost every town East of the Columbia River for at least fifty miles north, south and east of where there. No one recognized either of them from the pictures and the County Sheriff's offices hadn't seen anyone fitting their descriptions."
"Then we'll go further east and if we don't pick up the trail we'll go west again, to the ocean, if necessary," Fox said angrily. "They're still out there, I know they are. I've just got a feeling..."
"If you say so, sir," Wylie replied sadly, and then his voice perked as he thought of the earlier explanation for their disappearance. Maybe he could salvage the game yet. "But maybe they just caught another ride after the trucker left them and they could be in Iowa by now." he said, hoping Fox would at least give the idea serious consideration.
"Are you questioning my order?" Fox growled. "Just get ready to go!"
Wylie heaved a sigh and visualized the hard to come by Bullets tickets growing wings and flying off toward the west into a Washington State sunset. At least I didn't have a date this time. His reply to Fox's order was one of obvious disappointment. "No sir," he said quietly. "Actually, I never really unpack any more. I just do the laundry and have my second suit cleaned and pressed."
"Very wise," Fox complimented unexpectedly. "Speaking of suits, when you stop by the apartment to pick me up, will you remind me to put another suit in my bag? We may be out there a long time."
"Sure enough," Wylie mumbled to himself as he saw his boss get up from his desk and look out the window toward the west, "and I'll spend most of it on stakeout at some little dirt road out in the middle of nowhere, talking to myself."
"Did you have something to say to me?" Fox growled at hearing under breath mumbling. "If you do, speak up."
"No sir," Wylie replied with resignation as Fox turned from the window and headed toward the door. "Are you going home now, Mr. Fox?"
"Yes, pick me up at six sharp," came the succinct order. "I've got reservations on the 7:30 Northwest flight to Seattle, then Horizon into Moses Lake. We'll head east from there to Spokane. Someone's has got to have seen them. We'll check with the unemployment offices and farmers cooperatives this time. Maybe the alien is doing manual labor to try to throw us off."
"Yes sir," Wylie replied with a sigh.
Fox paused and retreated into his own thoughts for a moment longer, then before going through the door he mumbled. "I know you're still out there, Forrester." He shook his head negatively. "I just know it!"
During the past two weeks, when Paul was often out on jobs, Scott would come directly home from school and would take over answering telephones in the office so Susan could go home. He found the office a nice place to do his homework. Dale was often back from sales calls and he and Scott had a great deal of time to talk.
Whenever Paul was in the office in the afternoon he began to notice it was almost like Dale planned on being back to the office by three. He began to think Dale was beginning to look to Scott for the companionship he now didn't seem to be able to establish with his own son. Paul remembered how he had felt earlier when Scott had temporarily rejected him for Joe Foss. Dale was becoming attracted to Scott. Paul was sure this time, Scott just assumed he was being friendly, but for himself he felt he had the emotion he now knew to be jealousy, well under control.
Dale had gotten Scott involved as a player in the Sunday soccer games the second weekend they were with him and Scott began to understand and enjoy the sport. Many of the players were teenagers from school and Scott also enjoyed the friendly competition with them. Sunday afternoon was Dale's time to unwind from the heavy burden he still seemed to be carrying and his joy at racing after the ball was total commitment. He was considered one of the better players, but never flaunted it.
Paul's experience with organized sports had been only through what he saw on television and he saw the importance of the competition associated with such sports to be blown almost out of reason, robbing the participant of the fun and physical exercise that was supposed to be derived from them. These local games were for fun, he determined, and at Dale's urging, soon he also began to play, though cautiously at first. There was no polarization into rivalry other than for the specific day of play and no reason for undue roughness just to win.
The method they used to choose teams for the games was extremely fair. Two names would be drawn as team captains and they would then alternate drawing their teams from those at the field. Good players, like Dale, and new or poorer players, like Paul, were distributed on each side. The winners of one week were usually divided the next week by the drawing and usually everybody who wanted, got to participate in each and every game as they also played by flexible rules as to the number for each side if there were only a couple extra. Otherwise, they would play two games as the days lengthened with the advancing spring.
The players gathered from both sides of the Columbia River and the games were played with however many showed up by two o'clock. If there were too many, the extras would sit on the sidelines and hoot and holler for their friends on either side, then get to play in the next game. If there were not enough, someone from the bleachers could usually be coerced into filling in the empty spot.
The player's occupations, Paul had discovered, ranged from business executives to grain farmers or orchardists, a couple cowboys and many others from either side of the river. The age ranged from 14 to 'over 70', at least that was the age one gentleman claimed. There were even a couple ladies who showed up regularly and they in turn were welcomed.
At first Paul was cautious when one of Dale's best friends, Dean Frasier, was introduced to him as being a deputy sheriff who worked often with Ellen in Wenatchee. Dean was a happy-go-lucky person and when he was off duty, he was off duty. Though Paul never tried to cultivate a close relationship, they did have a comfortable speaking acquaintance on and off the field. Paul was now certain Fox did not have the authorities on any general alert for them in the area and as his uneasiness subsided, he began to feel confident Fox had moved on.
Paul had met and liked most all of the team members and the non-playing family members and he began to enjoy the physical exercise and friendly competition it provided since his work was now mostly sedentary. At first he was overly cautious when he found himself playing against Scott or Dale, but soon got caught up in the game; playing his best for whichever side he was drawn. What Paul lacked in the physical commitment, however, he more than made up for in the ability to quickly see the geometry of the game and to use strategy to his advantage.
Dale continued to observe Paul's mannerisms, both at work and at play. He often wondered why Paul, who had indicated to Ellen he was a photojournalist, never seemed to carry a camera. A series of photographs of the games might have gotten him a chance at a job with the local daily paper, or at least a freelance fee. He was even more surprised when he never took a picture of the game even when his son started playing. Perhaps he was the kind of photographer who only thought major sports to be worthy of his time, yet he did seem interested.
Scott had seen Ted hanging around the soccer games a number of times, but always at a distance. He tried to approach, but when he walked over toward him Dale's son would turn and soon disappear. One day he mentioned it to his father and he had commented on how strange it was Ted didn't seem to participate in the fun everyone seemed to get out of the games.
With the more than competent help and the backlog moving out of the shop, Dale was now relieved of the overburden of his growing business. He now had more time to spend at home, but Ted was so rarely around they talked very little. When around home, Ted was sullen, aloof and withdrawn. Many times he didn't show up at all, coming home only a couple times during the week, but seemingly just to sleep or change clothes. Most of the time, on those days, he would get up in the morning before everyone else and leave, or if there was no school, would sleep until everyone else had gotten up and gone about their business.
Dale had tried to get him up to do something with them a number of times, but he grouched and complained and soon the effort was not continued.
One evening the phone rang and after a short conversation Dale announced he was getting a visit from the 9th grade counselor. A woman came to the door about a half hour later, introducing herself as a Mrs. Chandler. She and Dale sat down at the table in the dining room, while Paul and Scott remained in the living room watching television.
Paul didn't mean to listen to their conversation, but it became impossible not to with the close proximity, especially after he heard Dale remark loudly, "Why haven't I been advised his grades were so low before this? School is going to be out soon."
"You were advised," the woman defended. "You were advised several times during the last three months. Poor work slips were sent out, Mr. Taylor. You acknowledged them, but you never called for the requested appointment. That's the reason I'm here. You wouldn't come to me, so I'm coming to you."
"I haven't seen any poor work slips," Dale replied.
She reached into her briefcase and pulled out a folder, displaying several sheets of paper. Dale gave no sign of recognition and she knew the answer before he said anything. "I must assume Ted forged your signature?"
"It would appear so," Dale replied. Then he thought further, asking critically, "But if his grades are that bad, how is it he's still on the track team. I was under the impression there was a scholastic grade pre-requisite for all sports participation."
"There is," she replied confidently. "He was removed from track over two months ago, not only because of his grades, but because the coach indicated he lacked enthusiasm."
"Why wasn't I advised?"
"To participate in the sports program, or not, is up to your son, Mr. Taylor. Even my coming here about his grades isn't required. I merely do it when I feel there is a developing problem for a promising student. A rapid drop in scholastic achievement indicates stress and that is usually a reflection of something wrong at home. I would suggest you work on any problems you have for your son's sake, Mr. Taylor." She put her papers back into her briefcase, got up and began walking toward the door.
Dale followed her, opened the door and thanked her for her concern as she walked back to her car. Dale stood at the door for a long moment with his eyes closed and a look of despair on his face.
Neither Paul, nor Scott, needed to see his face to know what he was feeling. Dale finally turned, excused himself and retreated to his room.
Everyone was in bed when Ted came home. Dale confronted him in a very calm tone of voice. "This evening I had a visit from your counselor. She said you're failing in almost all of your classes. Why haven't you been keeping up your studies?"
Ted thought fast and his response was calm and under any other circumstance might have been convincing, "The coach insists we attend each and every practice and practice has been taking up all of my study time."
"You're lying to me!" Dale remarked sharply. "She also told me you haven't been on the team for the past two months! Where have you been?"
Ted stammered a bit, collected himself and simply stated, "Out."
"Lying isn't acceptable and 'out', isn't sufficient anymore, young man. You are to come right home after school! Homework will be the sum total of your outside of school activities from now on!"
"You and who else are going to make me?" Ted yelled. He looked his father in the eye.
Dale looked at his son in disbelief at the impudence. "Go to your room. We'll talk further about this in the morning."
By morning Ted had reconsidered his defiance and Paul heard him agree to come home on the school bus right after school. He stayed in the house with his books and when his father came in from the shop for dinner Ted stopped him in the dining room.
Paul was in the kitchen and again could not help overhearing.
"Dad, I need some money."
"Two hundred dollars."
"Two hundred dollars!" Dale exploded.
"It's for a special Social Studies trip in school," Ted replied with anticipation.
"I haven't seen any fliers from school about such a trip. I think you're lying to me again."
"I really need the money, Dad," Ted replied with concern.
"I can't tell you, it's a surprise."
After the blatant lie and outward impudence of the day before, Dale couldn't believe him and knew he couldn't reward him without some effort being shown on his part. "I'll tell you what; you'll get money for a surprise when your grades improve."
Another confrontation between the two commenced and quickly ended when Ted stormed out of the house.
Paul was greatly concerned over the deteriorating relationship between Dale and Ted. He knew he was only a temporary solution to Dale's overload at work and he also felt Dale was now assuming he would be staying permanently. He knew, in all honesty, he had to tell Dale that he and Scott would be leaving, but right now he didn't want to leave unless they had to. He also couldn't bring himself to tell Dale until he knew what was going wrong between this father and son.
The following Sunday at the soccer game he sat out the game then found Ellen in the stands. Sitting down beside her, he approached the subject. "Ellen, it's not hard to notice there's some kind of problem between Dale and Ted. Do you have any idea of what's going on?"
Ellen began explaining, "Teddy used to do all the afternoon and Saturday office work. I could see, as the business increased it was taking its toll on Dale. He began getting short with Teddy for things that weren't really his fault and I suspected Teddy was beginning to avoid coming right home after school, I think, to avoid having to work with Dale."
Paul couldn't help himself from expressing the logical solution to too much work. "Why didn't Dale just say no to the extra business?"
"I don't know," she replied sadly, "maybe he just has too much pride in what he does. He just doesn't seem to be able to say no when someone asks for help. After Teddy stopped taking care of the office, Dale had to start doing a lot of the work at night. Being tired, he started getting cross with Teddy. I think Teddy got discouraged from trying to do anything for him."
"The fact remains, he needed either more help or less work," Paul stated simply.
"I told Dale he needed to find some help and he did try, but as I told you that day out on the road, he just didn't seem to be satisfied with anyone's work until you just happened to come along."
"But his son should be the most important thing to him."
"One day I heard Dale encourage Teddy to turn out for some kind of sports at school," Ellen related with compassion. "It was almost like he didn't want to have him around anymore. Teddy turned out for track and made the team. Maybe to Teddy it was an excuse for not coming home after school and the meets were on Saturdays so, of course, Dale could never go. It was really sad. I could see they were growing apart. I offered to help on Saturdays whenever I could so they might have more time, and have done it ever since. I didn't mind though. I didn't have anything important to do and it gave me a chance to see Dale, but nothing seemed to help." She shook her head at the thought.
Paul could see she was very emotionally involved in Ted's problems, more than she wanted to let on. "They do seem to have a problem talking to each other. I wonder why?"
"I could see a growing problem, but I think Dale just didn't seem to understand Teddy needed more time with him, not sports," Ellen explained, a frown coming onto her face. "I kind of lost track of things after I went to work in Wenatchee."
"Ted's never home much at all and all they seem to do when they are together is argue," Paul related. "Now Dale found out he's been lying about track practice and put him on restriction for that and for letting his grades slip. Last night he asked Dale for a great deal of money and when Dale wouldn't give it to him he stormed out of the house. He didn't come home again."
"It's like a wall has developed between them and neither one seems to be able to break back into the other's life. When I worked at the shop I used to be able to talk to Teddy when he came home from school. Now he's home so seldom, I rarely see him. He's also changed a lot in the past few months. He's so moody. I guess he's got teenage problems of his own."
"What kind of problems?" Paul asked, cocking his head slightly.
"I think he's been hanging around with a bunch of kids at school with problems. I saw a lot of these little groups when I was still in school, but they were usually from homes with problems or parents who didn't care about them. Some just didn't seem to be able to find a niche in school or anything that interested them enough to put forth some effort. There were also groups of the ones who didn't seem able to learn easily and were being pushed along; they usually ended up dropping out. But Teddy is different; he's smart, but the last few months he just doesn't seem to care."
"...And how about you, Ellen, do you still care?" Paul could see Ellen was close to tears, reflecting her extreme unhappiness over the deteriorating situation.
"I didn't realize it was that bad, Paul. I'm going to make a special effort to try to help Ted, even if Dale doesn't approve, just because I care about both of them."
There had been no mistaking Ellen's feelings for Dale when Paul and Scott had come to East Wenatchee over three weeks ago, but nothing seemed to be happening between them either. "...How do you feel about Dale?"
She looked Paul in the eye and grabbed her upper lip lightly between her teeth, then stated with certainty, "I love Dale, Paul, but apparently he doesn't love me or he would have asked me to marry him, or at least to live with him." As she finished her statement Paul could see she had tears in her eyes. "Maybe he thinks I'm too young for him, but it doesn't bother me and I can't understand why it should bother him."
"Let's see if we can figure out what's going on," Paul stated. Looking her in the eye again, he smiled. I will ask Scott for help, he thought.
"I've tried to approach Ted a number of times at school this week," Scott reported. "I think he's trying to avoid me. I'm beginning to think he doesn't like me."
"Have you done something to make him angry?" Paul asked.
"I can't think of anything. I hardly ever see him at school and when I tried to talk to him he just walks away. It's pretty clear he doesn't want to talk to me."
Paul remembered his observation of Scott's association with Dale and voiced his suspicion. "Do you realize you've been spending a lot of time with his father lately? ...Could he be jealous?"
"Jealous of what?" Scott retorted sharply.
"I know you probably can't see Dale's attraction to you. Do you remember how you felt about Eric when he was around me more than you thought he should be before he asked to become a part of our life? I can also tell you how it feels when someone else takes over what you think is your place. I couldn't understand why you liked Joe Foss more than you liked me. ...It hurt, Scott. Maybe that's how Ted is feeling about you."
"Should I try to avoid Dale?" Scott asked with a frown. "I could go up to the house to do my homework and I don't have to play soccer."
"No, I don't think you should do that," Paul stated with conviction, "you might hurt Dale's feelings. But perhaps you should make a special effort to talk to Ted about it. I'd like to see them get back together and you might be able to help."
"I've been trying," Scott reiterated, "for a week, but he's avoiding me."
"Before he tries to leave the next time, tell him you have something special to talk to him about. Maybe he'll be more willing to listen."
"Okay, I'll keep trying."
Paul decided he had to be honest with Dale when he saw him trying to expand the business further. "Dale," he said, "Scott and I have to leave very soon."
Dale was shocked, "Why have you decided to leave all of a sudden?"
"Dale, I told you this when we first arrived. It isn't a decision; it's a necessity of our lives. I'm really sorry. We've both been happy here with you."
"Does this sudden decision have to do with the guy in the van?" he asked quickly.
Paul nodded his head. "Him and his boss - they very much want to find us and that's all I can tell you."
"Okay." Dale replied meekly, shrugging his shoulders in defeat. "What can I say?"
Paul turned and walked silently back to the bench where the computer he was working on lay exposed.
Dale watched him retreat and then thought back again to the expression he had seen on both Paul and Scott's faces when Ellen had been talking about working in the Courthouse and Paul had questioned if she was a police officer. Their reaction had been hard not to notice. The statement Paul had made after they passed the van about the Feds wanting to ask him questions had crossed his mind more than once during the past weeks, but it was obvious Paul didn't want to talk about it on the road that day. He even said they would leave if it bothered me. He decided he needed Paul's help more, at that time, than his secrets and chose to remain a friend.
Afterward, I had thought of having Ellen check the records, but decided I had made a commitment to that friendship when I chose to warn him to duck. I firmly believe a friend does not check up on a friend. I had also noticed at the soccer games the other teenagers from school always referred to Scott as 'Hayden' rather than Forrester. He apparently used Hayden to register at school. I thought about confronting Paul about that, but the time never seemed right and after we became friends it just didn't seem important any longer.
I thought Paul might be on the run from questions regarding Scott. They might have been solved by facing the issue, but many people have an aversion to the legal system after even a minor brush, particularly if they are as sensitive as Paul seems to be.
I thought Scott might have been born out of wedlock and his mother preferred the birth certificate reflect her maiden name, or maybe he had been placed for adoption. Perhaps Paul got backed into a corner and had given up his parental rights only to find Scott in a bad home situation and felt running the only option, like I thought of doing with Teddy. Kidnapping charges would have been filed against him, explaining why the Feds got involved. Paul did say it was complicated.
I have watched Paul and Scott interact for quite some time and I am satisfied that Paul is a good father. Whatever the circumstances were, it's obvious to me they care very much for each other. Besides, Scott was also 15 years old and able to make a decision about who he prefers to live with. According to our state law, he's old enough to qualify for emancipation.
He thought back to the happy years with Jean and then to the day she was killed. I thought my life had ended. I ran to get away from the memories. I insisted we go to the wedding. I even made arrangements for Teddy to stay with one of his friends. Then, as was so often the case, I was unable to go because of a satellite launch and I insisted she go because they were expecting somebody. The kiss at the airport was the last. The horror of the crash flashed through his mind. I did feel responsible for sending his mother away on the plane and I think Teddy also blamed me. If only I hadn't insisted.
Dale began crying inwardly. In this present dark mood I'm in I know the past can't be changed, but it doesn't make me feel any better. What was it Paul said about the alternative? If we had both gone as planned, Teddy would have had no one, but is the present situation any different? I want to be there for my son, but I just don't seem able to communicate that. All this isn't going to change anything. I have to put it out of my thoughts.
His thoughts then turned to Ellen. Ted really likes Ellen and told me so shortly after she had started working for me. She was someone Ted seemed able to talk with. I also have strong feelings for Ellen and I know she shares those feelings. We had a wonderful relationship and I knew I was once again falling in love; but Ellen is almost sixteen years my junior and I felt strange about suggesting marriage, and an uncommitted arrangement is outside my personal moral code.
Ellen isn't much more than a kid herself. She hadn't even done much dating when she was in high school because she had her father to take care of. She has lots of friends, now young men and women with whom she still maintains contact. Yet when her father passed away she had become more attached to us and spent more of her free time in East Wenatchee. She seems to need the duties of a caretaker. Could she be a mother for Ted who was only six years her junior or is their compatibility more that of a contemporaries? She hasn't had much of a chance to live yet, let alone take on the problems of a troubled teenager.
I insisted she take the full time job at the courthouse and learn to provide for herself. Yet, she has always returned and she makes me happy. I don't want to cut off the relationship, but am I being fair to her?
It was Tuesday afternoon. Paul and Dale were both back at the shop. Susan was preparing a deposit slip for the day's receipts to take to the bank on her way home. After adding the checks and counting the cash again, she rushed into the shop and over to where Dale was unpacking a new unit. In a state of excitement, she asked, "Dale, did you take some money out of the cash drawer?"
"From the receipt book there should be $196.80 in the cash drawer. Now there's only eighty cents."
She turned to Paul with her question, "Paul?"
"No, I still had plenty of money and if I take any cash, I always leave you a note so you know what it was for."
Dale's face took on a dispirited look as he thought about his son's earlier request for cash. "Don't worry about it right now, Susan, I think I know where it went. Just show it on the books as a salary draw for me."
"Whatever you say, but it almost gave me a coronary." She turned and walked back into the office mumbling, "I'll just do a new deposit slip for the checks."
Scott was determined to talk to Ted about any problems between them, but hadn't seen him around school for the past few days. He wanted to find out if there were any special things about Ted he didn't know about since he had actually only talked to him a few times in the weeks they had been in town.
He asked around about Ted's friends and made a special effort to talk to a girl in school whom he had learned had been good friends with Ted early in the school year, but had broken it off. In a casual way she told him the group of kids to which Ted Taylor now belonged was known as the 'stoners', and most of them were stealing or selling to support drug habits. Many had already dropped out of school and were considered 'not the right kids to get involved with' by the more conservative students.
When Paul asked Scott if he knew anything about the money that had disappeared from the shop, Scott was more determined than ever to talk to Ted. This time he would get his attention even if he had to threaten him with bodily harm. He was almost certain Ted's problem was more than jealousy, and the information he had received could certainly be an explanation of the swinging moods he had noticed the few times they did say a few words to each other.
Around the shop, the missing money was quickly forgotten by everybody, except Dale. He knew he must confront his son. Stealing, like lying, was not to be tolerated. Three nights later Ted arrived home about midnight. Dale got out of bed and approached him at the door to his bedroom with what he knew to be the facts. "Ted, why did you take money from the cash drawer?" he asked calmly.
Ted's eyes were wide at the straight manner in which his father confronted him. He hadn't asked if he had taken the money; though he had; his father assumed he took it. He answered in the same straight manner. "I told you I needed some money and you wouldn't give it to me."
"Of course not," Dale snapped. "You wouldn't tell me why you needed such a large amount of money. No school project requires the amount you asked for, and no matter what you needed it for, I can't allow you to steal!"
"Okay, I borrowed some money from some guys and I needed to pay it back."
"You have to put the money back!" Dale demanded.
"I can't put it back," Ted shouted. "It only covered part of what I owed them and they threatened to do something to me!"
"You owe some guys over $200.00!" Dale looked at his son in disbelief. "How did you manage to get yourself so far into debt while going to school? How long have you been borrowing money, from these guys, anyway? You should have come to me if you need more allowance!"
"I did come to you about money, but you wouldn't give it to me!" Ted retorted.
"That wasn't just a raise in allowance and you wouldn't tell me what it was for!" Dale paused for a long moment while he looked critically at his son. "What am I going to do with you!"
Ted looked at his father, seemingly waiting and seeking something, but apparently not getting it. Why doesn't he make me tell him what it was for? the boy thought. Why doesn't he care enough to find out why I've stolen money from him? The tears were almost ready to flow and then came the final crushing blow.
"For God's sake, Ted, why can't you be more like Scott?"
Ted stood in front of his father. He looked into his eyes for a long moment, then he turned away as tears began running down his face. "Because I'm not Scott, that's why!" he yelled, running toward the front door.
Paul had heard the confrontation start and had gotten up to try to return some semblance of control to the angry words now passing between father and son. He was almost at Ted's bedroom door just in time to see the boy run past him in tears. He grabbed him in an attempt to stop him, but Ted twisted out of his grasp and continued running until he was at the front door.
Paul looked at Dale. Seeing the look of anguish on his face, he then turned to run after Ted, but by the time he got the door open, Ted had disappeared around the end of the house and into the darkness. Paul returned, but Dale had already retreated to his room and had shut the door.
Paul stood there momentarily, contemplating about what to do. There's too much anger and anguish on both of their faces to allow it to continue, he thought to himself. There has to be a middle ground of compromise between a father and his son.
Scott, also awakened by the commotion, walked up to him and Paul motioned to him to go back into their room. "I'm going to try to talk to Dale, Scott," he said softly. "Something has to be done to settle this thing between them. Maybe Dale will talk to me if I approach him now."
Scott turned. Now I wish I had tried harder to find Ted so I could tell Dad something. But all I know is what I heard and of that I can't be sure. He returned silently to the room.
Paul knocked gently on Dale's door. There was no answer, so he knocked again. When again he received no answer he turned the knob and put his head inside the door. "Dale?" he asked quietly and when there was still no answer, he walked into the almost dark room and could just make out a figure lying, face down, on the bed. He walked over to the bed and stood looking down on his friend. "Dale, I think you need a listener about now, an ear and a shoulder - isn't that what you called it." Paul reached over and turned on the nightstand lamp, "Please talk to me?" he implored. Minutes of silence passed before an emotional voice from the bed responded.
"Oh Paul," Dale moaned as he rolled over to look up at him. His eyes were red, and swollen and his voice was broken, "why do I always fall apart for him? I plan on having a reasonable discussion and it always ends by me blowing up and saying something I never meant to say."
Paul interpreted Dale's response as an invitation. He sat down on the bed and gently put a hand on top of Dale's. He could feel the turmoil going on within the man. "Dale, your relationship with your son has deteriorated rapidly lately and you can't allow it to continue."
"I don't know what to do to stop it," Dale pleaded. "If this is what they're referring to when they talk about the 'terrible teens', they're right. If I treat him like a child he wants to be treated like a man. If I treat him like a man, he wants to be a child again. I just don't know what to do."
"Treat him like he's your son," Paul said simply.
The burden pent up in Dale Taylor was ready to explode and this time he had the right ear available to listen. His thoughts began to rush out with increasing speed like water swirls as it begins running down the drain when the plug is pulled. "I try, but I don't know him anymore. I guess I never really have been close to him for the last several years. I got too involved in work at NASA and Jean took care of everything at home. Then Jean died and I had to do it all. I think she was a better parent than I am."
"Have you tried hard enough, Dale?"
"When we came here and started the business, he used to help around the shop and I was trying to teach him about the business. He seemed to enjoy playing soccer, even though he wasn't really good at it. We were beginning to get along really well. Then he just seemed to lose interest in everything."
"But work and games isn't all that's required."
"I thought about that. I figured maybe he was getting tired of working all the time, first at school and then at home. I figured he might be asking me for more freedom, so I gave it to him."
"That might have been the problem."
"I'm not so sure of that, because a few months before you came to town, he started hanging around with a bunch of troublesome kids. Then he even started skipping the Sunday games. He brought some of his 'friends' home and I knew, right away, they were going to be trouble. Things started disappearing from around the shop and I asked him to stop bringing them around. I tried to tell him to stay clear of the whole bunch and got an 'I'm old enough to choose my own friends' and he walked out on me. Now, any time I try to talk to him it always seems to end the same way, a big argument and he walks away."
"I've noticed Ted does seem to try to avoid facing you."
"After I confronted him about his friends he didn't even come home after school to help out anymore. He was always gone on the weekends and I had no one to help on Saturday. I figured if he didn't want to help around here maybe if he got more involved in school activities he might have less time for his 'friends', so one day I suggested he turn out for some kind of sport. He did and I was happy. He followed my advice for the first time in months and was accepted on the track team. He seemed to enjoy it and told me the team stayed after school to practice."
"I'm sure he must have enjoyed it," Paul stated, one eyebrow rising slightly as he recognized what seemed to be a human constant, "teenagers do seem to enjoy sports activities."
"But he had told me he still wanted to see his friends so he started doing that in the evening. He started coming in later and later all the time."
"The counselor came the other night and told me he was dropped from the team and his grades were terrible. I'm sure you must have heard it." Paul nodded his affirmation. "Then you already know what happened. All the time I thought he was involved at school and he was really just lying to me; and now stealing. I just don't know what to do anymore, Paul." Dale was unable to control his emotions any longer. "In my mind, I see myself standing in the background watching my son self-destruct right in front of my eyes and I feel totally helpless to do anything about it."
"We're going to have to find a way of getting through to him," Paul said calmly. "If I'm correct I don't think all is lost."
"Correct about what?" Dale asked inquisitively.
"I think part of the problem and maybe part of the solution, may be that he has become increasingly jealous of your attentions to Scott."
Dale's face wrinkled into a questioning frown. "My attentions to Scott?"
"You mean you haven't noticed you've been spending a lot of your free time with my son?"
"No, I hadn't."
Paul explained his observations to his friend and Dale was honestly surprised, but then on further analysis of his actions he could see it was true.
"I think that's part of the problem, because Scott said he has seen Ted hanging around the soccer game. If he is jealous," Paul said hopefully, "it shows he still cares and wants to come back. We just have to find a way to help him come in through the door. Scott said he was going to try to talk to him about how he feels. I think maybe someone his own age can find out more than either of us right now. Let Scott give it a try."
"I'm ready to try anything," Dale replied hopefully. "I love him and I don't want to lose him."
"I know you love him. I saw you worry about him the day we came here. I heard you say goodnight to him on many occasions when he came in late, because you waited up until he came in. We need to find out what it's going to take to convince him you care so you can get him back into your life."
"I really want that, I just don't know how to accomplish it."
"I'll ask Scott to get on it as quickly as he can."
Dale smiled weakly. "For the ear and the shoulder."
"Isn't that what friends are for?" Paul said as he got up off the bed and headed for the door. Then Paul stopped short and turned back to Dale as he remembered another friend who also needed a way in through the door. "While we're talking about loving someone, Dale, there's another who loves you both." Paul paused for a moment. "You shouldn't continue to pull Ellen between you and Ted any longer."
"What do you mean, pull her between us?"
"I think you know what I mean. Make up your mind whether you want to have her in your life as well. If you don't, tell her so she can get on with her own." Paul turned back and continued out the door, saying goodnight as he exited. He heard a confused and reciprocating response.
Paul returned to their room, relaying what he had found out and renewing the request for Scott to continue his attempts to contact Ted
Ted had run up the hill behind the house to an old car he often slept in. He had been up all night trying to rationalize his situation and hadn't made up his mind about what he was going to do yet. Still, he knew he had to deal with it soon. "I certainly can't continue to live at home with him, not the way things are," he mumbled to himself. "Leave home, that's first. Maybe I'll go to Seattle and live on the streets. I read several articles in the newspapers about life on the streets."
He thought about it further, and then concluded, the whole article didn't make it sound any more appealing than trying to continue to live here at home. Maybe I'll just end it all. Lots of kids my age do it. I'll make him sorry for what he's done. But how? he thought. OD, that should be an easy way, and then he'll know for sure what the problem was. .But I don't have any money to get the stuff I'll need. I just used the last of my supply and by tonight I'm going to be hurting. The guys certainly won't give me any more credit until I pay up what I owe them. The thought made him shudder.
What am I going to do now? ...How did this all happen? I didn't ask too much of Dad, did I? ...No, it certainly wasn't my fault. Dad, it's his fault, his face contorting in anger. "Why wouldn't he listen? I only wanted him to love me and instead he started to love Scott. ...Scott," he said in an angry tone of voice, "everything started to go wrong when he came. Until then I could have won back Dad's love. Scott turned him against me and now my last chance is gone. My own dad doesn't want to have anything to do with me anymore. He wants a 'Scott' for a son; a Scott who never gets into trouble; who gets good grades; who's good at soccer; popular; and easy to get along with."
As the light of a new day dawned, Ted got up from the car's backseat. I can't face my dad again, he thought. I think I'll head for the school grounds. First, I'll go see if the guys will carry me for one more time. If not, I have to move out of the house permanently when everybody is out working, and then figure out something.
Ted wasn't surprised when his friends turned him down for credit. "Some friends", he said to himself, "when you really need something, they tell you to pay up or shut up. Now, what's next? Go home and get moved out of the house." He thought for a moment of an alternative. Maybe Ellen will let me stay with her for a while? If Dad isn't at the shop, maybe I'll go down and ask her. Otherwise I'll just get some things and go. ...Hmm, maybe I'll go to her house and wait for her. He contemplated once again. "Nah, ...she doesn't want to be bothered with me."
It was early afternoon when he approached the house from the backside and saw the van parked out in front. "Damn," Ted exclaimed, "Dad's in the shop." Maybe I'll wait at the house until he leaves. It's worth a try asking Ellen. He was wound up like a rubber band ready to break if one more turn was made and he received the last turn as he walked through the back door into the kitchen and found Scott sitting at his table eating a sandwich. Tears of anger came to his eyes and he ran at his nemesis - his 'replacement', and started swinging without further thought to any consequences.
Scott saw Ted coming to the house through the kitchen window. He was elated. He was finally going to get his opportunity to talk to him in private.
Dale was gone until three and he had just seen his dad drive the van up to the shop. He was starting the conversation opening dialog he had practiced so many times he knew it by heart, "Ted, I think it's time..." and was completely taken by surprise when Ted came toward him swinging.
In Ted's increasingly emotional, drug withdrawal, state of mind, it didn't take much for Scott to hold him off. Scott finally wrestled him into the living room and sat him down in a chair. Holding him firmly, he spoke calmly in an attempt to quiet the boy and tried repeating his opener. "Ted, I think it's time we sit down and talk," and then he added "...not fight."
"Go ahead and talk! You're good at that, too!" Ted shouted. "Why don't you just leave me alone? I wish you'd never come here!"
"We've got to talk about your father, Ted," Scott said calmly.
"What do you want to do, make a trade!"
"Make a trade?" Scott repeated, with a frown and then a question. "What do you mean?"
"You know what I mean! What do you think I'm going to do, just give him to you!"
Scott could not comprehend why Ted was so angry and that his anger seemed to be directed toward him. "Give who to me?" he asked.
"My father, who else!" Ted yelled. "You already have a father, why do you want mine too!" As the accusation was finally out in the light, Ted's tough exterior began to crumble into sobs of misery.
Scott had heard ...and then surprisingly felt the growing anger as he held on to Ted. Then he suddenly felt a great sadness followed by the sobs of grief and now understood why the terrible anger had been in Ted's words. Ted is hurt at the thought of 'losing' his father. Scott was also hurt as he understood Ted's accusation and he wasted no time apologizing, for what he wasn't sure, but he knew it was needed to start some kind of discussion.
"Ted, I'm sorry," he said with unmistakable compassion, "Dad told me he could see your father was beginning to spend a lot of time with me and he told me I needed to talk to you about it. I just never realized it had gone this far with you. I should have talked to you earlier and I'm really sorry. I haven't been trying to take your father away from you. I won't see him if you don't want me too. I'll just tell Dad we have to leave."
Ted, now calmer and with a sound of acceptance of his loss in his voice, said, "It's too late anyway, he doesn't want anything to do with me anymore." He started sobbing softly again. "He wants you for his son."
"He can't have me," Scott stated with unmistakable certainty. "I already have my dad and we're a team."
"Well we're not a team. Mine doesn't want me anymore, so you might as well take him too." Ted had brought his sobs down to the sniffles. "He just doesn't know what to do with me."
"He wants you alright," Scott stated calmly, "he just doesn't know how to show it. Dad talked to him last night after you left and he told Dad he just doesn't know how to talk to you anymore. He doesn't understand you. He doesn't know if you want to be treated like a grown-up or a kid. Besides your dad isn't your only problem now Ted. The other kids say you're into drugs."
Ted interrupted belligerently, "I am not! ...Yeah, I've taken a few pills, but that's all! Everyone's tried them!"
"I haven't," Scott said in the tone of voice he had heard his dad often use.
"Then you're the only one who hasn't!"
"Whatever you say," Scott replied in submission, "I don't want to argue with you about it, but I think it's more than just a few pills, Ted," Scott continued calmly. "You have a drug problem. I can see it in your eyes right now and I can feel you're uptight."
Ted's face was defiant. "I don't have a problem!"
"You do have a problem," Scott replied sharply. "If you don't think so, you're the only one in the whole school who doesn't." Scott's voice became sympathetic, "Ted, you need help with it.
"Who's going to help me, ...you!" Ted's said, his voice continuing to rise belligerently as he looked Scott in the eye
"I can't," Scott replied. "We have to leave here soon."
"That's the way it always is. No one wants to give up any of their time for me!" Suddenly his belligerence melted into the sniffles again as he spoke. "Before Ellen got the job over in Wenatchee I could at least talk to her. Now she's only around on the weekends, but then she's never alone. I don't have anybody."
"Talk to your dad," Scott said simply.
"I really don't know how," came the anguished response. "He's ignored me for years and then when Mom died all of a sudden I was supposed to be able to come to him for everything."
"Then talk to my dad. Maybe he can talk to your dad for you. He's pretty good at seeing the easiest solutions," Scott stated with certainty. "He's really a lot smarter than he appears at times." Scott stood up from where he had been sitting on the arm of the chair and finally let go of Ted's arm. "Wait here. I saw him drive up a little while ago so he's down at the shop. I'll have him come up."
"Okay, I'll wait," Ted said doubtfully.
"I'll be just a couple minutes. Just wait here ...please?" Scott pleaded.
Scott ran down the hill as fast as he could and into the office, said a quick breathless hello to Ellen standing at the file cabinet next to the desk and rushed back into the shop. Glancing around quickly he spotted a bright blue light toward the back of the shop and saw his father standing at a table diagnosing a problem in a unit he had just brought in.
The blue light vanished as the door from the office slammed shut and Paul turned anxiously toward whomever he thought had perhaps observed his method of operation. He breathed a sigh of relief as he saw Scott.
Before Paul could even say a word Scott began his breathless request. "Dad, ...hurry. ...Ted is up at the house right now. ...I think you need to talk ...to him. He's unhappy and really up tight. He wants ...to talk to his dad, but says he just doesn't seem to know how. Tell him ...what Dale told you last night."
Paul started immediately for the office door, told Ellen he was going up to the house for a while with Scott and they headed out the door at a fast clip, Ellen's eyes following them questioningly.
Scott tried to tell him what Ted had said while they almost jogged up the hill to the house, but time and Scott's shortness of breath did not allow for much of a conversation.
I wish Dale was back, Paul thought. This might have been the right opportunity we'd been hoping for.
If they had not hurried, Ted would have been gone again to avoid talking about an issue with an adult. He had grabbed some clothes and was running out the front door and smashed headlong into Paul who was just getting ready to reach for the doorknob. Paul took hold of him gently, but firmly, by the arm and looked deeply into his eyes for a moment. "Why were you leaving, Ted?" he asked in a soft and kindly voice. "Scott said you wanted to talk to me."
"I changed my mind." Ted said jerking as he tried to turn out of Paul's grasp. "I've decided just to leave home."
The experience in the house the night before had Paul ready for such a try to escape and he held him firmly. Silently, he led the boy back into the house. "So you're still trying to run away from your problems?" Paul said calmly. Paul could feel the boy beginning to relax and his reply was said with great conviction. "Ted, you'll never solve anything by running away."
"I don't seem to be able to solve anything by being around either, Mr. Forrester."
"Please Ted; as long as we're going to talk, it's Paul. Can I ask you some things first and then you decide whether you really want to leave?"
Ted hesitated briefly, a worried expression on his face. He gave up momentarily, expecting criticism. "Okay." He then looked up into the strange compelling eyes of this man he hardly knew, and felt there was no criticism coming.
"Are you sure you've given it a good enough try?"
"What do you mean?"
Speaking in his usual calm manner, Paul continued. "Scott wanted to talk to you several days ago and would have told you that you didn't have to worry about him being with your father. He's been trying to find you in school but found you hadn't been there for days."
"I was failing anyway. I couldn't see any sense in wasting my time."
"Then where have you been?" Paul placed his hand on Ted's shoulder, and urged him to sit down on the couch. He then sat down beside him. Paul analyzed his contact as soon as he touched the boy this time, sensing there was something else going on with this child of his friend besides just being jealous of his father's attention to Scott.
Ted began to unwind with the soft-spoken words of encouragement and the gentle personal contact he so badly needed, and he hesitated momentarily before responding to the simple question. "I've been with a couple of my friends. We've been hanging out in Wenatchee." Suddenly fearful of having to do any further explaining to this stranger Ted tried to get up off the couch, but Paul took hold of his arm once again and firmly returned him to the couch.
Paul's eyebrows raised with the strange words he assumed were another saying. "'Hanging out' is better than going to school?"
"It's better than failing at something again and it's better to be hanging out with friends and have someone to talk to," the boy said without reservation.
"Your father told me a few months ago you weren't failing. He said your grades were good and he was proud of you. Your teachers gave good comments on your progress in school. Why are you failing now?"
"I didn't understand the work."
"Did you ask for help? Maybe one of your friends could help you?"
"They didn't understand it either."
"Have you asked any of your teachers? That's what they're there for."
"I didn't think about it," Ted snapped as he tried once again to pull his arm out of Paul's grasp.
"Did you ask your father for his help?" Paul asked, looking the boy directly in the eye.
"So you just allowed yourself to fail?"
"No one cares anyway!" the boy replied angrily. "Will you let go of me?"
Paul ignored his request and continued. "Your father cares, but you've tried to keep everything a secret from him. If you don't ask him he can't help you with any of your problems."
"He doesn't care about me," Ted whined. "All he cares about is work. First at NASA and then finally in the business after we were here for a while. When we first came here things were pretty good. We went places and did things together. Then he got busy with his business and didn't want me around anymore."
Paul turned the boy to face him, then letting go of his arm he placed both hands on his shoulders. He looked once again directly into his eyes. "The business, as Ellen would say, 'keeps you in the manner to which you have become accustomed'. It's not just his business, it's for his family".
"I don't think he believes he has a family."
"He does, Ted, and he cares about you. He's been working hard while you have been growing up because that is what his job demanded of him and sometimes that's what a father has to do, but it doesn't mean he doesn't love you. The more help he gets at work, the more time he can take to be with you. Scott and I are going to have to leave and your father is going to need help in the business again, Ted. He's caught up now but he hasn't been able to find anyone to help him."
"Why are you leaving then? He's very satisfied with you."
"Because it's necessary. I know you probably can't understand, but we need to continue searching for Scott's mother."
Ted turned his head to look at Scott with a questioning look on his face, "I didn't know your mother was still alive."
"If you would have asked, I would have told you about Mom," Scott advised. "We don't know where she is, but we have to keep looking for her."
Paul spoke once again diverting Ted's attention. "Ted, your father needs your help like you need his help - in both your lives and in your business."
"I tried to help him before, but everything I did was wrong. All he did was yell at me. I couldn't even make a play in soccer that was good enough for him. When I left he never even asked me to come back. ...He doesn't care about me."
"He does care about you," Paul stated with certainty. "He has told me he cares very much about you."
"Then why does he always criticize me about everything I do. Nothing I do is ever good enough."
"He tries to correct you, not criticize."
"Where's the difference?" Ted snorted.
"There is a great deal of difference. Your father tries to correct you because he loves you, not because he doesn't. Perhaps he's a bit impatient with you, but that may just be the way he is, if he's not corrected. He's been very upset that you've been trying to avoid him."
"I haven't been avoiding him," Ted said tersely.
"Haven't you?" Paul questioned, his eyebrows rose with the question as he looked again into Ted eyes. "When was the last time you ate dinner with him here at home? He always made something for you but you never came home until late. Most of the time you don't even sleep here."
"He never asked me to come home."
"Do you expect him to come to school looking for you or to try to find you where you 'hang out' with your friends and then drag you home? Would you like it if he did that?"
"I guess not," Ted conceded.
"When you stopped working in the shop he thought you weren't interested in electronics."
"I didn't think he wanted my help because he was always yelling. I thought I was stupid."
"... and he thought you were, by your silence, asking him for more freedom so he gave it to you," Paul said quietly. "Every father knows eventually he must allow his son to grow up and he must let go of the boy and respect the decisions of the man. I think many of the decision you've made have not been made by the man growing inside of you."
"He didn't want to help me to make decisions anymore because he didn't care."
"His error was in thinking you were already a man. He cares, but I think he just doesn't know how to express how he feels." Paul's face became very concerned as he continued talking directly to the boy. "He has suspected for some time that you've been having problems, and he isn't happy about the friends you choose to 'hang out' with, but each time he tries to talk to you, you defend your friends and deny you have any problems. ...Then you leave."
"I didn't think he wanted me around so I stayed with my friends," Ted said defensively.
"Is that where you belong? Are they helping you solve your problems ...or making them worse? Your dad might be able to help if you'll let him."
"I don't know how to talk to him. I've never known how to talk to him," Ted replied with an air of sadness. "When he accused me of stealing the money from the office I just wanted him to ask me what I did with all the money I had borrowed from the guys. If he would have cared enough to ask, I would have told him."
"Why weren't you just honest enough to tell him?" Paul stated, looking him in the eye again.
"I wanted him to ask me!"
"But he had no way of knowing that," Paul defended with a frown. "He can't read your mind any more than you can read his. You learn language so you can communicate, but if you don't use it, understanding one another becomes very difficult."
"Instead of asking me why I took the money he asked why I couldn't be more like Scott." The boy replied, glancing quickly at Scott.
"He realized he shouldn't have said that right away, then you left and he was sorry for it, but you never gave him a chance to say it."
"I just think he likes Scott more than he likes me, Paul." Ted sighed, a note of sadness in his voice, "...But I'm not Scott, he never does anything wrong."
Paul grinned openly at the implication his son was perfect. "Scott does things wrong too, Ted, - don't you believe he doesn't - right Scott?" Paul looked at his son, giving him a quick wink.
Scott blushed a little and nodded his head in affirmation, remembering the incident with the blue lights that almost had Fox on them. "Yeah, I make mistakes too."
"You can't imagine some of the things he's done and the trouble he's gotten both of us into since we've been traveling together." Paul looked back at Ted. "We all make mistakes, but you don't need to compare yourself to Scott any more than your father should have. You're Ted and he's Scott."
"Maybe Dad thinks I'm grown up, Paul, but I'm not. I do need him."
"He needs you too. You need each other and you each need to try harder to find out how the other feels and you can only do that if you talk to each other." Paul looked at the boy before him and from having worked with Dale for over three weeks, saw his father in him. "If you really want to talk to him about something, walk right up to him and say you want to talk to him, but don't avoid the tough subjects bothering you. Trust him. He loves you like Scott and I love each other; you're his son, but to share that love you must talk honestly and often. One person cannot have a discussion, and alone you can't solve any problems between you."
"He never seems to have any trouble talking to Scott," Ted stated, the sarcasm in his voice obvious.
"Scott has been accessible," Paul stated simply. "He's at the shop or at home doing his homework after school; he plays soccer with the group on Sunday; he's at home for dinner most of the time, and he isn't suffering from the same major problem you are."
Ted's response was once again defensive. "What problem?"
"I think you know the problem I'm talking about."
"What did Scott tell you?" Ted snapped quickly, his face getting a hard look once again as he looked at Scott.
"Scott didn't need to tell me anything," Paul covered quickly. "I can see it in your eyes and I can feel it, but I want you to tell me in words what the problem is."
"You mean the ...pills?"
"Just pills," Paul said sternly, "though it would amount to the same thing if they weren't prescribed. Call it what it really is and remember you don't have to be alone in dealing with it. It's causing you further problems and I don't think your father even realizes it."
"I don't have any problem with it," Ted replied confidently. He looked Paul directly in the eye. "I can stop any time I want," he said proudly.
"You really know better than that too," Paul stated, returning his challenge. "If you believe you can stop, why did you take the money from the shop?"
"That wasn't for drugs ..., I mean pills," he recovered. "I owed money to some of my friends."
"With that statement you're not even being honest with yourself. If you can't be honest with yourself, how can you expect to be honest with your father, or with anyone else for that matter? Tell me. What did you owe the money for?" When Paul looked right into Ted's eyes once again, Ted looked down but he could not keep himself from looking back at his accuser.
There was a long silence before the boy could bring himself to answer the question he expected his father to ask. One his father had never suspected last night. Ted's voice was barely above a whisper as he finally was able to say, "Crack."
"Okay, now you've said it. You've acknowledged what your problem is. I've read the first time is the hardest. Now you need to tell your father."
"You have to, if he's to help you," Paul said with conviction. "The result of what you have been putting into your body is harming not only you and your father, but Ellen as well."
"Harming Ellen?" he asked with concern.
"Yes. Ellen also cares very much about you and I believe your father cares very much about her."
"I like Ellen too," Ted said with no qualms "and I was hoping Dad would want to marry her, but apparently he doesn't."
"I'm sure he does, but your problems are a part of what's keeping them apart."
"If he loves her, why should I be keeping them apart?"
Paul decided to try to explain some of Dale's problems to the now listening teenager. "He's afraid of asking her to marry him and then having to take on your problems. I also think he's afraid to ask Ellen because she is so much younger than he and he doesn't know if she'll be able to deal with having a teenage son with the problems you've been carrying around with you. I also think, by being around Scott, your father has unknowingly, and mistakenly, been trying very hard to learn how to talk to you again. That's his mistake because it's you he has to talk to. Like you said, you're not Scott; and I think you both need to talk honestly about how you feel to Ellen."
Ted looked out the living room window and saw his father's car pull up in front of the shop. It was very obvious the nervousness and agitation Paul had seen and felt when he first started talking to him, returned immediately.
"Dale's back, Dad," Scott announced, spotting the car pulling in.
Paul got up then turned once again to look at Ted. His look conveyed if he had the chance the boy would still avoid the encounter. He reached down and placed a hand on Ted's shoulders. "I want you to wait here," he said calmly, not wanting to mislead the boy, "I'll be back shortly with your father." He then turned to Scott with his quick instruction. "Work on any differences you have between you until we get back."
Scott immediately understood the inflection in his father's voice and knew the job he was being given responsibility for. He would first try talking like his dad suggested, but he would keep Ted here even if he had to wrestle with him down.
Paul left Scott and Ted in the house and went back down to the shop. He looked at Ellen as he went by and then through the door into the shop. Walking silently over to Dale, he took him by the hand. Leading him into the office, he pointed at a chair. His posture and expression left no doubt he was to sit. While Ellen watched, questioningly, he took a piece of paper and wrote a note, 'CLOSED', then taped it to the window in the office door.
Paul's body language left no question in Dale and Ellen's mind. They were to follow him back up to the house. As the three walked into the living room, Scott and an extremely nervous Ted were sitting together on the couch. Paul spoke softly, "I believe it's time you all talk to each other, quietly and calmly. I will be the referee. Everyone find a seat."
Dale started over toward the couch where Ted was sitting. "Not there Dale. I'm sitting there," Paul said firmly.
Dale sat down in a chair to the right of and adjacent to the couch and Ellen found a seat in an overstuffed chair not far from him.
When everyone was seated comfortably, Paul looked at each of them and proceeded with his observations and current position of understanding. "I see three people where it seems obvious to me there should be one family. I've talked separately to each of you and find misunderstandings causing most of the conflicts between you." Paul hesitated for a long moment then continued. "You all need to say what's on your mind and I think it's necessary we start with you Dale because the future of your family starts with you. Paul paused momentarily and then in his usual straight-forward way, when he felt he understood the problem at hand, asked simply, "Do you love Ellen?"
Dale, at first shocked by such a direct question, looked at Ellen. He bit at his upper lip, and finally got the courage to make a statement, "Yes, I love Ellen, but..."
Paul cut him off before he could try to provide any further meaningless explanation. "Okay, you love her." He then turned his attention to Ellen. "Ellen, do you love Dale?"
Ellen's statement required no explanations as she looked over at Dale. "Yes."
"Then to me your course of action seems clear. Now the next matter is with regard to Ted," as he turned back to look at Dale. "Dale, do you love your son?"
"Yes, I love Ted, but I ..."
Paul once again cut off Dale's attempt at some justification for his statement before he could finish, preferring to get certain statements of commitment aired first. "Ellen, do you love Ted?"
"Yes," she said again, without a moment's hesitation, "and I want to help him with his problems even if Dale doesn't want to get married."
"Ted, how do you feel about Ellen?"
"I like her a lot and I was hoping Dad would marry her a long time ago."
"Why were you hoping your father would marry her?"
"Because she and Dad seemed to like each other and she was nice. I could talk to her and she would listen and try to help me when I needed it."
"Like your mother did?"
"Kind of ... but not exactly. No one could replace Mom, and I don't ever want to replace what I remember of her with someone else, but I knew when Ellen was working for Dad that I was able talk to her if I needed someone. When she went to work over in Wenatchee, I didn't have anyone."
"Why didn't you go to your father?"
Ted was now beginning to reply honestly in response to everybody's forced honesty. "I guess I'm supposed to, but I didn't really feel like I knew him well enough to confide in him."
Paul looked back at Dale inquisitively. "Why does he say that, Dale?"
"Probably because it's true," Dale confessed. "I really don't know you either, Ted."
"You have to make the effort to know him, Dale ... you need to make a commitment," Paul stated slowly. "He's a part of you and you must look for and learn to admire that part of yourself, you find in him."
"I was trying to make a commitment. He was working in the business and I was trying to teach him. We were together for the first time in years."
Ellen had remained quiet and smiling after receiving confirmation that Dale did indeed love her, and she was happy father and son were finally confiding in each other. Now she felt compelled to add to the conversation a simple statement of fact as she saw it. "You expected too much of him, Dale."
Dale turned an amazed and questioning face to Ellen. "Too much? ...He's my son."
"Yes, too much," she repeated, "and I should have said something to you long ago. He's always wanted to please you, but you were never satisfied with what he did. You can't expect more from him just because he's your son than you would of anyone else; he's a boy not a man yet. What he needs is a part of you ...your time and your love. He wants to be with you and he wants to help you, but you're always overly critical and yell at him because he makes mistakes."
"You've never done that with Scott," Paul added.
"Scott doesn't make many mistakes," Dale replied.
"He hasn't tried to work with you in the shop either. He's made a lot of mistakes on the soccer field and you never criticized him. Instead you corrected him and then he tried harder to do it right. We all make mistakes, whether we're boys or men," Paul stated in earnest. "You would see those mistakes in Scott if he was a part of you or if you were working with him."
"Yeah, even Dad makes mistakes," Scott laughed. "Once he turned a falcon loose that was supposed to be in a breeding program and then had to get it back."
Paul looked at his son, somewhat perplexed, "You would remember that incident ...but do you also remember when I figured out I had made the mistake, I chose to correct it?" He coyly smiled at Scott, "With a bit of effort we did get the bird back."
Scott smiled and nodded his affirmation. Long moments of silence passed to smiling glances passing between Paul and Scott as they obviously remembered some special event from the past. Then Paul continued. "We've all made, and will continue to make mistakes. That's a part of being alive. As humans, what we learn from our mistakes is what's important. Humans have the ability to reason, to analyze and then to go back and try to fix things."
Ellen looked over at Dale and continued with an observation she had made. "One of the problems you have understanding Ted, Dale, is you're so much alike. You're both self-assured, impatient perfectionists; and you both just expect to do things right the first time. He's only fifteen and he has a lot of those mistakes to make yet, but as he grows older, he won't make so many either. Think back to yourself when you were his age."
There was a brief time of silence while Dale thought back to what had seemed like endless arguments he used to have with his father over the amount of chores he had to do on their Nebraska farm. Being the only child he felt he had to do more than some of the others with whom he went to school. He and his father had certainly gone round and round on many occasions.
His mother had always been the family peacemaker and was the one who negotiated reconciliation and his dad had to make the time to talk to him about some of the childish things he had done and said, in detail. Afterward he had always felt much better.
He had thought all his dad was concerned about was work until once when he finally explained to him the farm was their livelihood and to be part of the family, he had to do his share. He had not fully realized how those chores made him a part of his family until after he left home. His father really had no choice about working all the time because the work on the farm had to be done, but he had always managed to make time for him, because he was there.
In himself he suddenly saw only a part of his father and none of his mother. He realized as his responsibilities grew, he had allowed himself to become too involved in work and had failed to make time for the important things. I wasn't there. I allowed Jean to take over completely as father and mother to our son.
He finally returned from his reverie and he accepted responsibility for his omissions. "When we came here things were pretty good until the business started growing too fast. I guess I did start getting impatient when things didn't go right, Ted. I'm sorry I yelled at you. I had no right to assume you knew things just because you're my son."
"You were too pressed for time," Ellen remarked, "and you probably figured you could do the work better and faster yourself than taking the time to teach him. You were probably right ...but how is one ever to learn if no one makes the time?"
"You're right, Ellen, I have been impatient and didn't want to take the time. Ted, I have been unfair to you. I thought when you didn't seem interested, you were asking me for more freedom and I thought if I gave it to you, it would show you I trusted you. I figured I could handle it at work by putting in more hours, but the whole thing got turned around on us."
"Now's the time to turn it straight again and become the one family you all seem to want," Paul stated with conviction.
Dale's face got serious as he began looking at fathering seriously once again. "I did know for certain though, no good would come of it when you started running around with those kids. I tried to talk to you then, but all I ever got for the effort was a fight and a lot of sleepless nights. After awhile you just didn't come home much anymore and I knew you were already old enough I couldn't force you to do something you didn't want to." Dale looked at his son with tear filled eyes, "I couldn't force you to love me.
"I was so happy when you got on the team because I thought getting involved wouldn't leave you time for them. I didn't even guess right that time. I was actually helping you ruin your life and I didn't even realize it. I couldn't see what I had to do. I thought I just couldn't get through to you and finally it became the truth."
"I'm sorry," Ted stated sincerely. "I guess Paul was right. I haven't tried hard enough either."
"But I should have known, Ted, I'm supposed to be the adult."
Paul looked at Dale, contemplation on his face once again, and then he spoke. "I don't think just being an adult is what makes the difference. Besides maybe some of those kids and their parents have the same kind of problems Ted and you have had, Dale. You might try to find out more about them before condemning all of them."
Dale's face took on a look of standing corrected. "Maybe you're right...again."
Paul's face again became very earnest and everyone knew the discussion was not yet at an end. He stood up and looked at Ted once again. "Ted, there's one thing we haven't yet discussed and I think now is the time." Paul offered his hand to the boy and pulled him to his feet. He took him to stand facing Dale and Ellen and could feel him starting to tremble.
Ted looked up at Paul, a pleading look on his face. "If I tell them they'll know I'm stupid for sure. All I want is to have them love me. I'll take care of it myself."
"No Ted," Paul stated calmly. "You have to start over with no secrets, especially this one. Tell them."
Ted looked at his father, then at Ellen. He wanted to speak but the words just wouldn't start coming. He looked at Paul again. "How about I tell them later?"
"Now. They're going to find out anyway. Just say it."
"Yes, you can. I'll start for you. "Dad, Ellen, I have something to tell you..." Paul looked again to Ted, then nodded.
"I'm addicted to drugs," came the weak, apologetic words as they rolled rapidly off his tongue, "and I'm sorry I've been so stupid."
"See," Paul confirmed, "it wasn't that difficult now, was it?"
Ellen stood up and came over to him. "Oh Teddy, it'll be alright, you'll see." She put her arms around him and gave him a big hug. "We'll work it out together." He put his arms around her returning the first show of real physical affection he could remember since his mother died.
As Ted and Ellen broke their bond Dale stood up facing his son and looked into his guilt ridden eyes. He put his arms out to him. Ted hesitated for only a moment before running his arms around his father at the same time Dale's arms wrapped around him, pulling him close. They remained in their first real father and son embrace Ted could remember and tears flowed from each when they broke apart. Dale looked into his eyes again. "Ellen's right, son, we'll all work it out together."
"Now would the three of you all sit together," Paul instructed as he motioned to Scott to get up off the couch.
As the three sat down together on the couch, Dale expressed a fact he had never considered before. "We really haven't been a part of each other's lives, Ted, and I guess the three of us will just have to start building a relationship." Dale shook his head, "I've wasted so much time." He turned his attention to Paul and Scott, who were now standing together in front of them. "Can you give us any pointers, Paul? You and Scott have obviously made it. How have you managed? I guess it takes lots of time and talking, right?"
Paul replied in his normally honest manner, "Scott and I have only been together for a little over eight months. Before that I never knew my son so I can say a lot of time isn't really necessary."
"I can't believe that!" Ellen stated in amazement.
"Neither can I," Dale echoed.
"It's the truth," Paul confirmed, looking down at them. "I came back after fifteen years thinking I'd find him with his mother, but I found she had left him with foster-parents before he was four years old. When they were killed I returned to try to help him."
"You hadn't seen him for fifteen years!" Ellen exclaimed.
"I wasn't even there when he was born." Paul confessed glancing remorsefully toward Scott. "I never saw him until I came back."
"Where had you been all those years?" Dale questioned.
Paul smiled. "If I told you, you wouldn't believe me."
"Let's just say, I'd been working abroad, and leave it at that."
A slight smile appeared on Scott's face at his father's explanation of his long absence. If only they knew how 'abroad' my father had really been, he mused to himself.
"I guess that's the life of a photojournalist, isn't it?" Ellen added. "It takes you away from your family."
"Yes," Paul responded, "work does take one away, but not anymore. Scott is now my job and I want to see him grow up into a worthwhile member of this society. That is the duty of every parent."
"Yes," Dale agreed, and still trying to discover a secret that for years had been so elusive to him, "but how have you established such a strong relationship in such a short time?"
"Honesty, trust and caring; by trying to be patient, I guess; and by trying to understand his problems at the same time he's trying to understand mine." He placed a hand on Scott's shoulder, "it has to go both ways. I was a stranger to him when I came back and being a father was strange to me. We've each had to work on it, but now we love and trust each other."
Dale stated emphatically, "And with your help, I'm going to do that for my son too, because I do love him"
"I know you love him, but remember he is a boy yet and he will make mistakes. Guide him through them. Right now he is going to need your help to get him through this remaining and unresolved problem."
"There is information and help available through the school," Ellen said without hesitation. Right now I'm going to call a counselor friend of mine with the Wenatchee School District; find out about the programs and get things in motion." She looked Ted right in the eye. "The sooner we get started, Ted, the better because I think it isn't going to be long before you're going to be hurting."
Ted nodded to Ellen and he saw her reach for the telephone. He knew what was coming. "What a mess I've made of things," he confessed heaving a heavy sigh.
Dale placed a hand on his son's shoulder. "We've made, Ted."
Within the hour Ellen had arrangements made for Ted. She walked over and stood in front of him. "This county's Juvenile Treatment Facility is not far from the high school right here in East Wenatchee and everything's arranged. You don't need to take anything except your bathrobe and slippers. Ted, you're going to have to spend ten days there to complete detoxification." She looked down at him sympathetically and his eyes met hers. "It's not going to be easy."
Ted nodded again. "I know," he said remorsefully.
"During the time you're there," she continued, "you'll receive individual counseling and Dale and I will get counseling so we know what to expect. Before you're released we'll all sit down together several times to talk. That's part of the basic in-patient program. The support program will last for months, maybe years." She reached for his hand and pulled him to his feet. "It's time to go; they're expecting us."
Dale and Ellen took Ted to the facility. Dale got Ted registered and they observed as the staff got him settled into the room. He would not be able to make calls for the next ten days. When another nurse came into the room and saw the symptoms of withdrawal were beginning, she asked them to leave.
Ted was happy to see them go as he didn't want anyone to see the pain he knew was coming.
Special efforts were made by everyone to visit Ted during his confinement. The first two days were rough, but assisted by the alternative medications used to get addicts through the tremors, they quickly passed. During this time only family were allowed to visit. Ellen arranged with the courthouse to take special time off and Dale or Ellen, or sometimes both, took the time to be with him. Seeing him through also helped their relationship. The center had Ted scheduled for counseling sessions in the mornings for the next few days and Dale was with him in the early afternoons.
Scott had gone to the ninth grade counselor who then contacted Ted's teachers. Together they arranged for ways in which Ted could catch up on some of the time he had lost and perhaps pass some of his classes.
Scott would walk over to bring his homework after school and help him with his studies while he did his own homework. Being busy and not alone seemed to help Ted's spirits immensely. Paul would come in to see him later in the afternoon, helping with any other things he could and Scott would ride home with him. They ate dinner together and Ellen and Dale would return to the center in the evenings until visiting hours were over.
Paul came in one afternoon and found Ted and Scott deeply engrossed in an algebra assignment and totally confused and exasperated by the wording in the text. He looked it over and after thinking for several minutes, explained in the simplest way, the relationship of the values and the logic of the solution sequence. Both boys understood his explanation and easily completed the rest of the problems with only minor pointers. After Paul checked the answers, finding them correct, Ted turned to him with a grin, "Mr. Forrester, you should have been a math teacher."
"Dad likes to learn new things," Scott related as he looked proudly at his father. "And when he's learned something he also likes to teach."
Ted held up his algebra book. "The guy who wrote this book could certainly use some pointers."
"Right on," Scott confirmed. He laughed when he saw his father blushing.
Ted's treatment and counseling continued on a daily basis. On the fifth day Dale and Ellen commenced coming in for counseling. The last two days the three soon to be family members were counseled together in anticipation of Ted's release.
The counselor explained that one of the hardest things to accomplish for Ted would be regaining acceptance by his peers upon returning to school and that sometimes acceptance would never come because of parents fears of their children's association with recovering addicts. He suggested a change of schools might be in order. Ted decided to return to school right after treatment was completed and finish the remaining month of the school year.
When Dale and Ellen came to bring him home, the counselor commended them on Ted's progress and the firm family support he had observed. The record showed he had absolutely no reservations about releasing the patient back to the family.
Dale and Ellen were married in a simple ceremony at a nearby chapel the week after Ted's release. Paul acted as Dale's best man and official witness, and Dean Frasier acted as the second witness. Ted gave the bride away and stood up with the two through the ceremony reflecting an act of unification of the family. Dusting off the camera bag, Paul acted as official photographer and several days later he presented the bride and groom with a photo-album by Paul Forrester, though it seemed neither had any idea of who the real Paul Forrester was, let alone the one they knew.
With the close association between the two teenagers, they had become best friends. Scott took it upon himself to re-introduce Ted to some of the friends he had made over the past weeks. Scott's personal acceptance and explanation of Ted's commitment to staying off drugs got him a foot in the door and he quickly received the respect of many for his achievement in catching up on so much of his back work while he was in treatment.
On Sundays, he also regained respect from others with children when he rejoined the soccer games. Under his father's now more patient and understanding suggestions, and Ted's acceptance of correction for improving his skill, he was quickly becoming a relatively good player.
Ted still had a great deal of work to catch up on at school and much of his free time at home was applied to his goal of passing some of his classes in the month of school he had left. One of his courses was basic computer science. Now, relieved of drug dependency and family tension and the resulting stress, and with a patient father and the adult friend he found in Paul, he was learning concepts far beyond those presently being covered in school.
He sprang back with the vigor of his youth and Dale was totally amazed to find just how quickly he learned. Having finally discovered each other, they had a basis for sharing the business and family responsibilities. Both Paul and Scott often overheard Ted commenting to his father that he was getting impatient, and Dale listened. They soon began to display the friendly kidding they so often observed between Paul and Scott.
Paul continued to do much of the repairs, but only some of office work. He also taught either Ted or Scott whenever they were in the shop. If they ever had a question, he would take the time to explain, many times having to refer to the textbooks to gain the proper knowledge of the subject first. At other times he would ask them questions designed to make them think far beyond the concepts contained in the text.
Ted had seen some of his old 'friends' hanging around school and one day was approached by one of the boys whom at first he tried to brush off, only to find the boy was more interested in obtaining help with his drug problem than in trying to get Ted to rejoin the others. He looked up to Ted for his apparent success in being able to beat the habit. After school Ted took him home to talk with Ellen and his father. Afterward the four of them went together to see the boy's parents to urge them to seek treatment and to join the local Narcs Anonymous group.
Ted's success with his friend got the attention, once again, of Mrs. Chandler, his counselor. She called him into her office one morning and asked if he would speak, from his own experience with drugs, at a school assembly. She promised him extra credit toward his grade in Social Studies.
He was actually excited at the opportunity and worked diligently on a speech and many would remember certain portions long after the assembly was over.
His presentation started out with an explanation of how misunderstandings at home resulted in a lack of communications with his father.
"I expected he would ask me about certain things I was doing, and he thought I would ask if I had a problem. Needless to say no one asked and we didn't talk. We interpreted each other's silence to mean a lack of interest and caring, when actually we cared a great deal, only we never let it show. Each became angry with the other and soon we didn't seem able to talk to each other without the anger coming between us."
He described how he felt when he lost communication with his father and was approached by outsiders with alternate solutions to his obvious depression.
"Misunderstandings with your parents leave you feeling all alone at first and the loss of support and guidance by those who care about you leaves you vulnerable to the suggestions of others who do not necessarily have your best interest in mind."
"The high from what they give you, at first, makes you feel great for the time being and you don't think about home, or school, or parents, or anything after a while. The first couple times I tried it, I remembered all the lectures from school about the dangers of what I was doing, but I believed it would never happen to me. I could handle it, at least that's what one of the guys told me; 'only the dumb ones get hooked' he had said." He paused briefly for emphasis. "Boy was he right."
He restated about how good it made him feel when he was high and then described how terrible he felt when he was not.
"In the beginning my needs were taken care of by the guys who provided me with the highs, but after a while I began to understand what it was like when I needed, and had no money. I began owing. Keeping the 'high' costs...lots of money. Then I could get the feeling in exchange for something they could sell. Later my needs were taken care of by what I could sell for them to some of you. Believe me when I tell you, you get in over your head before you realize it and you can't make it by yourself anymore."
"I began using too much of what I was supposed to sell and soon owed a lot of money to my contact. I had to pay it back and finally stooped so low that I stole from my own father. I couldn't stop myself. He couldn't allow me to do that, but instead of being able to talk about the problem, we had an established pattern in our relationship and just had another big fight. I thought about running away, but it wouldn't have solved anything for me. To survive I still needed to get the drugs. I even thought about getting enough to kill myself, but even that didn't work because I couldn't get any without paying what I already owed and a lot more. I was at the end of the line in just a few months. I finally just blamed all my problems on others, instead of myself."
He told of the help it required from home and friends to make it back.
"My friend, Scott, finally got me help. I didn't take it willingly, believe me, but his father insisted I listen and then spoke to my family for me. Then we had the opportunity to talk together honestly. Me standing here on this stage is evidence it can work. I got help in time or I don't know what I would have done. I've made a lot of changes in my life since then, all for the better, but it hasn't been without cost to my family, to my friends and to me. I understand, from the counselors, there are many of the pain killing drugs in use in medicine I'll never be able to use because it can renew my addiction."
"Do, probably the biggest favor you'll ever do for yourself, confide in those who care about you, and don't fall into the trap set by those who don't. Say 'no' to the easy escape you think you can get from drugs because it is only for the 'dopes'."
There was then a question and answer session from written questions to maintain anonymity and when finished he got a standing ovation from the student body. His desire for acceptance in his chosen school was assured.
The principal was so impressed with his presentation that after the assembly he asked Ted if next year he might be available as a student counselor in a pilot program for the district, wherein specifically chosen students would counsel other teens, one on one, regarding any problems: addiction; family life crises; dating and sex; and anything else which might come up.
Ted accepted, gratefully, knowing his subject quite well. He was told the program was known as 'Natural Helpers' and had been proving successful in other school districts across the state.
Ted excitedly explained the program to everyone at dinner and received earned compliments.
George Fox and Agent Wylie continued to search without stop through the northeastern portion of Washington and a short ways into the more populated areas of Western Idaho. They finally gave up the northeast and moved slowly south as far as the Snake River. They crisscrossed their search area as they proceeded and after seeking information from authorities in the city of Richland, got a motel for the night. Fox got out his maps and marked the places large enough to warrant a check. First thing in the morning they hit the road again. They were presently moving north again along the west side of the Columbia River.
Planning to use the river as his guide, they passed the Hanford Atomic Energy Reservation and stopped in every town and city along the route even venturing off the main highways to check any larger population areas on either side as river crossings allowed. As roads became more rural with fewer towns, they crossed back to the east side of the river. Passing through many small towns, they finally sought lodging in the single motel town of Mattawa. After shaves and showers, they collapsed into bed. I don't know what it is that keeps me going, Fox thought, but I have a gut feeling that somehow we've missed them.
Life around the Taylor home was totally enjoyable for Fox's two fugitives with one exception - Paul had noticed Dale developing a habit of bragging about his talents. He seems to enjoy bragging about me, second only to bragging about his new family. I have heard him remark often to new customers and members of the soccer team on Sundays that I am an 'electronics genius' able to learn in weeks what had taken him many years in the electronic and computer field to learn. He tells people that I just came to him 'out of the clear blue sky'. How close he is to the truth with that guess, I thought at the time. What would he think if he knew? Is it time we move on? Scott seems to be very happy here and we haven't seen anything of George Fox. I wonder if Fox gave up and has returned to the other Washington. I know I like it here. It is nice to feel like part of this family and the community. But that same familiarity is also dangerous.
Lying in bed he turned to Scott. "I think it is time for me to tell Dale we are leaving. Ted is doing very well and should be able to help him with the work. I don't feel like I'm just running out on him anymore."
Scott was shocked by his father's suggestion. "Do we have to go so soon?"
"We've been here over six weeks already and too many people are beginning to recognize us. I see a number of people in cars waving at me just like they know me when I'm driving around."
"That's probably because they do, Dad, You've likely done work for them or met them at the soccer game."
"I realize that, Scott, but if Fox comes into town on either side of the river and asks a few questions, one of those 'friendly', people can direct him right to us. They know I work for Dale."
"Do you really think Fox is still around here?" Scott questioned, trying to avoid the issue. "Don't you think he's given up on finding us here and gone back to his desk in Washington?"
"A while back I didn't think he was around anymore and all reason tells me that's true, ...but I have a feeling." He paused a moment, reflectively, "I don't know how to explain it, but I think he's still looking. He just hasn't gotten here yet."
"But Dad, he wouldn't be checking computer shops in East Wenatchee. He'd be checking the papers and photo shops. How would he know you've changed professions?"
"It would be quite natural for him to go to the Sheriff's office when he gets into any area," Paul replied with a forced grin. "If he starts showing our photographs around ..."
"Dad, I don't think Ellen would say anything."
"I think Ellen would tell us first, but Dean also works in the Sheriff's office."
"I don't know about Dean. I guess it would be his duty to tell Fox."
"Do you see what I mean? Fox can be very convincing when he wants to be and not too many people want to take chances protecting fugitives when a badge carrying federal government officer questions them. If Ellen has to lie about us, she could get in trouble. I'm afraid it is time we move on again. Besides, the Dale Taylor's need to be together as a family now."
"I know you're right, but please Dad, unless we know Fox is nosing around, can we stay until school is out. The school is trying to gather all my records. You know the principal told us it would be a lot easier to get me registered in a new school if we had paper records and I wouldn't have to get shots every time. Those will be part of the record, too. Besides, I already asked Susan's daughter, Tina, to the End of School Dance on Friday."
"Dad, the school year ends on the 10th. That's only two weeks and I'll have something that shows I've moved into the tenth grade. Come on, please?"
Paul heaved a heavy sigh as he looked at the anguish in his son's eyes. Paul grimaced. "I just have a funny feeling about staying around here any longer."
"We haven't seen any evidence of Fox being around since you saw Wylie on the road that day. The next week he was gone. That was in April."
"We've been here longer than we've been able to stay around any place so far and it has been nice. But, I just have this feeling."
Scott's face took on his most convincing look as he gazed into his father's strained one. "Do you really think he's still hanging around some little town out there in the boonies. He probably thinks we just hitched another ride, north, south, east or west. He could only be guessing."
Paul took a deep breath and then let it go. "Okay, you win," he said grudgingly, but his concession was not without its limitations. "But as soon as school is out, we're history, right?"
Scott's face still evidenced his displeasure at leaving the area, but he felt he had to compromise to get any kind of extension from his father. "Right, but ..."
"No buts," came Paul's succinct reply. "Besides it's time to start searching for your mother again. We certainly can't expect her to find us, can we? Even if she saw me, she wouldn't know who I was, and after almost twelve years she certainly wouldn't recognize you. We're moving on as soon as school is over. I'm going to tell Dale tomorrow morning."
Scott knew in his heart that his father was right and the mention of his mother renewed in him once again the common goal that had established the initial bond between them in Seattle. He regretted this move though, but acceptance of this necessity of their lives was not as difficult as it had been with Kelly. He had decided then to stay even if Fox showed up. He knew now he would have given up his freedom and gained nothing.
Paul had known for quite some time Scott enjoyed the school and the other students and seemed to fit in here. He felt the same, but the threat of George Fox was a reality Scott had to understand at all times. If Fox did catch them it was the end of any normal existence for them. But at this time he had decided his son would get his two weeks, if at all possible.
Wednesday, June 10th, finally came with a half day of fun and celebration by everybody but Scott. School was out for the summer.
Ted, with adequate tutoring managed to make up almost three months of school work in one and had raise his grades beyond his teachers' wildest expectations. He had managed to pass Algebra, Computer Science and Social Studies with just short of a B plus average. English and Biology were not acceptable if he decided to continue on to college and he was already signed up for summer school.
The school had not managed to collect Scott's fragmented records from the various schools he had attended, but his finals were considered adequate indication he had a mastery of the subject matter he had been taking. He had record evidence with him as he left the school records office to show he had passed into his sophomore year. His father's announced plan was they would be moving on in their quest for his mother on Sunday after the game.
The finish of school and his son's dramatic recovery and success, Dale decided, warranted a celebration and he volunteered to take everyone out to dinner in Wenatchee. They all had enjoyed the outing and a wonderful meal at one of the better restaurants and were on their way back home.
Paul, Scott and Ted were in the back seat and Ellen sat beside Dale in the front. Dale looked into the rear view mirror at Paul and Scott. Two things had bothered him for a long time; one was Paul's claim to being a photojournalist by trade; the other was Scott's tendency to constantly be trying to cover for his father's certain lack of knowledge about simple things. Since the two were ready to move on now, he suddenly made up his mind to make a statement about his observations. "You know Paul, you're a strange one."
Taken aback by such a statement, Paul's eyebrows raised in surprise. "What makes you say that?"
"You claim to be a photojournalist, yet with the exception of our wedding pictures, which I might say were excellent, I haven't seen you carry your camera with you at all while you've been here."
"My job here hasn't been as a photojournalist, Dale. It's been an electronics repairman," Paul said with a smile.
"But you might have sold a human interest story about the Sunday soccer games to the local daily paper if you'd have taken the time, and you might have had a chance at a job in your own line of work," he remarked as he again momentarily glancing quizzically at Paul in the rear view mirror. "Why have you stayed on with me?"
"Why should I leave? I like you and I enjoyed working with you."
Dale, however, was not finished revealing his observations. "You don't act like a photojournalist either."
His eyebrows raising again, Paul asked, "What does a photojournalist act like?"
"Pushy; anything for a story; most of them don't seem to care about someone else's feelings...like you see on television." Dale hesitated, and then glanced quickly over his shoulder at Paul. "You're not like that at all."
This time Paul's eyes sought Dale's in the mirror. "I certainly hope not."
Dale frowned. "I don't quite know what to make of you."
"Make of me?" Paul's face was covered with a 'I don't understand' frown.
"Just like that!" Dale stated emphatically. "Sometimes you don't seem to understand things a child would and another time you seem to have the wisdom of a 'Solomon'.
"A Soloman?" Paul once again looked puzzled and the 'I don't understand this word look' persisted.
Dale drove the car up to the house, under the carport and turned off the key. He turned sideways in the front seat to look directly at Paul sitting in the back. "See what I mean? You've just done it again!"
"Done what?" Paul questioned nervously.
Dale looked Paul in the eye for a moment with a very serious look on his face, then he started grinning, "You don't know who Solomon was, do you?"
"No. Should I?"
Dale shook his head and smiled, having already anticipated his friend's answer. "No one can be that naive. Tell me you're putting me on."
'Naive' ...'Putting me on', Paul thought, but didn't say. He didn't want to have another You just did it again, but he knew he needed to smooth over his apparent ignorance of this person who was part of an event, probably of American history, and he decided his mentor's journalistic career might work to his advantage. "I had been abroad, you know." he stated confidently. "I covered stories about the war in Vietnam and I've been in photographing the trouble in the Middle East; I explored oppression behind the Iron Curtain, and recorded the starvation in Africa," he related with a totally straight face.
Meanwhile Scott's face took on a look of total disbelief and he tactfully bumped his elbow twice into his father's ribs, hoping to get him to stop.
Paul turned his head and saw his son's belabored look, but didn't know exactly how to stop his explanation anymore. He was hoping Scott might come to his rescue.
But Dale was one step ahead with a grin of amusement on his face. "Well, Scott, are you going to help him?"
This time Scott didn't know enough about the person in question and an answer to help his father he knew was what Dale was anticipating. There was a long silence as Dale, Ellen and Ted looked at them.
Dale grinned, "Who are you, really?"
The silence persisted while both Paul and Scott tried to think of a proper and truthful answer that would not reveal any secrets or lead to only more questions.
Dale looked at their obvious dilemma and finally he broke out laughing. He motioned with his open palm in their direction. "Never mind. If you don't want to tell us who you are," he laughed, shaking his head, "...keep your damn secret."
Ellen had traded time with another one of her co-workers at the Courthouse when she had to take the time to be with Ted in the treatment facility and now had the Saturday duty. Paul and Scott were holding down the fort at the shop while Dale and Ted had left early for a sales call in another town.
Paul was working on a printer repair job while Scott watched, listening at the same time for the phone. The phone rang and Scott went back into the office. Scott answered the phone then stuck his head through the doorway and called. "It's Ellen, Dad, he announced. She wants to talk to you."
Paul came into the office and picked up the receiver. "Yes, Ellen, and what can I do for you?"
"Help," came a pleading voice at the other end.
"Help?" Paul repeated questioningly. "What seems to be the problem?"
"I'm working the Sheriff's office today and the system's out in the entire courthouse. We have some important information expected from Washington regarding a case the Sheriff is working on right now. The manufacturer's service rep, isn't going to be able to get over here until Monday and the Sheriff told met to find somebody to fix it, immediately, and he stressed the immediately. Naturally, I suggested 'CompEast' and the Sheriff agreed. Can you come out?"
Paul's face took on a grimacing look; a trip right into the Sheriff's office was not something he looked forward to, placing it on about the same level as catching a cold and being in the hospital. He hoped he could put off this job until Dale returned. "I'm really busy right now," and as an afterthought, added, trying to sound convincing, added, "and I'd have to leave Scott alone. Can it wait until Dale and Ted get back? They should be back within the hour."
"We're really pressed, Paul, can't you find a way to fit it in?" she implored.
Scott, tousling Brutus' left ear as he sat beside him with his head resting on his leg, had a disgusted look on his face as he looked up at his father. "I can take care of things while you're gone, Dad. I am fifteen, you know and I have learned how to answer and talk on the telephone."
Ellen apparently heard Scott's remark and responded, pleadingly, "Well Paul, can you come out? This could be Dale's opportunity to get an area rep job for IBM."
Paul continued to grimace, but couldn't do anything but agree. "Okay, I'll see you in about a half hour," he replied. He took a deep breath and letting it out, slowly hung up the receiver.
Brutus still had his head in Scott's lap and was looking longingly up at the boy, when Scott, slightly perturbed over his father's inferring he was not yet competent to answer a phone and write down a message, could not stop himself from commenting. "Dad, why did you use me as an excuse for not going out on a job? I can take care of things here." He gave the dog's ear another playful tug.
"Scott, this isn't just a job. This job is in Wenatchee at the Sheriff's office."
Scott saw the anxious expression on his father's face, "Oh! You mean you have to go over to Wenatchee and right into the office?"
"Right. If you wouldn't have said something, maybe I could have put her off until Dale and Ted got back. Now I'm stuck."
"I'm sorry, Dad," he replied apologetically. "I didn't know she was working the Sheriff's office today."
"There was no way for you to know, Scott, and I'm sorry for grousing at you. I'll just have to do it. I'll just take a minimum of equipment and try to make fast work of it."
Paul paused for a moment and then the grimacing expression left his face, exchanged for a look of confidence. "I don't know why I should be so worried about going over there. It's apparent Fox hasn't been there or distributed our pictures or Ellen would have said something for sure. She has been putting in quite a few hours at the Sheriff's Office lately. Maybe I'm just being overly concerned and really have no reason to be. But, I'm going to make short work of it anyway, because Sheriff's offices and jails still make me more than a little bit jumpy."
"Me too," Scott said emphatically.
"Besides," Paul continued, "Dale could get the courthouse contract. Now that he has Ted to help him, it's a good thing, right?"
"I'm sure you're right on both counts Dad", Scott agreed, "and I'm sure Ellen would have said something to us if any information came in to them on us. At least I hope she would."
Paul left Scott to his adoring friend and the phone duty in the office, loaded some basic testing equipment into the car and headed for the bridge across the river into Wenatchee and the job at hand. He was nervous as he entered the building and walked the long hallway to the office. As soon as Ellen spotted him she was out from behind the counter. Soon he was following her away from observant eyes and into the windowless central computer room in the basement where she explained the problem.
Paul asked her to go back out to the car to get him a small black case with some additional equipment and then to the cafeteria for a cup of coffee, while he tested the system. As soon as Ellen left, Paul locked the door, took out the sphere, quickly diagnosed the problem and using the sphere, repaired a faulty chip. He scribbled a note to Ellen: 'I was finished and called Scott. He just told me there is another emergency. I won't need the black case. Will you please bring it home with you tonight. Enjoy the coffee,...Paul.'
Ellen returned about five minutes later, read Paul's note, and unable to believe he completed the repairs so rapidly, she returned upstairs to her desk, pulled down the information request screen and decided to check it out.
She sat at the keyboard thinking about what to run through, and then began typing the name that at the moment was first in her mind ...FORRESTER, Paul E. A few minutes later the response flashed on the screen, "By God, it is fixed", she exclaimed in disbelief. Then she couldn't help but read the information that had appeared.
Paul Forrester's name brought up a number of old and minor unresolved infractions and unpaid fines in various parts of the country, then as she paged down one screen she saw George Fox's red flag request. She carefully read the request and quickly pushed the escape key just in case someone else in the office should come over.
The FSA office had already been secured for the day when the red flag request came in to George Fox's personal office FAX number. Fox had, after another incident in which a red flag request had been delayed, contacted the electronics lab and arranged for any such requests to be automatically routed to his personal office recording equipment. Such requests caused a special message to appear and he had made special arrangements for transmittal of any Forrester information directly to him when he was in the field.
The appearance of the special message he received this afternoon caused a whirlwind of excitement. A quick call to his secretary directed her to return to the office immediately to forward the information.
He was only twenty miles from Wenatchee when Edna relayed the point of origin of the red flag information request to be from the Wenatchee Sheriff's Office. Fox made a quick call, hastily related his message to the Sheriff's office to arrest and secure Paul Forrester and his son. He and Wylie were on their way to the van before his message had even been confirmed.
Ellen dialed the shop as soon as she pressed the delete to clear the screen at her terminal and was happy to find Dale and Ted had returned. Scott had been relieved of his duty and he and Ted had gone to the house to find something to eat. Ellen relayed what she had found out about Paul and the federal agency.
Her discovery did not really surprise Dale as he remembered back to his earlier thoughts, first to Paul and Scott's reaction to Ellen's job at the courthouse, then to Paul's attempt to avoid the van on Spring Hill Road. He knew his friend was in some kind of trouble way back then. The difference in surnames between Forrester and Hayden had also bothered him for a while during those early days. When Paul indicated it was the Feds who were looking for him he suspected he had taken his son away from someone, whether adoptive parents, foster-parents, or a social agency.
Dale had decided Paul's problem was his own business and Scott was old enough to leave his father if he in fact did not want to stay with him. Paul had even offered to leave a minimum-paying job if it bothered him. He never regretted asking him to stay. During the time he had been with him, Paul and his son had been instrumental in bringing the Taylor family together and confirming the relationships he so wanted. Paul was a true friend and Scott was like another son to him even though he knew he could never truly have him in that capacity.
Now he knew this was far more serious than parental kidnapping. He was familiar with the secret end of government and knew Paul's trouble was not minor, particularly involving this particular federal agency. At one time he had almost taken a job with the FSA, but then reconsidered as he did not want to get involved in the secrecy he knew surrounded it. He had decided to remain at NASA preferring to stay at the lower pay just to be involved in the exploration program.
Dale was brought back to reality when Paul walked into the shop.
Scott had seen his father return and he and Ted had ambled back down to the shop, part of a sweet-roll still in their hands. They were still joking about Sunday's soccer game being their last and hoping they would be on the same side.
The boys walked into the shop just as Dale motioned for Paul to come into the office. Scott and Ted followed along; expecting someone was probably going out on a call soon and wanting to be available to whomever's father got the duty.
"I know this is none of my business, Paul, but Ellen just called. She said she couldn't believe you had the system up and running so quickly. Wanting to check it, I'm afraid she ran your name through. Paul, she found a red flag by some guy name of George Fox with the Federal Security Agency!"
Dale's mention of Ellen's accidental discovery raised a look of true terror in both Paul and Scott's faces.
Dale saw the look. "Years ago I turned down a job with the FSA because I didn't like the way they operate. This is serious, isn't it?"
"Yes, Dale, very serious!" Paul grabbed his son's arm. "Scott, go up to the house and..."
"I'm on it, Dad." Scott took off for the house at a dead run.
Ted looked at Paul then at his friend's back. He didn't understand what was going on, but chose to follow Scott. "Scott, what's the hurry?"
Paul turned to Dale with a very anxious look on his face, "Did Ellen say when the information came in?"
"About a half hour ago," Dale advised, "right after you left the office. She said she deleted it immediately and was certain no one else at the office saw it." Dale could see the growing anxiety on Paul's face. "Paul, what is it? You look terrified."
"We have to leave now," I'm sorry. Paul started toward the door to go help Scott with the packing.
Dale grabbed him by the arm to keep him from leaving. "Tell me what the trouble is. Maybe I can help you."
"There's nothing you can do, Dale," Paul quickly advised as he looked his friend in the eye and saw nothing but a look of concern. "This is something we have to do ourselves and I don't want to get any of you involved any further than you already are."
"We're already involved because you're our friends," he stated simply. "What kind of trouble are you in that you can't share it with a friend?"
"I told you before it's complicated."
"I don't know what could be so complicated it can't be straightened out by facing it head on like you had all of us do." Dale could see the merit of the straightforward approach as it had applied to his life and couldn't see why it wouldn't work for his friend equally as well. "Why don't you take the time to talk to this George Fox, maybe make some kind of deal? Face whatever the penalty might be and get them off your back. At least try to talk to him."
"Believe me, Dale. It isn't that simple," Paul stated with conviction.
"What have you done?"
"I haven't done anything. It has to do with who I am and that is all I can say."
"So, who you are," he replied with a frown. "If he's only looking for you, why not leave Scott with us? Ellen and I will be happy to have him until you get it ironed out."
"Who I am makes him want both of us, because Scott is a part of who I am, Dale."
Dale frowned. "I don't understand what the FSA would want with a fifteen year old boy?"
"Believe me when I say Fox wants both of us. I can't explain it, but it's imperative we get away from here as soon as possible. I've suspected for quite some time that Fox might already be in the area, but this will bring him directly here." Paul looked at Dale's hand still holding on to his arm, then looked Dale directly in the eye in a silent appeal that he be allowed to do what he knew he must.
Dale didn't let go, but continued to try to help a friend from his unknowledgeable point of view. "Then let me act as your arbitrator with this Fox."
"Believe me it's important Fox not find us and I know you talking to him isn't going to help any. Please believe me. We have to go, now."
"Okay, if that's the way you want it," Dale conceded sadly.
"Dale, that's not the way I want it, but it is the way it has to be."
Dale was now convinced that no argument was going to change Paul's mind. Whatever Paul's problem was, as a friend he now just wanted to do whatever he could to help him. "If it's true he's already in the area, he'd still have to get word out of Washington, and it's Saturday. It was after business hours there when the request was put through. How would he get word if he's either here or there?"
Dale let him go and Paul relaxed slightly as he saw the truth in what Dale was saying. But I know we must put as many miles as possible between us and Fox. Ellen's much appreciated loyalty has given us that opportunity. The other alternative, if his 'feeling' is not correct and Fox is actually back in Washington, D.C., is as soon as he gets word he will call the authorities to have us detained. Being Saturday, he may not get that word until Monday, but by Monday I want us to be far from East Wenatchee and maybe the entire state of Washington.
Dale came up with an idea that might help them get out of the immediate area. "Paul, if you say it's important, I'll help you. I have a friend ... well you know, Jim. He has the air taxi service out of Pangborn Field on the other side of town. I'll have him fly you to Seattle. I'll even foot the bill."
"You don't have to do that Dale - you and Ellen could get in trouble."
"It's the least I can do for what you've done for all of us," he replied without hesitation.
"Thanks, my friend," Paul said with a deep sigh.
Dale picked up the phone and quickly dialed. ..."Hi, June? ...Dale Taylor here, is Jim in? ... Jim, Dale, do me a big favor. ... I have someone who needs to get out of here as soon as possible. Have you got room on your 4:45 Seattle run for him and his son? ... You do. Great. ... Be right in. ... Yes, it's Paul Forrester and Scott. ... Yeah, the guys you played soccer with. ...Yeah, I'm going to miss them, too. He sure had a way with the units even though he wasn't what I'd call really great on the field. ...Thanks. You can bill it to me and thanks again." Dale turned back to Paul giving him a thumbs-up. "You're set." He then cleared the phone and dialed again.
He covered up the receiver as it rang on the other end and looked at Paul again. I'll be just a minute, Paul, you know I made a date with Ellen for dinner tonight in town, but I know she'd agree this comes first. I do need to tell her I'll be late though. His attention returned to the phone. "Ellen Taylor, please." ... There was a long pause. Dale looked at Paul again and confirmed Paul's indication he was going up to the house with a nod of his head.
There was a long pause and Dale responded to a voice on the other end. "Dean? Dale here. Can I talk to Ellen. ...She's not at her desk?" he replied, with a frown, to the familiar voice on the other end of the phone. "...Do you know where she is? ...Oh! ...would you leave her a message for me. I'm taking Paul and Scott out to Pangborn. They're heading for Seattle on the 4:45! ...Yeah, Jim's taking them. Tell Ellen I'll be about an hour late. ...I'll see you tomorrow at the game. ...Yeah, maybe we'll be on the same team. If we are, the other side doesn't have a chance. ...Got to go now. Don't want to make Jim wait for us. ...Bye."
A small, highly agitated man in a tired looking grey suit was just getting out of a van in front of the Wenatchee Sheriff's office. He had just come in from the south and walked in through the front door just as Dale's phone call ended. He walked up to the front desk with an air about him that was hard not to notice by the other officers around; a look that dubbed him 'Fed'. The second man with him was also hard not to notice as he stood looking somewhat like a statue slightly behind the first. He said nothing and it was obvious the shorter was his superior.
The shorter man flashed an official badge and identification and asked to see whomever was in charge. The two were ushered directly into the Sheriff's office. In a short while they both reappeared accompanied by the Sheriff and began going from one desk to the next, asking questions and showing some photographs.
No one seemed to be providing the desired information and Fox was obviously getting annoyed. No one seemed to be properly impressed by the badge and identification he displayed with pride and many asked the same stupid question about what agency it was he represented. Incompetence was something Fox was also beginning to assume was normal for all law enforcement agencies he encountered since he had started tracking the alien again. They all seemed to lack the commitment to the jobs they were being paid for.
His associate expected Fox's growing annoyance and he just remained silent, letting his boss ask the questions. He knew Fox was tired and he didn't want to be the subject of any tirade he might have if too many more officers asked him what FSA meant.
The two men moved, methodically, as a unit from one officer's desk to the next. They walked past Ellen's empty desk since she was away from her desk on break. They finally come to Dean Frasier.
Fox displayed his photographs expecting the same blank look he had received from the other incompetents, but his blood pressure shot up ten points when the officer's eyes opened wide in disbelief.
"That's Paul Forrester!" Dean exclaimed.
"You know him?" Fox retorted, almost unable to believe someone actually lived outside these official walls.
"Sure," Dean replied, without reservation, as he looked at a picture of Scott "and that's Scott. We were all playing soccer together last Sunday."
Fox's reaction was one of growing disbelief as he pushed the picture of Forrester up closer to the officer. "Look again. Are you sure? No mistake?"
"No mistake. That's Paul."
Fox frowned curiously. "He was playing soccer?" he asked almost in disbelief.
"Yeah, he plays almost every Sunday."
"When did you see him last?" Fox demanded.
"Hmm. Maybe a half hour ago."
"You saw him a half hour ago! Why didn't you arrest him!"
Dean looked at the agitated man standing in front of him in disbelief. "I had no reason to arrest him."
"A wants and warrants inquiry came from this office. Didn't you get my message?" Fox said angrily.
"Don't know anything about it," Dean replied shaking his head. "I didn't see any message." He then turned toward the rest of the officers sitting at their desks listening to the confrontation. "Did any of you guys see a message to arrest Paul Forrester?" There was a response of shrugged shoulders and no's from everybody and Fox returned his attentions to Dean. "Where was he when you saw him?"
"He was here in the courthouse, and it might have been closer to three quarters of an hour ago, Sir."
Fox ignored the reference to more time, fixing his attention only on the half hour since his quarry could have been standing almost where he was now standing. "What was he doing here?" Fox spouted in disbelief?"
"He was on his way downstairs to work on the computer system. I thought Dale was good, but Paul's even better - got us back on line in less than ten minutes."
"You mean he was working on a computer system linked to the national network?" Dean nodded his head in affirmation. Good God! Fox thought to himself, his eyes widening and rolling in fear, It had access to the national computer network. I wonder how many times. Maybe that's why those viruses have been getting so numerous. Another method of infiltration? Careful George, he reminded himself. Don't get these hicks up tight. Be calm, don't get excited, his external calm appearance returned, but his internal reality was ready to burst, ...and above all, don't seem too anxious.
"Do you know where I can find him?" Fox asked, grinning pleasantly.
"He works for Dale Taylor," Dean confirmed pleasantly.
"And where would that be?"
"Dale's shop is about three miles out of town on Highway Two," Dean volunteered. "What do you Feds want to see Paul about?"
"I've been looking for him for questioning in connection with a government security matter," Fox replied, hastily trying to appear as calm as he could. He turned to address the Sheriff who was now standing beside him. "How fast can you get us out there?"
"East Wenatchee is Douglas County and out of my jurisdiction, Mr. Fox," the Sheriff stated apologetically.
George Fox, his patience now beginning to wearing too thin to be contained anymore by simple will power with another backward county Sheriff's incompetence in not being aware he had almost personally harbored a Federal fugitive, flashed his badge again. "May I remind you this knows no jurisdictional boundaries? This is a federal matter and I expect your full cooperation", Fox demanded. "I'll restate my request again in the simplest terms! "How fast can you get us out there!"
"In about half an hour, I guess."
Fox replaced his badge and demanded, "Take us out there, now!"
Dean looked at the highly agitated man who had just chastised the Sheriff in front of many of his own officers and he made a hasty remark to try to console the man. "They're not there."
Fox turned to face the deputy once again, his questions flowing with exasperation. "They're not there?
"No. Dale called a bit ago and said he was taking Forrester and his kid out to the airport. They're flying to Seattle on the 4:45."
Fox's reply was quick in coming and showed no gratitude for the volunteered information he had just received, or relief from the now strained look on his face. His voice, however, had returned to the calm, smiling demeanor he had exhibited before with this officer who continued to provide him with useful information. "And where is this airport?"
"Pangborn is over in East Wenatchee. It's just a few miles across the Columbia River bridge," Dean volunteered.
"Thank you very much, Officer ... uh," Fox inquired, awaiting a quick response.
"Frasier," he replied.
Fox's attention turned once again to the Sheriff and his impatience returned immediately. "Change that earlier request. How soon to the airport?"
This time the Sheriff advised without reservation, "It'll take about 20 minutes, with traffic what it is at this time of the day, even with the siren."
Fox checked his watch and confirmed in his own mind he had leeway of more than five minutes if the Sheriff was correct in his estimation of the time necessary to get to the airfield.
"We're wasting time, if Forrester gets away you'll hear about it Sheriff, believe me!"
"Frasier, take them to Pangborn," the Sheriff barked.
"Okay, let's go," Dean announced, "my unit's in the basement garage and ready to go."
"Make it fast," Fox retorted. "Come on, Wylie."
The statuesque man now sprang into action almost appearing to be leashed and having just experienced a jerk on his chain. They followed Dean down to the basement. The three got in the cruiser and headed out onto the street then east through the rush hour traffic.
Ellen was just returning from a much-needed break as George Fox, his associate and her friend, Dean, rushed by and out the door to the elevator. She turned to her co-worker. "What's going on Bernice? That one guy looks like he's about to have a stroke."
"He's some guy by the name of George Fox - a Fed. He's looking for that nice looking friend of yours."
"You mean Paul?" she asked. Her eyes got wide and she sucked a deep breath.
"Yes", she replied, "that little guy was sure up tight, really chewed out the Sheriff."
Ellen rushed back to her desk, grabbed the telephone and called the shop only to receive no answer. "Darn, Dale's not in the shop!"
"Ellen, Dale called about a half hour ago," Bernice related. "Dean left you a note somewhere on your desk, but I heard Dean tell the Fed that Dale was taking your friend and his son to the airport. The Sheriff told Dean to take those government guys out there. They sure seemed anxious to find your friend."
Dean rode the siren and flashing lights all the way to Pangborn and made it in the twenty minutes estimated. As they approached, Fox ordered him to cut the siren. As they approached the terminal Fox became more flustered as the car ran by the designated turnoff until Dean explained: "I know where Jim hangars his plane. Their desk is located right inside. I'll radio the field and tell them we're coming and have them open the gate. That way we can drive right over and won't have to go through the terminal security."
Fox recognized immediately the deputy was saving him valuable time and he relaxed as much as could when he knew he was so close to the alien and Its offspring. "Thank you. Just hurry," he said in his most compliant voice.
He had thought of calling the airport security to detain the two, but from past experience he just knew whomever would have been in charge would have fouled up any possibility he might have of making the capture with some act of inexcusable negligence. If you want something done right, do it yourself, he had thought at the time, especially after he found out Forrester had actually been in the Sheriff's office a half hour earlier, but somehow no one was ever made aware of his call and message to detain It.
He knew he still had the element of surprise in his favor. He had at least five minutes leeway before the plane was scheduled to leave and if It was waiting in the plane for takeoff, It wouldn't have a chance to get away. He looked over the size of the terminal facility and also knew a quick lock down could be made if, somehow It did get spooked.
The cruiser approached the access gate just as a field attendant arrived to open it and then sped over to the air taxi service area.
A quick look around and Dean commented. "I don't see Jim's plane. Maybe they took off already."
They rushed into the terminal and up to the air taxi desk where Fox attacked the ticket clerk. "Where's the Seattle flight?"
"It left about 15 minutes ago," she replied casually."
Fox looked up at the flight schedule and noticed the plane was not scheduled to take off for another five minutes and confronted the young woman. "We are talking about the 4:45 flight to Seattle, aren't we Miss?"
"It's only 4:40 now," Fox stated in disbelief, "why did it leave early?"
"It was full and everyone booked was here so they decided to leave a few minutes early," she replied politely.
Fox's face took on a stern look as he recognized the incompetence that always surrounded him was showing its ugly head once again. Every other flight he had ever taken, always took off late if he was in a hurry, but when it involved the alien, it took off fifteen minutes before he got there. Fox took out his photographs and showed them to the clerk. "Have you seen this man and teenage boy?"
"Why yes, they were with Dale Taylor and his son. I think they were all saying good-bye. Dale had called in and arranged for seats for them with Jim." She pulled out the reservations list and ran her finger down the names. "Yes, Paul Forrester and son and that's Jim's writing."
Fox displayed his badge once again and with a voice of authority, "Call them back right now!"
She looked carefully at the badge and confirmed the man's face with the photograph on the identification and then looked again at the feisty little man staring into her eyes and in a voice of almost equal conviction she said, "I can't do that Sir, they're probably already into the mountains by now. Besides this is a scheduled flight and our passengers depend on us getting them to their destination on time."
"Or early?" Fox retorted, his eyes narrowing as he confirmed the newest incompetent in his way was standing across this chest high counter.
"Yes, or early." she replied confidently just like she had recently read the statement out of an employee's manual, "Early is okay. Late is bad business unless it's unavoidable."
Fox turned to Wylie, "Get us a charter to Seattle - the faster the better."
Dean spoke to Fox as Wylie began to budge from his almost statuesque position. "Perhaps I can help you with those arrangements, Mr. Fox. I'm pretty familiar with the service out of here."
A surprising, "Thank you, Officer Frasier, that would be very helpful," escaped from Fox's mouth and Dean moved off down the counter to another phone while Wylie wordlessly resumed his original position, the look on his face unchanged.
Fox's attention, meanwhile, had returned to the clerk that had the audacity to question his orders. "Where is your flight heading?"
"Seattle," she confidently replied.
Fox's tone of voice was now beginning to show his growing annoyance. "I know they're going to Seattle, Miss! Which field?"
"Boeing is our normal landing area," she replied. "SeaTac discourages small plane landings, you know."
Now with the feeling he was shortly going to be back on the right track, he demanded, "Get me the Boeing Tower, please?"
"That's a long distance call, sir," she remarked earnestly.
Fox was now unable to keep the impatience inside any longer and his response to such an inane statement was reflective of his continually growing irritation. "I know it's a long distance call! Will you just make the call ...please!"
Her response reflected the completion of prescribed customer-management charm school. "Do you want me to bill that to your office, Sir, or should I have the operator provide me with the charges you incur?"
Fox thought to himself, That's it, I've had it. Before responding, he threw up his hands in frustration and resignation, he pulled out his wallet and a bill, handing it roughly toward her. "No, lady. Here's five bucks. Please put the call through."
She proceeded to take his bill, laid it down on the shelf behind the counter, bent down and started to rummage through a drawer of books and catalogs and finally stood up again holding the Seattle telephone directory.
Fox's irritation was truly reaching the limit. "Never mind", he shouted. "What's the number for your tower!"
She thought for a moment and then looked at a list posted beside the telephone. "Extension 962 ...and I don't really know why it's such a large number," she continued, "there are only thirty-five extensions in this entire airport. It would certainly be easier to remember if..."
Fox cut off the rest of her statement with a threatening raise of his hand and then grabbed the telephone from behind the counter and proceeded dialing. "... Tower? ...George Fox, FSA, patch me through to Boeing Tower in Seattle."
The woman punched a button on the telephone and the conversation with the tower was heard from a speaker at the corner of the desk. They all heard the surprised voice say, "F S what?"
Now totally unable to contain his anger, Fox repeated slowly, "Federal Security Agency, and this is a security emergency! Put me through to Boeing Tower, Seattle, NOW!"
The response from the tower was professional and controlled. "By whose authority?"
"I told you I'm George Fox, Federal Security Agency!"
"Mister, you could be anyone."
"Buster, this is a national emergency. Put me through, NOW!"
"...and this isn't a federally supported airfield. I need some verification of your authority. Can you come over and show me some identification?"
"We're wasting valuable time and believe me; you're going to hear about this!" Fox sputtered.
"If you are who you say you are, I might, but I'm certain to hear about it from Boeing Field if I put an unauthorized call through to their tower." The voice from Pangborn tower contained a tone of finality.
Fox suddenly decided, once again, to try diplomacy. He took a deep breath, held it, and slowly let it out. Regaining his composure, he said, "Would a Sheriff's deputy be enough to confirm my identification?"
"Depends on if I know him, but put him on."
Fox motioned Frasier over.
Dean spoke a few words to the party holding on the phone he was on, and then walked over toward Fox.
"Officer Frasier, will you please verify my authority to the air traffic controller?"
Dean nodded his head affirmatively and took the receiver. "Who am I speaking to?"
A response was heard over the loud speaker, "Frasier?"
Dean recognized the voice on the speaker. "Is that you, Jake? Yeah, Dean here. This guy is a Fed and who he says he is. He's looking for Paul Forrester."
"What for?" Jake asked.
"I don't know. He didn't say exactly, but he did say it was a government security matter. Maybe they want Paul to work on some government computer system," he laughed. "I think you should do as he asks, okay."
Fox heard confirmation that his call was being put through. He couldn't do anything but question in his own mind, while he waited, I wonder how it is so many people around here apparently know Forrester as a man, though it's certain they don't know what It really is.
The time it was taking to get Boeing's tower seemed like an eternity to Fox, then suddenly another unfamiliar 'hello' was heard over the speaker. With a look of doubt, Fox proceeded in a meek questioning voice, "Boeing Tower?"
"Yes, Boeing Tower, here. Can I help you?"
"Finally," Fox said with a sigh of relief, "George Fox, FSA."
"Federal Security Agency," Fox said slowly and with a false feeling of confidence. This is a National Security emergency."
"And what is the nature of the emergency?" The voice coming over the speaker asked."
"I need to have you place," and there was a long pause while Fox looked up at the sign hanging over the counter, "Jim's Air Taxi flight from Pangborn into a holding pattern. ...Repeat, do not let it land until I get there."
"Under whose authority?"
"I already told you, I'm George Fox. I'm with the Federal Security Agency!" he shouted. "Doesn't anyone understand the English language anymore?"
"I understand the English language very well, sir," came the response with not just a bit of irritation in his voice, "but I don't know you from Adam or his brother. I can't place a scheduled arrival on hold without proper authorization."
Fox rolled his eyes, "Oh God, why me, why now," and responded almost in defeat, "why not on some other case?"
"Sir?" the voice from Seattle questioned.
Fox decided immediately to once again try the necessary support that had proved successful already. "I have a deputy sheriff from Wenatchee standing here beside me. He can vouch for me!"
"I don't know him either."
Fox once again took a deep breath and let it out slowly and now compliantly conceded to defeat. "Okay, you win. I'll give you my superior's office number in Washington, D.C. Call him, but please hurry. It's imperative you not allow that plane to land!"
Three minutes passed while George Fox shifted nervously from one foot to the other, awaiting confirmation of his authority. "What's taking so long?" he finally inquired.
"There doesn't seem to be any answer there, sir, can you give me another number to call?"
Fox looked at his watch and thought for a moment, trying to decide who might be in this late on Saturday to verify his authority. He dug into his wallet and came out with a card he kept behind his I.D. "Call Records Division at the Pentagon. They can vouch for me. Give them Project Visitor as a case reference, but please hurry."
Fox gave the phone number and then fidgeted for another few minutes.
The voice came back on the line. "Would you please give me your badge number, Mr. Fox, for cross-match."
Information was exchanged and the voice was heard on the speaker once again. "Okay, we have received confirmation of your authority, Mr. Fox. When the flight arrives in our air space, it will be placed into a holding pattern until further notice."
Fox thought for a brief moment and made another demand, now that his authority was officially cleared. "I and my assistant will be on our way from East Wenatchee to Seattle as soon as we can get transportation and I need a special communications frequency assignment to be used for my Seattle approach. I do not, and I repeat, do not want anyone in the subject air taxi flight to be monitoring any conversations my flight may have with you or your security people."
The tower provided Fox with a special frequency they would monitor and Fox quickly wrote it down on a brochure lying on the counter. "Thank you Boeing Tower!" he then stated succinctly, then mumbled under his breath, "...for almost nothing." He looked over at the desk clerk then reached over the counter and grabbed his $5.00 from where she had laid it, "And thank you, Miss, for all your assistance. I'm also asking you to please pass on my gratitude to Jake over in the tower. I really appreciated his help also."
Fox turned to Dean Frasier, who was again on the other phone. "What arrangements have we got?"
Dean put his hand over the receiver and presented the options. "I can get you a turbo-prop through Red Baron Flying Service. If you leave immediately you should be in to Boeing about ten minutes after Jim gets there. It's a ten passenger plane though, and they have to consider it a charter. If you want something smaller it will have to be a prop. Be cheaper though."
Dean didn't have to wait long for Fox's response. "No jet? I'm in rather a hurry, you know!"
"Sorry sir, there's only one Lear that bases here and he's not in the area right now."
"The turbo-prop will be fine, Officer Frasier", Fox replied in a pleasant voice. "Where do we go?"
Dean returned to his conversation. "Warm up the turbo, Tom. We'll be right over. ...Yeah, name's Fox. It's a special government job and there's no time to waste. ...Yeah, I'm sure he'll sign a voucher."
Fox heaved a sigh of relief as he looked at his statue like and totally silent assistant, "It looks like the saying still goes. If you want something done right, do it yourself," he said sarcastically.
"Yes Sir," Wylie replied almost automatically.
Fox mumbled to himself about how he managed to get saddled with this nitwit for a partner. "It was always 'do the work and drag Wylie'. Someone in the bureau certainly seems to have it in for me."
Dean took Fox and Wylie directly to Red Baron's hangar almost half way around the small airport. On the drive over Fox had sufficient time to resume full control of his thoughts. Dean introduced him to the pilot who was waiting to take off. "George Fox, ... Tom Delaney. ... Tom, … George Fox. Fox would you introduce your partner."
Fox replied quickly to keep the record straight, "My assistant, Mr. Wylie. Partnership is not something we have experienced to date, and probably never will."
He turned to Dean before entering the waiting aircraft, and in a voice showing almost appreciation, said, "Thank you, Officer Frasier. Will you please express my appreciation to the Sheriff for letting me have you this afternoon?
Fox's attention then turned to the pilot. "Are we ready to go?"
"All fueled and warmed up, sir. I'll clear take-off with the tower. ... Jake, this is Tom. ...Am I clear for takeoff."
"Tom, you're third out on 'seven'," the monotone voice on the crackling radio replied.
Fox grabbed the mike from the pilot and spoke slowly and deliberately, once again in his most demanding tone, "Jake, this is George Fox again. You have my authority already. Clear us for immediate takeoff!"
"Yes sir!" came the instant reply, "I'll put everything else on hold. You're clear for taxi on seven, Tom."
The red turbo prop was soon winging its way over the silent snow capped mountain peaks of the Cascade Range on its way to Seattle. With a full window seat, Fox thought to himself, How beautiful the mountains appeared from the air in a smaller aircraft that keep to a lower altitude. I actually think I'm going to enjoy the flight. His elation could not remain for long as the snow capped peaks begin exchanging for signs of more habitation below. "Wylie, go ask the pilot how much longer?"
"Yes sir, but I only asked ten minutes ago. He said then, it would be about twenty minutes yet to Seattle. He told me he has already cleared us with the tower to come straight in."
"Good. Have you talked to the airport police yet?"
"Yes sir," he replied confidently. "They'll be waiting for us in the terminal when we land. They'll have no units on the field so Forrester won't be alarmed."
"Thank you, sir," Wylie responded with a broadening smile.
Fox turned to his associate again only because there was no one else. "This time we have them, Wylie. They didn't know we were in town so they also don't know we know their plans. We'll be in Seattle waiting for them when they land. It'll be a surprise. This is the day we've been waiting for."
"Yes sir," Wylie confirmed.
Fox thought Wylie's reply sounded almost like a recording. His irritation with the man might have flared if his thoughts had not been transfixed back on his closeness to the alien and the half-breed boy he had so vigorously pursued, and who were now within reach. He had all angles covered. The subject aircraft upon which they traveled could not hear their communications with Boeing's tower or his associate's instructions to the airport security. The alien was not even aware he was right behind It.
If any of the passengers had paid attention to the two sitting in the rear, they would have noticed the man to be obviously nervous on takeoff, and as the craft turned toward the mountains which loomed to the west. On the other hand, the boy maintained a quiet and reserved attitude. They were both quiet on the flight, each, in his own way, mulling over the events of the past two months and wondering about the final outcome of the conversations they had shared with their friends. Saying goodbye had been difficult.
As they circled the airfield in Seattle, the boy finally spoke when he noticed his father was again holding on firmly to his seat's arm rests depriving his knuckles of an adequate blood supply. "Dad, you're a white knuckle case. With all the traveling you've done, you have to get over your fear of flying. This is ridiculous. If you could have seen the look on your face as we took off. I was almost embarrassed."
"I know, and I'm sorry, but I prefer working on the ground to being in the air. I don't know if I'll ever get over it."
"Well, try to relax and enjoy it."
"Easy to say ..."
Their attention was drawn to the conversations going on between two other passengers. "I wonder what's up. We left Pangborn early and I expected an early arrival." Another passenger shouted to the pilot, "Hey Jim, what's the holdup? We've been circling for fifteen minutes now. I'm always on a short schedule and was really looking forward to the extra time we were going to get by taking off early."
"Don't know, Joe" the pilot replied. "The tower just says to continue circling. There must be some kind of emergency. A plane landed a few minutes ago. Maybe it was having a problem so they have given them priority." He glanced toward the landing plane. That plane looks an awful lot Tom Delaney's, he thought. I know most of my passengers know Tom and I don't want to upset them unnecessarily. About that time a couple of his passengers made derogatory remarks about their pilot's abilities in a teasing way.
Fox and Wylie met one airport policeman at the Red Baron arrival area and proceeded together to Jim's Air Taxi's area in an airfield van.
Fox had arranged for the main battery of airport police to be waiting, out of sight, at the Air Taxi unloading area. All had been instructed to keep in touch through a special frequency with the tower. They were to follow all instructions in detail. In these final critical minutes he did not want to take any chances on a foul-up that would mandate an on-foot pursuit through the airport.
Wylie remained at his side. This kind of work he understood, after all, he had been through it many times before on this case and on others. He also didn't want to deal with his superior's wrath if by some stretch of the imagination they lost them again. On this case Fox's outbursts toward him and local law enforcement was often abusive, but fortunately lasted only until Fox dismissed them as incompetents. Often he had to personally take the blame for some things that were not his fault.
Fox and Wylie were brought into the building and over to the unloading area by routes designed to maintain their cover. The plan was when the airport police had Forrester and the boy in custody and secured, Fox would simply step in and take over. The trap was set and the aliens were about in it.
Fox called the tower, advising they were ready. The main battery of security police were waiting; three on each side of the doorway where the passenger ramp came up the stairway from the field and into the terminal. In addition there were two waiting out of sight downstairs to follow the last passengers up the stairs. Six passengers, four men, and a young couple walking hand in hand, came around the corner. Each reacted to the officer's head motions urging them to continue on their way and each glanced back inquisitively before lengthening their strides once again to continue on with their own plans.
When the man and boy rounded the corner they were seized, pushed against the wall, searched and handcuffed before taking another step. One of the officers then announced, with pride, "Mr. Fox, we have your fugitives in custody."
As George Fox walked smugly over to where the officers were holding the two, a look of total contentment spread rapidly over his face. He thanked the officer in charge for a job well done and put his hand on Forrester's shoulder. "Well, Mr. Forrester, we meet again." Fox pulled sufficiently to turn his prisoner around to face him. Suddenly his mouth dropped open and his eyes took on a look of total disbelief. "Who's this?" Fox sputtered. He stepped past the man and boy and looked around the corner and down the stairs into the faces of the two officers who had followed the passengers from the field.
"These are the ones you wanted, sir, the man and the teenager," one of the security officers stated confidently to the agitated man.
"These aren't the ones," Fox retorted as he turned to look at the unfamiliar teenager. "There must be more coming."
"I don't believe there's anyone else on the plane, sir," one of the officers still standing on the stairs, reported.
"You don't believe?" Fox snorted. "Does that mean you're not sure?
The handcuffed man could not remain silent at the treatment he was receiving and spoke insistently, "May I ask what this is all about?"
Fox ignored the man's reasonable request, instead motioning to the officers standing around and looking confused. "They must have remained in the plane and are now going another way. Get downstairs and look for them. Wylie, you watch these two carefully and read them their rights! I'll certainly have some questions for them if Forrester isn't found."
Wylie gave his normal 'yes sir' and took charge of the two. Taking out his Miranda statement out of his wallet, he proceeded to relate the familiar words verbatim. "You have the right to remain silent. You have..."
Ellen found it difficult to wait the remaining half hour of work not knowing what had happened at the airfield. When the clock reached five, she was out of the office like a shot and got to the airport in record time through the late afternoon traffic. She rushed, breathlessly, up to Jim's Air Taxi desk.
"June, are you sure they waited for me?" she asked.
"I sent them over to the Horizon Air V.I.P. lounge, Ellen, and told them not to leave until you get there."
Ellen breathed a sigh of relief. "Thanks a bunch, I owe you one."
"Not necessary, Ellen," she replied and then apologetically explained her experience. "I tried to delay that Fox guy as long as I could, but he finally got the tower to call Boeing Field and had Jim put into a holding pattern. Dean got them Red Baron's turbo and they should be getting there in about ten minutes. What the heck's going on? Dale was certainly upset, but seemed to take it in stride."
"I'll tell you Monday. Got to go now."
Fox followed after several of the officers as they ran down the stairs and out onto the field. Two ran over toward the plane, another two ran toward each end of the building and Fox and the rest ran toward the cargo and baggage entrance. Fox angrily accosted the three baggage men, sorting bags just inside the door. "Where did the two passengers who came through here go?" Fox demanded.
Looking surprised, the baggage men indicated they had seen no one come through and soon the others who had gone out to the airplane and around the building returned to advise they had found no one in either the aircraft or around the terminal.
"So nobody got out downstairs," Fox said as he climbed back up the stairs and walked over to the silent and subdued pair standing up against the wall in handcuffs. "These two must have something to do with Forrester's escape. Who are you mister, and where's Paul Forrester?" Fox demanded.
"Do I give up my rights if I answer your question?" Dale inquired calmly.
"Only if you have something to hide," Fox replied. "Do you?"
"I have nothing to hide," Dale replied.
"Then answer my question?" Fox reiterated.
"My name's Dale Taylor and this is my son, Ted. What I want to know before I answer any questions is what this is all about? I've never been so embarrassed in my entire life."
"Me either, Dad," Ted stated with youthful exuberance, "but this is rad, dude!"
"What do you want with Paul?"
"You know him then?" Fox acknowledged, his eyes wide.
"Sure I know him." Dale replied casually. "What do you want with him?"
"Okay, Mr. Dale Taylor," Fox's eyes narrowed to mere slits as he stared back, "answer my question first. Where is he?"
Dale shrugged his shoulders, deciding a direct answer was probably best with the agitated man glaring at him. "I guess he's back home by now. He said he planned to finish up some work for me."
"I was told he was on his way to Seattle," Fox retorted sharply.
"He was, but I decided to come myself. I had an order for some new IBM units that didn't get shipped out on time so I decided to pick them up. That way I could get them installed on Monday morning."
Fox looked at Dale suspiciously, "You're picking up something at IBM today. Do you expect me to believe that! This is Saturday and it's a quarter to six! They're not open this late!"
"Believe what you want. They're not open on Saturdays at all, but I called a friend I used to work with at NASA, who now works for them. He said as a favor to me, he'd meet me at the warehouse for the delivery." Dale looked up at the clock on the wall, "In fact if I'm not in a cab and out of here in twenty minutes, I'm going to be late! I'll hold you personally responsible if he gets ticked off and I made this trip for nothing, Mr. ...um, I don't believe I caught your name?"
Fox reached into his inside coat pocket, took out his badge and ID again and showed it to the now increasingly irate man standing in front of him in handcuffs. "Fox, George Fox, and I'm with the Federal Security Agency. You told Dean Frasier, Forrester was supposed to be on this flight! What made him change his mind?"
"Paul didn't change his mind, I did. Is that a crime? The Stars are in town and at the last minute I decided to take my son to the game tonight." Dale looked again at the clock on the wall, "and if I'm not out of here soon, I'll also be late for that! I've got to get a cab; make the pickup; chew the fat with an old friend for a while; get checked into a hotel to leave the units and get to the game by 7:30. By the time I get our bags and out of here, it's going to be 6:00. Besides, you didn't answer my question - What do you want Paul for, anyway?"
"Uh..." Fox stuttered, "He's wanted for questioning in connection with a government security matter."
"Always seemed honest enough to me," Dale returned, "but why the strong arm tactics! He's always seemed like a peaceful sort and you couldn't find a nicer young man than Scott. Well, except the one standing with me." He smiled at Ted. "The only strange thing I can say about Paul, though, is he always seemed a bit nervous, you know, like he was always looking over his shoulder for somebody or something. ...Could that somebody be you?"
The look on George Fox's face could be read like a book. Even Wylie had positioned himself almost behind his boss now to stay low and out of sight. Things regarding his boss's quest for the alien were again not going as planned.
"What you're trying to tell me then, Mr. Taylor," Fox asked the newest player in what appeared to be another conspiracy to thwart his quest, "is that Forrester is back in Wenatchee?"
Dale, with a look of total innocence, replied confidently while shrugging his shoulders, "Home in East Wenatchee, as far as I know."
"You're the one he's been working for, then?"
"Yes, he's been working for me."
"What, exactly, has he been doing?"
"Computer repair and service work."
"I didn't think he knew anything about computers."
"Funny you say that, Mr. Fox," Dale remarked off the cuff, "He told me he didn't when he asked about a job, but said he'd do anything. He started by answering telephones for me. He told my wife he was a photojournalist. If he's as good as that as he is with computers, he must really be something."
"He should be pretty good at it," Fox stated, almost without thinking, "almost as good as the real Forre ...rrrr, uh," he stumbled.
"What was that?"
"Nothing," Fox replied succinctly. "Forget it."
"Well I think he missed his real calling in life, I know NASA would be thrilled to get hold of him. He's turning into a computer genius. I couldn't believe it. He learned all about them in a couple of weeks. He could do just as well as I could after working for NASA for over eleven years."
Fox looked at Dale, "There's something going on here..." Fox's eyes narrowed into a questioning frown. "An airline clerk over in Wenatchee told me she saw you all saying good-bye."
"We did say good-bye," Dale confessed, "and I'll tell you right now Paul and Scott are leaving. He told me I had to find someone to take his place two weeks ago."
"He's leaving?" Fox blurted, his eyes getting wide once again. "When?"
"I'm not sure when, but I think, first thing tomorrow morning. That's kind of why we were saying good-bye. We weren't expecting to get back until sometime tomorrow afternoon. I sure hate to see him go, though. I'll never be able to find someone like Paul to help with the business."
Fox motioned for Wylie to come to him. "Get hold of Red Baron's desk and tell them we need to return to Wenatchee. Then call the Sheriff's office again and ask them to go out immediately and to discretely pick them up. Emphasize - No sirens! No marked cars! Please repeat that."
Wylie repeated his instructions; "Red Baron back to Wenatchee; Sheriff's office, pick up Forrester and boy; Emphasize, no sirens, no marked cars. Yes sir, right away sir," came the expected response as Wylie moved rapidly toward Jim's Air Taxi service desk approximately 25 feet away. He had the courtesy phone up to his ear for quite some time before returning to where Fox was still talking to Dale
"Sir, the Red Baron desk said he took off immediately for home, so ..."
A very disgusted look came over Fox's face as he looked at his associate, interrupting his explanation. "Well, did you have them call him back?"
"Yes, sir. The tower has asked him to come back for us. He'll be on the field in about five minutes. There's a van on the way over to pick us up. I also got hold of the Sheriff and he'll go over to the other side of the river and discretely pick them up."
An unexpected smile came over Fox's face. "Thank God for small favors. When you finally get those hicks straightened out, they act almost competently."
Dale glanced up at the clock again, then back at Fox and a menacing scowl began to come to his normally happy face. "Are you going to remove these handcuffs, or am I going to have to sue you for false arrest and emotional distress for my son and myself. If you have a reason to hold us, Mr. Fox, I suggest you make some charge. My friend at IBM doesn't like to be kept waiting. That's the reason he left the Shuttle Project at NASA."
Fox was suddenly shaken back to reality and his smile once again disappeared. He really didn't have any evidence sufficient to hold them. His face was now turning quite red as his blood pressure continued to rise at the thought of releasing this man who seemed to be his only link to the alien, but a charge of false arrest, especially without a warrant, could bring questions from other local authorities and he preferred not to have to wait to answer them. He motioned to the still waiting officers to remove the handcuffs.
Dale and Ted stretched out their arms when the restraints were removed, and Dale spoke quietly once again. "Am I to assume we're free to go?"
"Yes," Fox said unhappily, his eyes very narrow as he looked critically at the man, "but I'll probably want to talk further with you, especially if Forrester has managed to slip away from me again. Where are you staying?"
"I'm not sure yet, but we'll be back in East Wenatchee on Jim's flight arriving at 1:00 tomorrow afternoon. We'll be going directly home from there. I'm sure someone at the Sheriff's office can direct you to our house."
"You better hope I find Forrester back in Wenatchee or I will be seeing you tomorrow, Mr. Taylor!" Fox said in a voice that could only be construed as a threat. "If I don't, there will be a number of questions to ask you, and you better have the right answers. Right now, you'll have to excuse me, I have a plane to catch and I'm in a bit of a hurry."
Fox, with Wylie following left Dale and Ted standing in the corridor. Accompanied by the remaining officers, Fox and Wylie disappeared out the door to a van that had just arrived. Shortly the van moved off toward the opposite end of the terminal building to the Red Baron aircraft that could just be seen through the window, reaching a parked position.
Dale looked at Ted then moved down the corridor to another window facing the runway and waited until they saw the familiar Red Baron turbo-prop take off again. They simultaneously turned toward one another and mutual grins covered their faces. Ted put up one palm and Dale gave it a hearty slap. "Good work, son," he whispered.
"That goes double, Dad," Ted reciprocated, "Well, shall we get the bags and get out of here."
Ellen found Paul and Scott sitting in the lounge. Paul stood up as she walked in, a look of confusion on his face. "Ellen, I don't understand. Scott and I were ready to get on the plane when Dale and Ted came in, grabbed us and told us to go back to the desk. The desk clerk said to wait here. What's going on?"
"I'll tell you later, right now we need to get out of here in case someone starts using the phones again." She ushered them out to the car waiting at the terminal door. Ellen got behind the wheel. Paul got in the passenger side and Scott climbed in to back to Brutus's eagerly wagging tail.
Paul was still awaiting an explanation as she made the turn onto the highway and headed west on the cross-state highway toward Stevens Pass, and Seattle. As they got completely out of town, Paul finally saw her relax and asked, "Where are we going and why are we going there?"
"Paul, your Mr. Fox was already in town. He easily found out you were going to Seattle so I had you diverted from the plane. Dale and Ted stepped in to take your place. If things go as planned they'll claim your bags in Seattle and we'll regroup at the Holiday Inn."
Paul heaved a distressing sigh. "I'm sorry."
"No need to be," she replied."
"But how did you know?"
"Your Mr. Fox showed up at the office asking about you. He looked like he was sitting on a keg of explosives with a short fuse and I knew immediately he meant you no good. Bernice told me Dale called and left a message that he was taking you out to the airport. She also said Dean was taking your Mr. Fox out there. I had to do my best to make sure you didn't run into each other. I called the airport and June, the gal at the airport desk, got you out of there. Then Dale and Ted arrived. Dale made an executive decision and he and Ted took your places on the plane. Dale had June leave me a message to meet him at the Holiday Inn closest to Boeing Field." An impish smile came over Ellen's face as she thought of the plan, through friends, they had devised and implemented in just a few minutes.
Dean Frasier was parked at the unloading area for Red Baron Flying Service once again awaiting George Fox's return flight from Seattle. He had only heard bits and pieces of the instructions to the Sheriff and immediately obtained a warrant to search Dale Taylor's shop and/or residence to search for Forrester and his son. After conferring with the Douglas County Sheriff for approval to operate across county lines, the Sheriff sent him and several officers to East Wenatchee to expedite the matter.
When the search turned up nothing, he was instructed to go to the airport to pick up George Fox while a continuing search of the immediate area progressed. The last word he received a few minutes earlier was nothing had turned up and he suspected Forrester had already left the area. Dean was a bit nervous as Red Baron parked. He saw the two federal agents recognized him and started walking over.
"Well, Officer Frasier, have you got them?" Fox's inquired anxiously.
"Well, uh, ... no," Dean replied apologetically.
"Dale Taylor told me they were still back in Wenatchee!" Fox growled as he proceeded to claim the front seat of the police cruiser. As Agent Wylie automatically got locked in the back, Dean got in and drove off. "Did you talk to the neighbors?" Fox demanded.
"There is only one and they can't see the Taylor place from theirs," Dean advised as he drove back toward the airport gate. I did take a search warrant because we know they lived with Dale, but I have no doubt in my mind, they've cleared out, lock, stock and barrel."
Fox heaved a sigh. "Sounds familiar - far too familiar."
Dean drove directly to Fox's waiting van. "They could have slipped out anytime, unnoticed," he offered.
"We've still got the place staked out, just in case they come back. Two of their vehicles are missing. The third, the one Paul usually used for service calls is still up at the shop. There is a slim chance they've just gone on an outing?"
"Not very likely," Fox conceded, "and in the time we've been to and from Seattle, they could be half way across the state and in any direction."
"I'm sorry, sir. Do you want us to continue a stake out?" Dean offered.
"I don't see any percentage in it anymore, but I guess it wouldn't hurt," Fox conceded with a sigh. "Can you at least tell me a good place to stay in town? Mr. Taylor told me he'd be back tomorrow afternoon and I'm going to have a lot of questions to ask him before I throw in the towel this time. Yes, a lot of questions."
Ellen continued driving at the posted speed limit toward the 4,000 foot plus Stevens Pass summit. They could still see patches of melting winter snow on many of the peaks around them. After a long uphill pull snow was evident in many places along the sides of the roadway indicating spring was still coming to the high country and the air was cool enough to keep the windows closed and some heat on in the car. Once over the top, their westward journey continued down an equally long descent for several miles. Suddenly, Ellen had to violently apply the brakes and swerve to avoid hitting a man who had dashed out onto the roadway. Obviously shaken at almost hitting somebody, she continued slowly around him.
"Ellen, I think that man wanted us to stop," Paul said with an air of urgency. "He may need help."
"Paul, we're in a hurry," she replied. "We need to meet Dale and it's a long way yet. Someone will be along in a minute to help him."
"Ellen, my son told me one time when we were trying to get a ride that he would never pass up anyone who needed help again. I have supported that decision ever since I came back to be with him. Please stop!"
Ellen brought the car to a halt on the shoulder of the roadway and watched in the rear view mirror as the man struggled to catch up. "You know, Paul," she said somberly, "you're right. If I wouldn't have stopped and decided to pick up a couple of guys who were down on their luck and looking for a ride once, who knows where the Dale and I would be now or what might have happened to Ted. We owe you."
The man came running up to the driver's side of the car and breathlessly tried to speak.
"Stop just a moment, mister, and catch your breath," Ellen advised as she proceeded to roll the window down. "Lean on the car and try to take a few deep breaths. You must have been running for quite a while."
The man nodded his head, took a couple of deep breaths and was finally able to speak. "Need help, ...dad, ...think, heart attack, ...fell on trail, ...broke leg, I'm sure. ...other cuts and bruises... I left my son ...with him. My car is ...at trailhead ...wouldn't start. ...Please, ...need help and fast! Can you give me a lift to the nearest phone?"
"Just breathe," she reminded him confidently. "I'll get Search and Rescue on the CB." Ellen took a microphone from a holder on the dash as the man at her window turned around and leaned heavily on the side of the car. He soon doubled over, still breathing heavily. She turned on the Citizen Band radio and set the channel to the Highway Patrol monitored emergency band and called in the emergency. About two minutes later she had the Mountain Search and Rescue commander on the mike. "We have an emergency, need a rescue unit at ... " She turned once again to the man. "What trail are you on?"
"Barclay Lake," he stated without hesitation. "Dad's about a half mile in from the trailhead."
Ellen relayed the information and added, "My 84 Cougar will be parked at the trailhead. ...Yes, someone will be there to direct you. ...I understand the subject fell from the trail. His son suspects he might have had a heart attack; son thinks he broke a leg and has cuts and bruises as well. ...10-4." She turned around toward Scott sitting in the back seat. "Scott will you keep Brutus on the outside." Then she turned back to the man, "Get in mister. We'll drive back to the trailhead."
It was a mile and a half drive up a dirt road to the trailhead. As she parked the car, she turned to Paul. "Paul, you and Scott stay here at the car. When Mountain Rescue gets here, show them the direction we're going. I'm going to go with ..." She turned to the man, silently asking his name.
"James Billingsley", he replied.
"... with Jim and see if I can help out. I've had some basic Emergency Medical Training with the Sheriff's Office and can at least check for injuries and begin stabilization and first aid. Just wait here for the team. When they get to us, I'll come back and we'll leave."
"Let me go with you Ellen," Paul suggested firmly, "maybe I can be of some help. I think Mr. Billingsley needs to rest for a while, anyway. He can tell them about the injuries. He can also do a better job of directing the rescue workers. Scott can stay here with him."
"If Mr. Billingsley can direct them, Dad, why should I stay here? Maybe I can help too."
"You're right," Billingsley volunteered, still breathing hard. "I need to rest a while. Right now I'll only slow you down. I can take care of things here if your boy wants to go with you. Maybe he can take care of little Tony while you look at Dad."
"Is there some landmark we'll recognize?" Ellen inquired with concern.
"I left my day pack right in the middle of the trail to mark the place. You won't have any trouble finding it. They're just below it, down the hill. I'll just wait here in the car, if that's all right?"
Ellen got out and walked around the car. Opening the back door she urged Brutus out with a heel command. "Rest, Jim," Ellen told the obviously exhausted man, "and don't worry, we'll take good care of both of them."
Ellen grabbed the first aid kit out of the trunk and handed it to Scott. She collected all their coats and handed them to Paul. The three then started hiking up the steep trail. They found the two just as Jim had described, down the mountainside from where the pack was laying on the trail. The young boy, who appeared to be about five, was crying as they approached, making it even easier to locate them.
Ellen gave Brutus a down-stay and walked over to where the very pale, injured man lay. She looked at the short elderly man and asked his name.
"Tony Bill...ings...ley", came his spasmodic and grimacing response, then he added thoughtfully, "...Sr."
"Okay, Tony, Sr.," she said, smiling, "we're going to see what we can do for you." She continued talking to him calmly and soothingly took the scissors out of the first aid kit and proceeded to cut the left pant leg open completely. As she examined what was beneath, she quickly realized from the extent of distortion and swelling of his upper leg, that this injury was more than she wanted to tackle with what she had in the first aid kit, especially with help on its way. She continued to comfort him and motioned to Paul to hand her the coats, quickly adding them to what he already had over him, apparently placed there by his son to keep him warm.
Paul stood to one side for a couple of minutes while she examined him. When she stood again, Paul kneeled down beside the injured man. He removed the coats from the injured leg and laid them to the side before placing his hand gently on the twisted and obviously severely broken upper leg. His arm jerked hard as he felt the pain. He replaced the coats, and then moved his leather jacket which was covering the man's chest, unzipped the man's own jacket and placed his hand over the heart. He could feel the severely laboring pump and sensed, immediately, the system was going to fail before further help could arrive. Placing his jacket back over Tony, he got up and walked over toward Scott. He was taking his sphere from his pocket as he walked.
Scott saw the sphere in his father's hand over the shoulder of the frightened boy he was holding in a tight embrace. He looked over at Ellen and then at the injured man, "Dad you can't!"
"I must, Scott," he stated with a look of concern. "If I don't do something, he's not going to live much longer. His heart is not strong, though it is functioning, but the pain he's experiencing is putting a great deal more strain on it."
"What are you planning to do?" Scott asked.
"If I repair the bone in the leg it will alleviate the pain and the strain on the pump."
"What do you want me to do?" Scott offered.
"First I need to stop the pain. That should allow the leg to relax, and then we are going to straighten the leg bone."
"But Dad, what about..." Scott asked with a motion of his head toward Ellen, who was getting prepared to treat cuts and abrasions as best she could.
Paul shared the concern he saw in his son's face, but knew there was no choice. "Scott, I have to do something, or he'll die while we watch. Come over and help me."
"What about little Tony?"
"Hand him to Ellen. He'll keep her occupied."
Carrying the child, Scott followed his father, and then walked over to Ellen. Without hesitation he handed her the boy in a way she had no choice but to accept. He then returned to where his father was once again kneeling beside the man.
Paul removed the coat completely this time. Picking up the scissors from where Ellen had laid them he began cutting the other pant leg open.
Ellen was shocked as she watched Paul preparing to do something to the severely injured man and her response was one of concern for Tony's welfare. "Paul, it's imperative you not move him. Leave the leg for the medics. They'll have the proper equipment to take care of it. Help me with the other injuries."
"Please take care of little Tony," Paul advised. "Everything will be all right, Ellen," he said calmly. "Trust me and please be quiet. I need to concentrate."
Scott kneeled down across from his father. "Okay, Dad, whenever you're ready."
Ellen restated her request not to move the patient, but was ignored as Paul related his plan to Scott. "I need to compare the injured leg to the other. When we have them lined up the same, I'll mend the bone. We'll have to coordinate our efforts to get the job done as quickly as possible."
Paul saw the frightened look in Tony's eyes and spoke to him in an effort to comfort him. "Tony, Sr., please don't be afraid. We're not going to hurt you. Please close your eyes and relax."
Paul looked deeply into the metallic orb lying in the palm of his hand. Suddenly it came to life, glowing a radiant blue. Its coming to full power attracted all eyes. At his bidding the light moved from his hand and surrounded the entire lower portion of Tony's body. Paul could see Tony's body relax as the pain disappeared. The order to close his eyes, however, had not been followed and Tony's eyes were now wide and following Paul's every movement. With Scott's help, Paul manipulated the leg back into a normal position. After making a detailed comparison with the other, the light collected all bone fragments and restored solid bone, then repaired muscle and ligaments from the torn, blood infused and damaged tissue. Finally, he was satisfied all was mended. With the sphere still glowing, he asked, "Do you also have a problem with one of your knees?"
Tony had watched the entire procedure. He had delighted in the absence of the all encompassing pain he had been experiencing. Then his wonder began to falter as he watch the man and boy, working within the strange blue glow, painlessly manipulate his obviously severely broken leg. His response was not the one Paul was anticipating. "What was that?"
"That doesn't matter. Tell me about your knee," Paul calmly asked again.
Even though his question had not been answered, Tony felt compelled to answer what to him was an irrelevant question. The look in his eyes was now becoming one of growing fear, yet he answered, "I severely damaged the cartilage in my right knee years ago. I was told I needed a knee replacement."
"Would you like me to fix it?" Paul asked.
"You can do that?" Tony asked in return.
"You have already seen what I can do," Paul confirmed. "Yes, or no?"
Seeing nothing to lose, Tony answered, "Yes."
He saw Paul look from one knee to the other and suddenly a growing fear again manifested itself verbally. "What are you going to do and why can't I feel anything? You're scaring me!"
Paul had seen the fear creeping into his eyes and spoke softly to him once again. "You don't need to be afraid. This also will not hurt. I just thought while I've exposed myself to repair the bone, I'd fix the knee, but I need to know what's wrong with it.
"Years ago the cartilage was damaged in a fall that has caused uneven wear within the joint."
Paul again compared the left knee to the right. "I'll fix it now." The sphere again glowed brightly. Its radiance concentrated on the bad knee. Soon it returned to its metallic form and Paul slipped it back into his pocket.
Paul looked over at Ellen who was now sitting on a rock, holding little Tony in her lap. Her mouth was open and her eyes were wide and fixed in disbelief. Paul, for once, was glad she seemed to be speechless. Quiet was a quality not often observed in Ellen once she got to know you. The child merely looked on innocently.
Paul reached, once again, up under his jacket. Placing his hand over Tony's heart, he felt what he desired. "Good, the stress has been relieved. Tony, you can sit up if you want."
Ellen, a deep frown on her face, looked from Tony to Paul, then Scott. It is obvious this process isn't new to Scott, she thought. She could finally remain silent no longer. "What have you done, ...and who are you?"
"Ellen, don't be frightened," he said calmly in an attempt to ease her fears as well and stop further questions. "We are still friends, aren't we?"
Paul's head cocked slightly. "I guess I do owe you an explanation, but I'll do that when we are all together, okay?" Paul turned once again to Tony, who was now sitting up. "Tony, when the rescuers get here, please do not say anything about this to anyone, ever," he pleaded. "It's very important to me. It could be a matter of life or death."
His mouth hanging open, Tony nodded slowly. Still his thoughts raced over the possibilities of what he had just been through and the reality of what he had just seen and not felt.
Once again Paul spoke quietly to Ellen without looking directly at her. "Ellen, we should go before the rescuers get here."
Ellen got up and walked slowly over to Tony. She watched him pinch each of his legs, then stand up. When he tested both, she knew feeling, without pain, had been restored. Without a word she handed little Tony over to him.
Paul gathered up the first aid kit and motioned for Scott to pick up the jackets and start the climb up the hill toward the trail. When he heard Ellen order Brutus to come, he knew she would follow. As they were leaving, Paul looked back and saw Tony standing among the rocks embracing his grandson, and then heard the child's innocent question.
"Was he a doctor, Gram'pa?"
Tony, spoke slowly as his eyes followed Paul's every movement up the rocky hillside. "I don't know, son."
Paul stopped as he reached Scott waiting on the trail. He turned to make sure Ellen was following, and then heard Tony call from below.
"Thank you mister, ...whoever you are."
Paul responded by waving his arm. As Ellen reached the trail the four began a silent half-mile walk back to the car.
Ellen continued to follow behind trying to keep from tripping herself as her mind continued struggling over what she had seen. She saw Paul stop several times to glance back at her and was certain he was still checking to make sure she was all right.
The Mountain Search and Rescue team drove up just as they exited the trailhead. Jim Billingsley was excited as the three rescuers walked back to the car. "Couldn't you find them?" he asked fearfully.
Paul and Scott returned to the car, leaving Ellen to deal with the rescuers. Brutus followed Scott into the back seat and once again was lying with his head in Scott's lap.
Ellen, with a somber face and a look of continuing disbelief, related to Jim and the rescue team, that the injuries were not as bad as they looked and Tony and his grandson were waiting for them. She said his father still needed some first aid attention to some cuts and bruises and perhaps some help in walking the rest of the way. She said he was walking around, and didn't seem to be exhibiting any symptoms of shock. She then apologized to Jim for the damage done to his father's hiking pants, indicating she felt it necessary to rule out the broken leg he suspected.
Jim looked at her strangely as she gave her diagnosis. "I can hardly believe Dad's leg wasn't broken just from the position in which it was lying," he said as the first rescuer started up the trail.
"Rest assured, it wasn't," Ellen replied. Though happy with the news, Jim was also anxious to get back to confirm it.
The last member of the rescue team looked at Ellen, then asked, "Are you sure you're all right, Miss? You look a little pale."
She smiled back at him. "I'm all right, really. We would have stayed until you came, but we are now really late for an appointment. We must continue on our journey or we'll have somebody worrying about us. We're leaving the patient in your capable hands."
Grabbing a stretcher from the truck just in case it should be needed, the Emergency Medic followed his team.
Paul was watching as Ellen approached. She automatically walked over to the driver's side only to find him sitting there. "Ellen, you do look a little pale. I think I'd better drive for a while, okay." Ellen obediently walked around the car and got in. As her seat belt clicked, their journey continued.
Ellen remained silent for about half an hour, often catching herself staring at Paul while she continued turning the matter over and over in her mind. Suddenly she felt a growing need. "Paul, I can't wait any longer."
"Ellen, please be patient. I'd like to explain to both you and Dale at the same time."
"But I don't understand what I saw, and what was that thing, and the light? ...I'm confused."
Paul glanced quickly over at her, observing the expression on her face. "Then you weren't afraid?"
"Should I have been?" she asked, frowning.
"No," he said quietly."
Ellen studied Paul as he drove and a questioning expression appeared on her face. "Is there some reason you think I should be afraid of you," she finally asked more of a statement than a question. "We're friends. It's just that I don't understand what I saw you do back there."
"Many people would be afraid just because they don't understand, Ellen," Paul replied with concern. "That is why I must ask you never to tell anybody about what you saw, or about what I will tell you when we get to Seattle."
"I won't tell anybody if you say not to," she confirmed, "and I'm sure Dale and Ted wouldn't either."
"Right now I know you probably won't understand my reasoning, but I would prefer not telling Ted. Not because I don't trust him to use good judgment, but because he is still a boy and will continue to come under pressure from others."
"I understand," she said compliantly.
"Thank you for the vote of confidence," Paul replied with a smile. "I think you'll understand my reasons." Paul glanced into the rear view mirror and proceeded to explain to Scott the assignment he was to perform later.
Scott confirmed he was to invite Ted to leave so his father could talk freely with Dale and Ellen.
Ellen sat quietly for a few minutes more before looking sadly over at Paul. "Here you're thanking me and I should be saying I'm sorry."
Paul glanced over at Ellen. "Why?"
"I was the one who started this whole thing by just typing your name into the computer at work. I couldn't believe you fixed the system so fast this morning, so to check it, I just typed the first name that came to mind. If only I had known."
"You had no way of knowing," Paul replied, "and actually, I think you provided us with the warning that probably saved our lives. George Fox must have been close by. He could have already been in town and it would have only been a matter of time before he checked with the Sheriff's office. Dean or somebody else would have sent him right out to the shop and we would have been trapped. Your quick action gave us time, and Dale's quick thinking sent Fox off in the wrong direction. Now you're helping us get away. I'm thanking you."
"But it could have gone wrong so easily," Ellen replied with a sigh. "What is it this Fox wants with you, Paul?"
He glanced at her again. "I'll tell you when we see Dale."
Ellen remained silent until it was necessary to give Paul instructions to turn onto a highway exit that would take them south toward Seattle
A short stop at a telephone booth got Ellen the location of the Holiday Inn. A half hour later they pulled into the motel parking lot. Ellen walked in to seek information about where to park. When 'Taylor family' didn't get a rise from the clerk, she thought of possible options. Right away her maiden name came to mind for that would make it almost impossible for George Fox to make the connection. Several minutes later they arrived at the 'Ramsey' room on the second floor.
Dale was not alarmed by a knock at the door, for he knew it would be his wife and friends. He had been almost overly cautious by using the city bus system to get from the airfield rather than a cab or hotel shuttle and had paid cash for the room. He and Ted happily greeted the new arrivals. Ted eagerly showed Paul their bags in the open closet area next to the door.
There was a brief discussion and it was decided the first order of business to be some dinner. It was already past eight and no one had eaten since lunch. Though it did not exactly please Ellen, the two boys verbally indicated their gratitude.
They ate at a restaurant adjacent to the hotel and chose a booth in the almost unoccupied smoking section. Ted happily began to relate the story of swapping places. "Dad told me on the flight over, that the cops were after you guys." He looked over at Scott. "I couldn't believe it. He also felt pretty sure the Fed had taken the bait when we were delayed in landing without an explanation. When he saw the Red Baron landing ahead of us, he was sure."
"It was kind of spooky," Dale added, "because we knew it contained a very determined Federal Security Agent we were soon going to meet."
"Dad told me to expect being stopped and questioned," Ted continued, "but when all those cops grabbed us I was really scared," he said without reservation.
"So was I," his father quickly confessed as he looked over at Paul. "He had enough fire power waiting for you to start a small war."
"Yeah, there were cops all over," Ted added eagerly in support.
"Your Mr. Fox really wants to see you badly, Paul." Dale confirmed, his face now covered with a serious frown as he recalled the encounter. "He really is intense, isn't he?"
Paul and Scott both nodded their agreement to Dale's observation without hesitation, as Ted continued to narrate his impressions of the experience. "We were held tight up against a wall and handcuffed. It was 'rad'. Then that Fox guy grabbed Dad. When Dad turned around I thought the guy was going to die right on the spot."
"What do you mean?" Ellen asked.
Ted grinned as he pictured the man then looked over at Paul and Scott. "It was the look on his face when he saw Dad wasn't who he was expecting. It was beet red. I was afraid he was going to explode."
Dale smiled, "I think his blood pressure went right off the scale."
Ted grabbed a brief pause in his father's narrative. "He told another guy in a suit to stay with us and while he was reading us our rights, the little guy did a lot of yelling at the police then ordered them to search the plane and all other exits. They started running around like a bunch of chickens trying to catch flying bugs." Ted reached over and put his arm around his father's shoulders, "When he came back Dad was so cool, I couldn't believe it."
"You weren't exactly cowering either, Ted," Dale stated with no small amount of pride. "I hadn't a clue about what to expect, but gathering my wits I felt I knew what I had to do."
"I think the other guy is just with him." Scott added confidently. "I know his name is Wylie. Normally he seems like he's kind of out to lunch."
Ted looked back at his father and started grinning again. "With Dad there I wasn't at all afraid anymore. I could see him collecting himself for a face off. I had to bite my tongue to keep from breaking out laughing." Ted now couldn't contain himself anymore and he laughed openly as he relived the encounter. Soon Scott joined in at a visual picture in his mind. "Hey, what have you guys done?" Ted asked
Dale's face had changed from sharing his son's humor, to concern as he had time to collect his thoughts. After settling down in the motel room to wait, his thoughts drifted to things that could still come up and bring more questions. "I'm hoping your Mr. Fox didn't get a chance to check with IBM about me picking something up" Dale related. "I don't think he really had enough time before we saw Red Baron leave again. I think I'll call Dick at home. I really can use a couple more units and it wouldn't harm to have them for back-up in the morning."
They finished dinner and this time it was Paul who insisted on paying the bill. They returned to the room.
Dale and Ted continued to share their story telling about the hassle of trying to figure out what city bus would bring them closest to the hotel.
Ellen continued to laugh at their adventures, but she had something else on her mind that was not going to be contained for very much longer. When she had finally heard enough, she turned to Paul and gave him a look that could only be read as one of a growing impatience. Paul recognized the look and gave Scott the high sign to make himself and Ted scarce.
Scott saw and understood. From an earlier observation of the motel sign when they came, he already had a plan. "Hey, buddy, since our next good-bye's going to be for real, we don't want to listen to these guys all night. This place advertises a regulation swimming pool. Shall we go make use of it?"
"Great idea, except I don't have a suit," Ted replied.
"Mine's in the duffle and you can use Dad's," Scott offered. Pulling the duffle out of the closet, he set it down beside the bed and proceeded to search frantically through some of the clothes. "They must be down in the bottom," he said as he lifted it to the edge of the bed and dumped the remaining contents. Soon came a jubilant whoop, "I've got'em." He was starting to stuff things back into the bag when he saw his father's critical look and began folding. To expedite things Ellen joined him and when the bag was packed, Scott grabbed the suits and the duffle.
With an accompanying motion of his arm and body language, he indicated to Ted it was time to take off. As Scott dropped the duffle back in the closet, Ellen stopped Ted. Reaching into a side compartment of her purse, she pulled out a large safety pin she always kept there for unforeseen emergencies. "I think Ted is going to need this to keep Paul's bathing suit on."
"Thanks, Mom," Ted said with pride that brought a happy grin to Ellen's face.
Scott read the look on his father's face to make it a long swim. Following Scott's lead the two teenagers were out the door for some enjoyment.
As the door closed behind them, Ellen looked at Paul. Her smile vanished as her questions could no longer be held at bay. "Paul, I'm waiting.
"Waiting for what, Ellen?" Dale asked.
"Paul said he was going to explain something I saw on the way over. He wouldn't do so until we were together without the boys." She glanced over toward the door, "That's why Scott suggested they go swimming."
"Do you think things will be alright?" Dale asked.
Ellen smiled. "They are both fifteen, Dale. What would you have done at fifteen if soon you had to say good-bye to your best friend?"
"I think I'm really questioning whether the motel will be all right," Dale said with a wide grin and obviously expecting a smart response.
Ellen was no longer in a joking mood as she looked back at Paul. "Well?"
Paul had been thinking about how he was going to explain to these two proven friends without causing the initial reaction of fear he had seen in Catherine, Shannon and Julie and even his own son. Dale has told me he didn't think others could overcome the vast distances required for space travel. Now, I want to try to make the realization of his error as easy as possible. He took a deep breath and held it momentarily before letting it go. "Okay, Ellen, I'm going to try to explain, but not right away about what you saw. I think what you saw might become self-evident."
"What was it you saw Ellen?" Dale asked curiously.
Paul spoke quickly before Ellen had a chance to start. "Later, Dale. First, I need to tell you about ...me."
"You don't have to explain anything, Paul," Dale interjected, "just being our friend is good enough."
"Oh no!" Ellen stated with conviction. "No explanation may be all right with you, but I'm in need of something more. I have too many questions going around in my head and Paul promised me an explanation."
"Under the present circumstances and for all you have done for us, I do feel I owe you the truth. At one time or another each of you have asked me who I am. Now, I'm going to tell you."
"Well?" Ellen said.
"Do either of you remember our first Sunday in East Wenatchee, when we sat down together after dinner and talked."
"I remember," she offered, "We were talking about my work at the courthouse and then Dale's job with NASA for most of the evening." Dale nodded his affirmation.
"Dale, do you remember telling us about the joke the men at the Voyager installation played on you?"
"Sure, what about it?"
"It wasn't a joke, but a carefully planned and apparently poorly executed and maintained government cover-up," Paul said looking directly at his friend. "Perhaps too many people had been involved for them to completely cover up the recovery of a part of the Voyager probe."
"What are you talking about, Paul? ...What part of the probe?"
"From what you told me of the joke, Dale, somehow somebody found the recorded invitation you sent out directed to any alien life."
"How could that happen?" Dale asked his face now covered by a deep frown. "No one else had anything on the same trajectory as Voyager and why would anybody want to remove the record?"
"Believe me Dale," Paul stated, "somebody did approach Voyager, examined it and removed the recording. Your government also has the remains of a landing craft."
"What landing craft ...and how do you know this?" Dale asked, his face continuing to reflect a growing air of confusion. "Were you working for the government or the project back then?"
"I was working on a project and for a government, but not Voyager or your government." Paul stated truthfully. "My work and my government were far removed from yours."
Dale's eyebrows shot up with an implication he finally understood. "You were a spy?" He frowned deeply. "Is that why they're looking for you?"
Paul's eyebrows rose then lowered as he contemplated possible meanings for another unfamiliar word. "A spy? What is a spy?" he finally asked.
After working with Paul for over two months, Dale recognized his friend's puzzled look when he did not quite understand some word or saying and he answered almost without thinking. "Spying is working in secret for some government, and against ours," he said critically.
"No. I'm not a spy," Paul said, as he understood Dale's definition.
"Then what?" Dale asked, his frown growing deeper and an air of impatience appearing in his voice. "I don't understand what you're trying to say. I know our government is after you and you just said you work for another government, but you say you're not a spy. It's apparent however, that you seem to have access to a lot of secret information."
There was a brief pause and suddenly Dale began to grin. He gave a sigh and seemed to feel he finally comprehended. "You must have been one of the scientists working with our scientists. What did you do, run away with some joint project information? You know something and they don't want you to be able to tell the wrong people. That's why they want to talk to you."
"They want much more than to just talk to me," Paul advised
"So that's why the FSA is on your case."
"You're partly correct," Paul replied. "Though I'm not exactly a scientist, I do know a lot of things they would like to know, but what I know I am also not able to tell them." Paul observed a completely puzzled look return to Dale's face, causing his mouth to contort. Finally, he decided with Dale's present beliefs he was not going to come to any meaningful conclusion by himself. The direct method seemed to be the only way. He took in two deep breaths. "I am what you would normally refer to as an alien," he confessed.
"Oh," Dale acknowledged with a sense of relief. "You mean you're in the country illegally?"
"I guess I could be described in that way, but that is not how George Fox looks at it."
Dale looked at Paul and stated confidently. "Well that finally makes some sense. I realized you weren't very familiar with our language from the questions you so often ask about the meaning of words, but you don't look or speak like an alien."
Paul smiled." And what does an alien look and speak like, Dale?"
"Well, most of the illegals come in from the south, you know, Mexico or Central America and they do look ...different. They also don't often speak the language well."
"Believe me, I am very different than your ordinary aliens."
Ellen's thoughts rambled after having the advantage of seeing Paul's use of the sphere. I know he controlled power beyond my comprehension when he healed Tony's leg, she thought. On several occasions I also remember seeing blue lights around the shop. There was also the blue lightning out on the road the day I picked them up. At the time I was pretty sure I knew what was wrong with the jeep, but in a short time he had it fixed. I often wondered how he knew so much about our space probes. Now he says he's an alien. With the pieces coming together her eyes grew wide. Then her mouth dropped open. What I'm picturing is almost beyond belief, she thought. "Oh, my God! What you said is true!"
Her pronouncement was lost as Dale continued questioning. "Where did you sneak in from ... Israel?" and when he got no response," ...Russia?" Once again he got no response and his eyebrows rose with his quandary. "...You don't look Oriental, my friend. And why did you sneak in?"
I don't quite know how to respond, Paul thought. Even the direct approach doesn't seem to be working. "Dale, I didn't sneak in. I was just coming here for a visit."
"Someone coming to visit can usually get permission."
"I never got a chance to ask." Paul stated with a frown. "My craft was fired upon and I crashed."
"Why would our government do such a thing?"
"I have asked myself that same question many times."
"What did you do, steal someone's experimental aircraft and fly it into our air space?" Dale continued.
"I had your invitation with me, but I never had a chance to present it."
"What kind of an invitation?"
In exasperation, Paul's shoulders slumped and heaving a sigh he just looked at Dale. Finally, Ellen interceded, her eyes still wide with her revelation. Momentarily feeling unable to continue, she drew a deep breath. Then it all spilled out. "Paul, you're trying to tell us you're an 'extra-terrestrial', alien." She glanced and pointed a thumb upward, "from out there?"
Paul looked at her and stated simply, "Yes.
There was a long pause before she felt able to continue. Finally gathering courage, she said, "Well, why didn't you just say so?"
"I believe I did. I was hoping you would understand without me seeing the fear I've seen in others." Paul took a deep breath then let it out. "I guess I'm not very good at explaining so I decided on being direct, but still you didn't understand. From the look on Dale's face, I still do not think he is convinced."
Now, Dale's light was coming on. "You're trying to tell us it was a real spacecraft that crashed in Wisconsin and that another did land in Arizona? It wasn't a joke."
"Your government has what is left of my ship and the record you sent out with the probe, so factually, your friends were correct with one exception."
"What was that?"
"I wasn't killed."
"So why did you come here?" Ellen asked.
"We had been here before, but found your world insufficiently developed to approach. The probe's recording showed major improvements so it was decided we explore further. I was the one chosen to come down to the surface. It was to be a short stay so I could further evaluate your progress and if warranted, arrange a first contact. After being fired upon, I naturally had to warn the ship off. With my craft destroyed I had less than four Earth days to get to the meteor crater in Arizona for rescue."
"I have a question," Ellen said. "To us you're obviously a man. Does evolution follow the same patterns all over?"
Paul smiled. "No, there is truly an infinite variety. I am very different from what you see sitting here. To make the approach I was prepared to alter myself in an attempt to make whoever came to the crater to investigate, more comfortable with our arrival."
"What do you mean alter yourself?" Ellen asked.
"In my landing craft I carried a variety of samples of sloughed-off skin cells left by those who had worked inside Voyager. I could have duplicated any one of them. Unfortunately, they were destroyed in the crash so I had to search for another sample. I abandoned the wreckage and entered a home some distance away. There I found some hair in an album of photographs and I became a replica of Scott's father. Needing help, I coerced his mother, Jenny Hayden, into accompanying me across the country. At first she was afraid, but during our journey she learned she could trust me and I sensed she actually began to care about me."
"Amazing," Ellen said.
"At one point in our journey, she mentioned always having wanted a child, but said your doctors told her she could not. At the words I could sense a great sadness. Later, when I was trying to escape from a police car, one of the officer's shot into the car I was driving and she was fatally injured. I greatly accelerated the car, but there was no use in running for the police were right behind. Using the blue light you saw earlier, to protect us from harm, I crashed it into an overturned gasoline truck. While everybody's eyes were on the resulting inferno, the blue light protected us and I carried her away. I found a safe place to hide and my general repairs restored her."
"You coerced her into going with you?" Ellen asked.
"Yes. I didn't know any other way."
"Then Scott isn't really your son?"
"Scott is my son," Paul said emphatically, "but he is also Jenny's son and the son of Jenny's husband. As our journey continued she taught me about singing, friendship and love and on our last night together while we were heading west in a boxcar, we followed the dictates of our bodies. Believe me, she was a very good teacher. We became joined in a very natural way and Scott began. For her help, I thought that gift of life might be appreciated."
"How did she feel about it?"
"I told her she would have a son, but that I would stop it if she wished. She said she wanted him and at that moment, I think I felt true joy for the very first time."
When Ellen looked at Paul, she smiled. I can only imagine the feelings he must have been experiencing as a stranger to the rock and roll drama of human sexuality.
"I understood nothing about what it required to raise a child other than what a restaurant cook with whom I had hitched a temporary ride, told me," Paul advised.
Ellen eyebrows rose. "What did he tell you?"
"That it would require an arm and a leg, geetus, bread and money. I figured Jenny would supply the arms and the legs and also the geetus and bread, that I now know means the same thing. Our train-ride went past the crater and ended in Las Vegas. There I won the five hundred thousand dollar 'giant jackpot' to provide money."
"That should have helped a great deal," Dale said.
Paul began to grin, thinking of his naiveté. "Since it was a long way back to the crater, we had to spend much of the cash they allowed to buy an automobile. Jenny got a new car and the rest of the money.
"When we finally got back to the crater the army was right behind us. As we descended into the crater, they attacked us from helicopters. Then the ship arrived. It safely calmed the guns and Jenny taught me how to say good-bye. Once on board I returned to my job thinking everything would be all right for them.
"A little less than a year ago I received a troubling message from here. While holding a sphere I had left for Scott in his hand, his grief raced across the cosmos and I sensed his call. My petition for permission to return was granted. I was brought down to the surface and I found him.
"A new found friend shamed me into staying to help and a tape Jenny had left for him told him about me and explained why she felt she had to hide him among strangers."
"Amazing," Ellen said.
"Since then we have been trying to find Jenny, but staying ahead of George Fox has made it difficult." Paul heaved a heavy sigh as he looked at his friends. "So now you know and I cannot tell you anymore."
Dale stared at Paul. I'm looking at a real honest to goodness space alien who has been doing routine computer repair work for over two months. He shook his head. I guess my perspective of the universe has to change, Dale acknowledged. "I have a million questions I'd like to ask."
"I can't answer a million questions, Dale, but I did tell Ellen I would answer one for her." Paul deferred to Ellen.
"What exactly did you do for Tony?" she asked.
"Tony?" Dale questioned.
"On the way over the mountains we were stopped by a man who said his father had been injured in a fall. I made a call to Mountain Rescue and was ready to leave. Jim was exhausted from running and Paul suggested he wait for them in the car. With him waiting, we hiked in to see if there was anything we could do. Looking at the position of his leg, I knew right away he had a broken femur. Then Paul took over and in less than ten minutes, he used blue light to stop Tony's pain, reset and completely heal the fracture. It was beautiful and something I shall never forget. It left me speechless and you know that's quite a feat in itself." She looked back at Paul inquisitively, "What is that blue light?"
Paul pulled out his sphere and handed it to her. "This is what produces the blue light." When it was resting comfortably in her hand, he activated it. As its intensity grew he looked back at her. "It's a part of who I am and it allows me to control the molecular structure of objects. First, I directed its energies to interrupt the electrical impulses of Tony's body that react to pain, then Scott and I straightened the injured leg to match the other and I directed the sphere to restore the atomic structure and fragments of the bone and to heal the adjacent tissue, thus returning it to normal."
"You make it sound so simple," she said, trying her best to comprehend such a process.
Paul smiled. "It's like everything else, Ellen, when you have learned how to do something, it is simple, but now it is time for us to go."
"Dale, when Paul's been working in the shop have you seen the blue light?"
"No, I haven't" Dale replied. "I know Susan mentioned something about some lights, but concluded it must be from some new equipment."
Ellen looked back at Paul, and he acknowledged her look. "That day on the road when I picked you up, I remember seeing something blue when you were trying to fix the jeep. I thought it was lightning from the thunderhead in the distance." She held up the sphere, "but it was this, wasn't it?"
Paul was hoping to hear Scott and Ted returning, but no such luck. Still Ellen's question was not technical so he nodded his head in affirmation. "No miracle," he confessed. "I simply recharged your battery." Paul smoothly retrieved the sphere from Ellen's hand. "I think I have answered your question."
Ellen had noted Paul's glance toward the door. "Since the boys are not back yet, may I ask you something about Scott?"
"Is he like you?"
"Do you mean is he able to do what I do? Probably, but I'm not yet sure to what extent.
"I will say you seem to have adapted quite well to parenting."
"I'm working at it."
Dale was still somewhat in awe, but he wanted to get into the conversation. Not feeling quite able to break in, he finally decided he must take a first step. Since I may not get a second chance I will make the first one about what I know almost cost me my son. "What was your job?"
Paul smiled as he turned his attention to Dale. I am happy he was now beyond the initial shock and beginning to relax so I will answer his question. "I was a navigator and I made maps."
"Maps of what?"
"Of the stars in an ever expanding Universe," Paul said as though it were an everyday occurrence. "As we continued our exploration far beyond this galaxy, in the expanse of space accurate maps are a necessity."
Dale couldn't believe he was actually questioning such a being, something so many scientists would have given their eye teeth to be doing, but he was encouraged as he saw the continuing smile on Paul's face.
"But why did his mother give him up?" Ellen asked.
"She wanted him to have some kind of normal life. Fox knew she had helped me escape and apparently he had continued to watch her. After several months I guess it didn't take a mathematical genius for him to suspect the child she was carrying was mine. When I returned and decided to stay, it started all over again."
"But why?" Dale asked.
"Because for some reason he thinks we're a threat to the earth ...but we're not. Another friend quickly understood and helped us escape. She has been helping us ever since in whatever way she can. So we run from Fox to avoid arrest and whatever else your government might decide on in the name of discovery and exploration."
"How awful," Ellen stated sympathetically.
Dale thought back to what he had told Paul about the rumor of the frozen alien body. When he questioned me further about it I saw a look of repugnance on his face. I didn't think much about it then, but now it has become personal. It could happen to two living persons I consider my friends.
Paul smiled "I will confess, Fox makes searching difficult, but you shouldn't think everything has been bad. The road has also shown us good times, like the opportunity to meet all of you."
Dale asked his question in all sincerity, "Why don't you arrange to meet with Fox. Just tell him the truth?"
Paul looked at Dale sadly. "I wish it was that simple. I've been face to face with him on a couple of occasions and once I talked with him briefly. His accusations gave me the feeling his mind is made up and I believe his sole purpose in life now is to imprison or destroy us. Understand, like now, there is not much my world will allow me to tell him at this time that might convince him any differently."
Paul looked at the two sitting on the bed in front of him. "I'm going to ask you again, Ellen, like I asked Tony up there in the mountains, and you, Dale, as our friends; please tell no one about any of this because our lives literally depend on as few people as possible knowing of our existence. Your world is too full of George Fox's. Fortunately for us, he has been keeping the secret, but I'm sure his reason for silence is not on our behalf. If you ever believe we are a threat, I'm certain Fox would be happy to hear from you, however I cannot openly surrender myself or Scott to him."
Dale still remembered vividly the feeling he got from Fox during their encounter and it made him more determined than ever to help them. "We won't tell anyone," Dale stated with a certainty that could leave no question in Paul's mind.
Ellen echoed the sentiment almost simultaneously, but added her concern for her son, "but may we tell Ted something?"
"I'll leave it up to you, but keep in mind what I've just told you," Paul said apologetically, "You see, our safety depends on as few people as possible knowing."
The conversation was finally cut short with a knock at the door and Ted's plea for someone to come open it. Heaving a sigh of relief, Paul walked over and opened the door. As Ted walked over to the bed, he noticed strange looks on his parent's faces. "Hey, what goes?" he asked.
As Scott came inside, he looked at his father and received his silent 'It's done, and it's time to leave look'. He looked over at Dale and Ellen. I will miss East Wenatchee, but Dad's right. We do have to go, because life around there wouldn't be the same anymore.
Ellen, regaining her composure, assured Ted everything was all right and that she would explain when they got home. She looked at Scott and gave him a sympathetic look, appreciating the hardships he lived with.
Paul walked over to stand beside Scott. He then looked back at the family. We have enjoyed two months of peace, he thought. One of our longest, but revealing our secret establishes one fact beyond question. "It's now time for us to leave," he said simply.
"Why?" Dale and Ellen said simultaneously.
"We'll continue to help you," Dale offered. "There are so many things we still want to ask."
"That's why we can't stay. I can't answer any more questions, Dale. Again, those are the rules."
Dale gathered his thoughts once again, knowing he didn't just want to say good-bye and let them leave. "Then helping is the least we can do for what you've done for us."
"You have already gone far beyond just helping us. We have money and we're far away from Fox.
"I mean for the help you provided our family."
"We haven't done anything for you that you couldn't have done for yourself if you had opened your eyes, your mouths ...and your hearts to what was in full view. The love you now share, and the love I share with Scott is the most wonderful thing you'll ever experience. I also wish to share it with Scott's mother, but we won't find her here. That means we must leave to continue our search."
"At least stay the night," Dale offered hopefully. "The motel will bring in another bed for Ted."
Paul motioned to Scott to pick up the camera bag and the knap sack as he lifted the duffle to his shoulder. "If we stay none of us will get any rest." He opened the door then turned back again. "Dale, my friend, have you ever thought about going back to NASA? Wouldn't you be happier involved in discovering and learning?"
Dale looked at the man who had just called him 'friend' and thought of the discoveries still to be made, but for now, he realized there were other important things as well. "I want to be where my family is."
Ellen put one arm around Ted's shoulders and the other around her husband's. "We want to be where you want to be Dale, whether in East Wenatchee, Houston, California, Florida or wherever. We just want to see you happy too."
"We'll talk about it again after Ted gets out of school," Dale replied.
"Good," Paul said as he heard confirmation of Dale's acceptance of the important things.
Everyone moved to the door and an anticipated parting at the stairway but Paul stopped them at the door. "This is where we say good-bye. One thing Scott and I have learned is it's never easy, but it's best done quickly." Paul extended a hand toward Dale and they shook. When complete Paul and Scott walked through the open door and never turning back walked down the hallway to the stairs.
They made a quick stop at Ellen's car to allow Scott to say good-bye to Brutus who was guarding the unlocked vehicle. Scott put his arms around the dog and Brutus seemed to sense this was good-bye as his normally wagging tail was hanging straight down. Scott closed the car door and they walked off into the city.
The Taylor family awoke early the next morning. It was quickly decided Dale and Ted would have to fly home to maintain their cover story. That meant Ellen would have to drive back alone. She called the cousin who had been taking care of Brutus for her when Paul and Scott had first come and asked her to provide a cover story for her trip to Seattle. An ailment requiring outside help was quickly agreed upon.
After Ellen left for the long drive home, Dale and Ted met with Dale's IBM friend and his wife for breakfast. From the restaurant they went to the warehouse where Dale picked up two new computers. Dick and Mildred then dropped them off at Boeing Field in time for the flight home.
Ellen drove straight through, stopping only at a gas station. After using the restroom she decided to stretch her legs before continuing. She walked over to a group of sidewalk vendors displaying their wares. At one stand she stopped when a mountain scene caught her attention. Looking it over she glanced down the aisle where she saw another painting. Making an impetuous decision she removed the second painting and took it to the vendor who was anxiously hoping for a sale.
"Will you wrap it?" she asked. The vendor agreed. Ten minutes later she was back on the road. In another forty minutes and a short stop at the grocery store, she was driving up the hill toward the house. As she drove under the carport, she saw another vehicle parked up at the shop and two men walking her way. I think I am soon to meet the infamous George Fox, she thought nervously.
Seeing strangers Brutus instantly assumed guard duty at the window. Fox stopped short, afraid to approach too closely to the opening window. He responded in his normal manner by pulling out his billfold and displaying his identification card, but from a respectful distance. "My name is George Fox and I work for the Federal Security Agency." He backed up as she got out of the car and backed up as the ominous canine claimed a position between them. Ellen glanced at Fox's badge and the identification. Her look gave the impression she was not much impressed by its official look, then opened the back door and began wrestling her package out of the back seat.
"May I ask who you are, Miss?" Fox asked.
"Ellen Taylor, I live here."
"You're Dale Taylor's daughter?" Fox inquired, with raising eyebrows.
"I'm Dale Taylor's wife," Ellen advised a bit sarcastically.
Having mentally noted her youth compared to Taylor's surprised Fox. "Excuse me, Mrs. Taylor. I met your husband and son in Seattle yesterday."
"Ted is my step-son of almost a month," she quickly corrected.
"Have they returned yet?" Fox inquired.
Ellen glanced from the house to the parking area at the shop. "I just got here myself and since I don't see Dale's van and I'm assuming you have already checked up at the shop, I can safely say they aren't back yet."
Perhaps this is good time to check out the story Taylor gave me at Boeing Field, Fox thought. "Can you tell me what they doing in Seattle?" he asked in an almost pleasant voice.
"They were going to pick up some new units."
"Computers." She turned her head toward the shop then pointed at the Comptronics sign. "Computers are our business."
"Did they have any other business over there?"
"They were going to a professional soccer game. Both really enjoy the sport," she said, a frown appearing on her face.
"Why weren't you with them?"
"You're making me nervous, Mr. Fox. I'd like to know why you're making this sound like an inquisition. If you met them over there, why didn't you just ask Dale?"
"Just answer the question, Mrs. Taylor," Fox demanded.
"I had to help my cousins over in the Basin," she replied bluntly. "She's been sick. I think my not being home is the reason Dale decided to take Ted to Seattle."
Fox pulled out his worn photographs and showed them to her. "Do you know this man and boy?"
She gave the photos a quick glance. "Of course, that's Paul Forrester and Scott. He and Scott have been living with us and working with Dale for over two months. Originally, they were going to pick up the units in Seattle, but when Dale found out the Stars were in town he decided to take Ted to the game." She frowned deeply. "What do you want with Paul?"
"I've been looking for Mr. Forrester," Fox stated nonchalantly. "Do you happen to know where they are now?"
"I want to know what you want with them?" she demanded.
"It's a security matter and I'm not at liberty to discuss it. Would you please just answer the question?"
"Paul gave Dale notice a couple of weeks ago. He said they would be leaving today. I said my good-byes yesterday, before I left for my cousin's," she replied.
"Apparently, they left early yesterday," Fox interjected, "because somebody has been here watching for them since yesterday afternoon. Do you have any idea what made them decide to leave early?"
"I certainly can't tell you, Mr. Fox, but there's one thing I can tell you for sure. We're really going to miss them."
"So am I," Fox returned quickly, then asked innocently. "Do you have any idea of where they might be going?"
"No. Paul just said they'd be moving around again. I'm guessing he might want to get back into his own line of work. He's a photojournalist, you know."
"I'm well aware that's what he tells people," Fox replied.
"Tells people? You mean he isn't?" she asked, looking surprised. "Maybe that's why he rarely ever carried a camera with him while he was here." She thought for a long moment and could not help adding her own observation. "All I know, is he was certainly nice and I wish he would have decided to stay. I think Dale would have made him a partner."
Fox looked Ellen over with a critical eye. I wonder how the alien has affected this very pleasant, warm and apparently normal young woman. She's literally been living with an alien creature and didn't even realize there was something unusual about It? How does It manifest Its control over people to cover up Its secret? he thought. Can there be some physical evidence in all of them? If I could get some of them into the lab, could the scientists isolate something we could use to counteract the infection? Maybe I can still save the human race even if I can't catch It. He thought back to his orders. Keep things under wraps - that's what General Wade said. I just know he would never approve bringing civilians in for that kind of testing. It would raise too many questions. But, maybe, if I did it without asking him...
Fox's continuing scrutiny was making Ellen feel somewhat uncomfortable. She teased back a lock of unruly hair that was persisting in hanging in her face and looked at agent in a most serious way. Finally, she couldn't stand his gaze any longer. "Why are you looking at me like that? Do I have spinach on my teeth, or something?" she demanded.
Fox was returned abruptly from his thoughts by the forwardness of her statement. Shaking his head, he answered almost without thinking. "Maybe you can tell me, Mrs. Taylor."
Ellen frowned deeply. "Tell you what, Mr. Fox?"
Frowning once again, he said, "Forget it. When do you expect your husband back?"
"I would guess around 1:30," she replied. "The plane from Seattle gets into Pangborn about 1:00." She glanced at her watch, "that's right about now. If Dale doesn't stop off along the way, they should be here in less than a half hour."
Fox looked once again at Brutus, who was now showing a bit more interest in him than he felt comfortable with. "Would it be all right if we waited inside until your husband and son return?" he asked.
"Certainly, come on into the living room and have a seat." Carrying her package, Ellen walked up to the front door, unlocked it, and then walked inside. Brutus followed. She walked over to the fireplace, unwrapped her purchase and placed it on the mantle.
Fox admired the canvas and in an effort to keep conversation going, said, "Real nice. Something new?"
"Yes," she exclaimed, "I bought it at a sidewalk sale on the way home. It was one of those impulsive things. You know, when something just strikes your fancy and you can't say no." She shrugged her shoulders and backed a few steps to examine it from a distance. "Price was right, so..."
Fox's eyes returned to Brutus as the dog walked over to her, laid down on a rug lying in front of the fireplace, and returned his eyes to following his every movement.
Ellen walked into the kitchen then quickly returned to find Fox and Agent Wylie sitting like statutes in two separate chairs. Brutus looked up at her adoringly and then back at the two strangers. She walked toward the front door. "Would you excuse me for a moment? I need to get my groceries out of the car."
Wylie responded immediately and jumped up from his seat, "May I help you?" then froze like a statute as he saw the dog's eyes quickly move toward him.
"That would be nice, Mr. uh…"
"Wylie, Benjamin Wylie," he replied self-consciously.
Fox stood up as he thought of the prospect of being left alone in the house with the dog and followed Wylie out of the living room door to the car. Brutus, now tagging along behind, encouraged him to move rapidly.
They soon returned to the house with Wylie and Fox each carrying two grocery bags. Ellen tried to take the groceries from Fox, but he insisted they bringing them all the way into the kitchen. Fox and Wylie then returned to the living room to sit quietly again. Brutus followed until they sat again before returning to his rug.
The silence was deafening as the two men watched the dog's eyes follow their every movement while they heard the woman singing in the kitchen as she put away her groceries.
Soon Ellen stuck her head through the kitchen doorway. "Can I bring you gentlemen a cup of coffee? I'm making a fresh pot."
"Please," Fox and Wylie replied, simultaneously, thankful for any conversation, which might relax the dog.
"Do you take anything in it?" she asked.
"Just black", they echoed.
"How about a doughnut to go along with it?"
"No thank you," Fox replied.
"Yes, thank you," Wylie indicated with a smile.
"Are you sure you don't want one, Mr. Fox. They're fresh. I just picked them up at the local bakery."
"That would be nice, Mrs. Taylor," Fox replied.
Ellen turned quickly and went back into the kitchen. In about fifteen minutes she reappeared with a tray containing three cups of coffee, cream, sugar, and a plate of fresh warm doughnuts, plates and napkins.
The silence returned until Ellen looked over at Fox again, "Is there something I can help you with gentlemen? I did get to know Paul pretty well while he was here."
Fox looked at Ellen is disbelief. The enemy is actually volunteering information? He thought. Hmm, do I dare believe her? Maybe the opposite of what she says will be closer to the truth? Oh well, I guess I have nothing to lose. "Any help you might be able to give would be very much appreciated."
"Fire away," Ellen said. "I'll answer whatever I can."
"How long has Forrester been here?" Fox asked again.
"Let me think," she replied thoughtfully. "It was early April, ...the first Saturday, I believe. In fact I was coming back from my cousin's place then, too. I found them walking on the power line support road up on the plateau."
"You found them walking?" Fox inquired, his eyes widening.
"Yes. I picked them up and brought them here." Paul said he was out of money and needed a job. Dale needed somebody right away so Paul started immediately answering phones. It was soon obvious that answering phones was wasting his talent. Since then he has worked on computers."
Fox looked at her strangely. She continues to tell her experiences with the alien without hesitation and in detail, he thought. Now, she is bringing something she wants to show us.
"These are our wedding pictures," Ellen said with obvious pride. "Paul took them. He even took some timed shots so he could get into some of them. These are memories I love to share."
Then, through the living room window, Fox noticed a van drive in and park up at the shop. He glanced at his watch and surmised, by the time, that Dale Taylor and his son had just returned.
Fox excused himself and he and Wylie walked to the shop to confront them. "Good afternoon, Mister Taylor!" Fox announced as he walked up to the van. "I've been waiting for you as promised."
"Can you wait just a few minutes more, Mr. Fox? I'd like to get these boxes into the shop while I have Ted here to help."
As Fox followed Dale into the office, he noted the boxes being unloaded from the van had the IBM logo on them.
"Wasn't Paul here?" Dale asked.
"No, Mr. Taylor," Fox replied caustically. "Does that surprise you?"
"Well, yes it does." Dale returned. "He said he still had some units to work on. Maybe they're not done. I would really find that hard to believe because I've never known him not to keep his word. I better check because if they aren't done I'll have work this afternoon." Dale excused himself and walked into the shop with Fox and Wylie trailing behind.
"By George, he did get them done," Dale announced. Fox almost ran into Dale as he stopped at the bench. As he stepped back, Wylie ran into Fox then took up his normal position at Fox's shoulder. Fox looked over the various computer related items on the bench, neatly labeled with invoices attached.
"There was one thing about Paul," Dale stated simply. "He could get things done faster than even the top techs at NASA. I thought for a moment I might have to miss the game this afternoon, but, as usual, 'never fail Forrester' came through again."
"What game?" Fox snapped.
"The soccer game," Dale replied with concern, just as Ellen walked into the shop with Ted.
"Are we ready to go?" she asked. "I've got the lunch and drinks already packed."
Fox looked at her, then at Dale. "I don't think any of you will be going anywhere for a while, Mrs. Taylor. I have a lot more questions to ask your husband."
"Can't you ask them at the field," she inquired politely. "This is soccer day. It would be cruel and unusual punishment to deprive my husband and my son of their one big recreational day a week. It's Sunday, Mr. Fox. Have a heart."
"Oh, all right," Fox said begrudgingly. "We'll follow you out there. I'd like to question some of the other people who knew them, anyway. They might have an idea of where Forrester was heading."
"I know I'm sure going to miss them," Dale said contemplatively. "I thought, for a while, he might stay on with me, but Paul said something about a search for the boy's mother taking priority."
"I guess we all need to set our priorities, don't we, Mr. Taylor. I thought yours was to go play?"
"Right, and you're following us." Dale acknowledged. "I'll tell you right now, you're not going to find out anything at the game, Mr. Fox. They'll all tell you the same thing. He was always a nice guy, a good sport, and interested in people."
"I'll bet!" Fox replied, but his thoughts were now far away, once again in pursuit of the alien and the boy. A nice guy they say, but for what purpose? That's what I'm going to find out if I have to follow It to the ends of the Earth.
Dale, Ellen and Ted got into their van and headed down the driveway with the agents following. Fox was surprised when he got to the field and found so many familiar names and faces. Dean Frasier greeted him with a hearty slap on the back. He then introduced him to Jake Thompson, the air traffic controller. Tom Delaney of Red Baron Flying Service gave Fox a hearty handshake as he greeted them by name at the gate to the field; and June, the desk clerk from Jim's Air Taxi, joined Ellen in the stands, while her father went to the drawing for the day's teams.
All Fox could find out was they all liked both Paul and Scott. None had any idea of where they were going, but all expressed a personal sadness over their departure. Dale likewise provided Fox with no information other than telling him Paul was possibly heading east, the mention of which made Wylie groan out loud.
Fox and Wylie soon tired of the question and answer stalemate and joined Ellen in the stands. They watched the game with increasing interest and enjoyed the extra sandwiches and soft drinks Ellen, in anticipation, had packed in the cooler for them.
By the time they were watching the second game, Fox turned to Wylie. "I'm guessing Forrester must have seen the red flag at the Sheriff's office while working on their computer system, and bailed." Fox bid goodbye to Ellen and as he and Wylie walked back to their van he could no longer hold inside another thought. "Maybe It's been playing a game with us. Maybe It entered the information request as a tease. If that is the case, that tease almost backfired when my gut feeling had kept us here. No mind, all the chasing around we've been doing has given the alien ample time to get completely out of the state. Remaining here any longer is a waste of time. I think it's time for us to go home."
As they walked into the hotel, Wylie noticed the strangest look on Fox's. It was a look of contemplation and almost resignation.
"What's the matter, Sir?" he asked.
Fox took a deep breath, and then looked calmly at his associate. "Wylie..."
"Why is it I have this funny feeling that we've been snookered?"
The second game broke up at a quarter to seven and everybody started for home. The Taylor's parked the van in the carport and entered the house through the kitchen to Brutus's wagging tail. Ellen proceeded to empty out the cooler, putting the unused soft drinks back in the refrigerator. They then walked into the living room and Dale saw Ellen's painting. It was unique, and also fit the feeling he had now.
It was a common scene of the desert of the southwest with high red sandstone buttresses and a deep red sunset, but the outstanding feature that had made it special to Ellen was the blend of desert and stars presented by the unknown artist. The signature was merely the initials, K.I. Ellen had asked the vendor for the artist's name, but the only information available was it had come from an art dealer in Saguaro, Arizona.
This starscape reminded her of their not so common guests of two months and the changes that had been made in their lives. It would be suitably framed and would always have a special place over their mantle.