Chapter 9

Jan and Marty were a hundred ninety-one miles from Los Angeles. They had risen early, but not too early, having gotten a good night's sleep, and had been driving for a while now. They'd get into Los Angeles with plenty of time to spare.

Willy's trip had taken longer than he expected. He hadn't anticipated the truck he rented not being able to go over fifty miles per hour. He was going to have to reevaluate the company he'd rented it from. But he was here now, and it was time to go to work.

He drove down the main street of the town, and just as he saw Barney leaning against his rental car, he pressed down on his lever. The metal shrieked, causing everyone within hearing distance to turn and stare. He pulled into the wide shoulder just between the garage and the big, white house, got out of the truck with slumped shoulders and a frustrated expression, and crawled under the front of the truck. Barney had seen him, he made sure.

A man came striding over from the garage and leaned against the cab. "I'd say y'all got some trouble."

Willy had a wrench at work under the cab. Yesterday he and Barney had created a mechanical problem he could activate instantly and either make worse, if he needed more time, or fix quickly, if he needed to leave. It also had to look real in case someone, like this mechanic, insisted on helping.

"Yeah, I sure have," he said laconically. "It's happened twice in the last hundred miles."

"Well, we got a tow to the next town. You want me to call?"

Absolutely not. "Never mind. I don't have the kind of money they'd ask for anyway. I can fix it."

"Wa'al, you need anything at all you just holler out, hear?"

"OK, yeah."

"Alright." The man walked away.

When he was completely out of the way, Willy pulled out his pocketknife and used it to cut a tear in his jacket, then took a little bottle out of his pocket. It was full of a thick, viscous red fluid that looked more like ketchup than anything in the bottle, but when he poured it over his forearm it looked like nothing so much as blood, lots of it. He tucked the bottle and knife into a hidden compartment under the truck.

Barney, leaning in a highly bored attitude against the long, black car, heard a crash of metal from under Willy's truck and Willy's voice cry out in pain. He shoved off from the car and bolted down the driveway toward the truck as Willy inched out from under it and leaned against the cab, clutching his arm and trembling. The garage man was hurrying back over, so Barney quickly made as though to support Willy and said, "That's a bad cut. You're going to need stitches."

"Where's the nearest doctor?" Willy gasped as Williams ran up to them.

"You guys are lucky, I tell ya, buddy. He's in there." He nodded toward the house. "Outside of him they ain't one for fifty miles. I'll take him in."

"It's alright," Barney said, looking highly competent. "I can handle it." And Willy sagged against him so that he had no choice but to be the helpful one and leave Williams behind. "Come on. Come on." He led Willy down the driveway.

Cinnamon was still holding Jim's hand, looking like she could sit there all day as the frightened, devoted wife, while Rollin let himself be nervous, pacing up and down the room, picking up the newspaper, putting it down again, looking out of the window, every once in a while saying in an overly loud, frustrated voice, "Why isn't that specialist here yet?" Liz kept trying to soothe him down.

Finally he heard a horrendous noise outside and the sound of a large vehicle. Like anyone would, he went to the window and looked out in time to see a white semi-truck pull up nearby and, one of the most wonderful sights in the world, Willy get out. He watched a minute, like anyone would, then let the curtain drop with an irritable sigh.

Cinnamon looked up at him. "Rollin, I'm so glad you're here. I don't know if I could do all this without you."

That was his cue. He went over to her and put his hand on her shoulder. "I'll handle all the details with the doctor. Don't worry about anything."

She nodded brokenly. He squeezed her shoulder and turned and went downstairs. The doctor was at his desk, as always.

"Do you think that specialist is going to get here any time soon?" he asked plaintively.

"I just heard that he's in the air now. He'll be landing in Las Vegas soon and then driving down here. It won't be more than a couple of hours."

Rollin sank down on the sofa and put his head in his hands. "I—I can't bear this."

The doctor sat down next to him and put a sympathetic hand on his shoulder. "How long have you known Mr. Phelps?"

"Several years. I've known his wife longer. She and my sister were good friends. And then she married Phelps, and he and I became friends instantly. The same sort of people, you know?"

Doc nodded gently. "Yeah, I know. I got some friends like that. I only hope the other doctor gets here on time."

"He does look pretty bad, doesn't he?" Rollin sighed, thinking his opponent's impression of a hearted doctor trying to give hope where there is none was slightly ineffectual, and that, too, was purposeful. "Well, if the worst should happen—"

He was interrupted by two sets of footsteps and the sight of the chauffeur in his uniform nearly carrying a very tall man with blood dripping down his arm.

"Oh! What have we here?" Doc exclaimed. He hurried toward them. "Let's have a look."

Rollin rose after him and struck him sharply across the back of the neck. Willy caught him as he fell, gave a quick nod, and Rollin and Barney rushed upstairs.

After Rollin left the room, Cinnamon sat still for a few moments, stroking Jim's hand. A sideways glance at Liz showed her deep in her book. That's no way to keep watch, Cinnamon thought contemptuously. Are you a complete amateur?

She leaned down and picked up her purse, rummaged inside, found her handkerchief, and used it to wipe her eyes with a few sniffles. Liz glanced up with a halfway sympathetic smile and returned to her book. Cinnamon, contemptuously again, pulled a tiny bottle out of her purse, opened it, and held it ready. Downstairs her quick ears caught a hint of Rollin's voice. Then Barney's. Then rapid footsteps on the stairs. Liz rose from her chair as the door opened; Cinnamon dashed liquid from the bottle onto her handkerchief, bolted up out of her chair, and clapped her handkerchief over Liz's nose and mouth before the young woman could do anything but start forward in protest. She held her hard as she struggled, and Barney hurried forward to help, while Rollin went over to Jim's bedside.

Jim could see little, but he could hear the struggle. Lying and being unable to do anything hour after hour was the hardest thing he had ever had to do. He'd been imprisoned before, sometimes not even on purpose, but it was nothing to being imprisoned in his own body. But Cinnamon had come, and now here was Barney, and Willy was sure to be near. Cinnamon had been talking to him about "Baby Willy," who loved trucks, which was not hard to read between the lines.

The sounds of struggle soon ceased, and there was the sound of the creak of the springs of the cot against the wall where Liz had spent the night. He guessed she was going to be spending a little more time there. Rollin's face appeared over him.

"Jim, we've taken over the house. Are you alright?"

Yes, he said.


He could see Barney come close and approach the window.

"Jim, we haven't got time for questions and answers, so we're going to use Morse Code, OK?"


"Let's start." Rollin pulled out a small notebook and sat down in Cinnamon's chair.

Jim began laboriously blinking out everything he had seen, heard, and deducted over the last two days. If only he could move his eyelids faster! This was going to take forever.

Jan and Marty had reached Los Angeles. They would be at the Park Regent Hotel in half an hour.