“Done. We have a room on the west bank of the White River, across from downtown.”
Hilda shoved their trash into the recycle bin. “Expensive?”
“More than the only hostel in town, but not much more. The main thing is that we don’t have to worry about where to stay, and the motel desk will be open.”
The ride from Prophetown State Park had been longer than expected, and they still had at least two hours of riding from Lebanon to Indianapolis. With the days getting shorter now, they would arrive just after sundown. Hilda turned on her phone to see if there were any calls or emails waiting. She always did this as they were about to leave a place, so that they would not be there if anyone were looking for her phone.
“Oh-oh,” she said. “Three calls from the FBI Field Office in Chicago, all in the last hour.”
“Give me the number, and call them back on my phone.” Hilda dictated the number and powered down her phone. She took Jack’s phone as it was ringing.
“Federal Bureau of Investigation, Chicago Field Office. How may I direct your call?”
“This is Hilda Paisley. I have three calls in my mailbox from you.”
“One moment please.”
Hilda sighed, expecting the usual long wait while the receptionist looked for whoever wanted to speak to her. A male voice surprised her in less than ten seconds.
“This is Special Agent Norman. My partner and I interviewed you the other day.”
“Yes. I remember. What can I do for you?”
“It’s what we can do for you, Miss Paisley.”
“Hilda, please. You’re Mike, right?”
“That’s right, Miss – Hilda. Anyway, I’m afraid I have some bad news for you.”
“Related to the six arrests I saw on the news?”
“Yes. We have intelligence that a terrorist organization may be targeting you.”
“Let me guess. The Forebears of the Mahdi.”
“That’s classified! How did you know that?”
“The Chicago Tribune. Page 1, the day after I left town.”
“Oh.” Hilda could hear his embarrassment. “Why are you not answering your phone?”
“Because of that photo and the report of my involvement leading to the arrests. Let me guess again. The Forebears have a contract out on me.”
“Something like that. It’s some kind of fatwa.”
“Oh, great. That’s worse.”
“We have been looking for your since we got the intelligence this morning, to arrange protection.”
“Do you know where I am?”
“Good. Please give me a cell phone number where I can call you to check in. I am sure that the Field Office is tapped.”
“Please, Mike, you know better.” She let the silence linger. Agent Norman gave her his cell number. “Thanks, Mike. I’ll call you when I get into town tonight.”
“Where – “
Hilda turned off the phone.
“Sorry about that, Jack.” She briefed him on the call as he powered up his phone and returned it to its holder.
Thanks to an easy downhill on the Lafayette Road bike trail, they pulled up outside the motel while the sun was still an angry ball behind the building. They could see a supermarket across the street, and a family-style restaurant next to that. Good location for a couple of days in the big city.
After checking in and arranging to lock their bikes in the motel storage room, Hilda considered calling Agent Norman back.
“I’m wondering whether to use your phone again, the motel phone, or a pay phone,” she said.
“I have an idea.” Jack pulled his wallet from his pannier and dug out a plastic card. “Use my AT&T calling card. I haven’t used it since I got a smartphone, but the account is still active. It’s only a penny a minute nationwide.”
“Thanks.” She took the card and walked to the lobby. This place was cheap enough to still have guests who used pay phones. She called Agent Norman’s cell number.
“Hello, Mike. We’re here, and I don’t think that this phone is on anyone’s radar.”
“M – Hilda, why did you hang up on me?”
“It should be obvious. I have to stay off the grid until I am no longer interesting. With a fatwa on me, that could be a long time. I may be here for a couple of days.”
“What’s a fatwa?”
“Think of it as a kind of religious curse. Any believer who kills me gets max brownie points – maybe even a go-straight-to-Paradise ticket. Even better than plenary indulgences in the Catholic Church.”
“No money involved?”
“Not directly. In addition to the professionals and the jihadists, I’ll have the one-off crazies looking for me.”
“Where are you now?”
“Come on, Mike. Right now my safety depends on not being found. If you want a longer conversation, or if you have news, e-mail me the names and phone numbers of some of your colleagues east of Chicago. I’ll check in with them so you’ll know where I am.”
“Hilda, this is crazy. I didn’t know you were so paranoid.”
“Ever dealt with the Forebears, Mike?”
“I have treated their victims and dodged more than one of their bullets already. But none were as personal as this. Trust me, I’m not paranoid. If you can tell me where I am when I check in, I will know that they will probably find me soon, too. Then we can discuss protection.” She hung up. 25 seconds. With Agent Norman on a cell phone, and her on a landline, they probably could not run an interstate trace in that time.
“Aren’t you being a little rough on him?” Jack asked as she turned away from the phone.
“Maybe, but I feel safer out here with you than in any kind of protection program – until this won’t work, of course.”
“I mean the way you talk to him. From what you told me about him, he can’t be many months out of the Academy.”
“Actually, he’s relatively senior, but he has never been posted outside the Midwest. He doesn’t really understand what we’re up against.
“Why the first names?”
“Guys like that lean on their titles like some doctors. This keeps the conversation at eye level. I know he doesn’t like it, but there’s not a thing that he can do about it. And I have to keep the conversation short, so I can’t make nice talk before I hang up.”
“It just sounds like you’re antagonizing him.”
“I might be, but I don’t think that it will be a problem. During the interviews, he got used to the first names and seemed to enjoy the less formal atmosphere. After I check in a couple more times, he’ll know that I won’t disappear on him.”
Jack and Hilda walked across the street to buy breakfast to have in the room: muesli, yoghurt, and a pint of raspberries. They split a half-gallon of orange juice in the room to replenish their body fluids. Then they showered, changed, and walked to the restaurant for supper. It turned out to be locally-owned by a Greek couple. The other patrons were having pizza, but Hilda had moussaka, while Jack ordered a souvlaki plate. That pleased the owner so much that he brought out a complimentary glass of red aresinato wine for them. The leisurely dinner, chatting with the owner and his wife did much to ease the tension Hilda was feeling about her situation.
“So, where to in the big city?” Jack asked as their sipped the last of their wine and drank water. “You were talking about the Zoo and the Museum of Art.”
“Let’s do both. There’s a bike trail that passes right in front of the zoo and the Museum.”
After dinner, they walked down to the river.
“It’s hard to make a river scenic running through a big city,” said Hilda.
They found an empty bench. Jack put his arm around Hilda’s shoulders and she snuggled in. It was noticeably colder now that the sun had set for a while.
“Let’s enjoy Indianapolis,” she said. “I am afraid that as soon as I need to draw some cash from an ATM, the Feds will locate me. I never mentioned that I was on a bike, but it should not take them long to figure that out and draw a radius of our max travel.”
“We could throw them some curves.” Jack wiggled his eyebrows, then grinned. Hilda smiled at his boyish enthusiasm.
“How can a guy who’s been through what you have act like this is a game?”
“It’s that, or let depression and PTSD take over.”
“Good point. What kind of curves?”
“We could get on a train or a Greyhound and leapfrog North or South of here. Norman knows we’re going east. I’ll bet they’ll check airports and rental cars before they think of Amtrak or the bus.”
“Step it up. We ride to a small stop on the line we want and get on there. I make a withdrawal in a big town, but we get on a train the same day and go in a completely different direction.”
“Getting off in a small town again.”
They walked back to the hotel and checked Amtrak and Greyhound routes. Jack got tickets to the Zoo and the Museum before they turned in.
Until next time.
Smooth roads and tailwinds,