The sun was already warming the sand and the picnic table as Jack, Hilda and Emily finished their breakfast. Less than an hour later they were buying their tickets for the hydrofoil ferry to Manhattan.
Jack pulled out his phone. “I’m sending these photos from Ted to you two. We should memorize their faces. If our paths cross, we need to spot them first.”
“But don’t they know what we look like?” asked Emily.
“No. They may have seen Hilda’s Chicago picture, but that’s it. Only Abdul and Hassan have actually seen her from a distance, and they have not met you or me.”
The ferry crew opened the gates. The cyclists joined the crowd of commuters boarding and were directed to an open deck area, where they stood with their bikes. Emily looked at the scene with excitement. She saw the expressionless faces of Jack and Hilda and remembered to scan the crowd more deliberately.
She had never been on a hydrofoil before. The speed was exhilarating as the craft cut a straight wake across the Lower Bay. In 38 minutes, they were tying up to the South Street pier. Hilda was the expert now, having ridden in New York City more than Jack.
“City riding, now,” said Hilda. “there are bike lanes all the way to the East River Park. I’ll take point. Jack, you cover the rear.”
Jack gave her a casual salute and a grin. He mounted his bike smoothly and fell in behind Emily. Hilda led them quickly along the East River on FDR Drive, tending to ride the edge of the bike lane to have room to move right if a driver became aggressive. Emily noticed that the cars would ease into the bike lane from sheer traffic pressure if the bicyclists did not occupy it. They kept moving faster than the cars and were soon buying tickets for the East River ferry to Brooklyn. The ferry even had bike racks inside. They could look at the people and the sights. No point in sitting down. They wanted to keep close to their steeds and their panniers.
“I’ve never seen so many people and so much traffic,” Emily said as the ferry backed out and sped toward the South Williamsburg ferry pier.
“Funny, though,” said Hilda. “Thanks to Mayor Bloomberg, I feel safer riding in New York than almost any other city in North America. They have sidewalks for the pedestrians, lanes and paths for the bikes, and roads for the cars. Everybody can get where they are going without hitting one another.”
“I thought the little stop lights for bikes were cute.”
“We’re getting them in more and more American cities now. We just haven’t been to any of those yet.”
In Brooklyn, Hilda led them on Kent Avenue to 5th Street and out Grand Avenue to Route 25. Past Mineola, the neighbourhoods began to look less urban. By Hicksville, there were more trees and gardens. They picked up some ready-made sandwiches in Hauppage and ate them with some orange juice while waiting for the ferry in Port Jefferson. The 1:45 p.m. ferry left them in Bridgeport at 3 p.m.
“It’s only 30 km to New Haven and 71 to Hammonassett Beach,” said Hilda. “Do we go for the long one or make two easy days?”
“It’s hilly on the coast here, compared to the Eastern Shore,” said Jack. “And the wind is still easterly until the day after tomorrow.”
“I feel OK, but I will go with whatever you guys want.”
“Let’s break it up,” said Hilda. “It’s more scenic, and we might want to take it slower.” With nods from the other two, she pulled out her phone and booked two rooms at the Econolodge in West Haven. An hour later, they were enjoying leisurely showers and a change of clothes. The bicycle kits were drying in the showers. Emily came over to the adults’ room.
“Wow. Hot date tonight?” said Jack.
Emily giggled. “Mom wants a photo of the dress, remember? Would you take it, please?” She gave Jack her phone, then struck a few poses for him, with and without the jacket.
“You really do look great in that dress, Em,” said Hilda.
“Thanks. It makes me feel – I don’t know – more grown up maybe.”
“It does that,” said Jack. “Do I need to find a tie for tonight?”
“No.” Emily laughed. “I want to change back into my skirt and blouse, unless you two have plans for something fancy.”
“Nothing that we could not wear our bike kits into. But we’ll look for something better than fast food, OK?”
“Sure. I’ll be right back.”
The wind had died down, making the early evening ideal for a walk. Less than a mile along Highland Street from their motel, they found the Saray Turkish Restaurant. It was still a little early, so they walked south to Elm Street, where they found the Ward-Heitmann House Museum (closed for foundation work). Elm Street led to the West River, where they stopped before turning back.
“We’ll come back this way tomorrow,” said Hilda. “This bridge is how we get past New Haven without dealing with Interstate 95. We’ll hug the coast all the way to Hammonassett.”
The restaurant was empty when they got back. They chose a table near the rear exit to the parking lot. Jack and Hilda sat facing the main entrance. The place began to fill as they considered the menu.
“I don’t know what to order. It all looks so good,” Emily said.
“Would you like us to order?” Hilda asked. Emily nodded. Jack and Hilda conferred briefly, then decided on a meze appetizer dish to share, sulu köfte soup, and alinazik. The waiter seemed pleased with their choices. The dinner was delicious. Jack and Hilda seemed visibly relaxed in the atmosphere of Turkish music and Mediterranean cuisine.
“How do you know so much about Turkish cooking?” Emily asked Hilda.
“I’m half-German, you know. Turks are the largest ethnic group in Germany, and Turkish restaurants are everywhere.”
They were just paying the bill when Emily leaned over and whispered urgently to Hilda. “Hilda, slide down and make like you’re picking something up. One of those guys in the photos just walked in the back door.” Hilda did not hesitate, and instantly made herself look much shorter. She turned away from the main area of the restaurant, so her face would not show. Jack dropped his napkin and sneaked a look picking it up.
“Good girl, Em. Try not to stare, but let us know what he’s doing.”
“He’s talking to one of waiters, but I can’t understand it.”
“I can,” said Hilda, still looking down and away. “They’re speaking Arabic. The guy is asking if he can get something to go.”
“The waiter just went into the kitchen.”
Jack continued to sip his water. Hilda avoided looking back but slid slowly until she was kneeling under the table. From the top, she looked slightly shorter than Emily. She carefully eased her ponytail under the collar of her jacket and looked out the window. The sun had set, but there was still too much outside light to see reflections in the restaurant.
“The waiter is back with a big bag. The guy has paid the bill and is leaving now.”
“Did he look around?” asked Jack.
“No, but he got his cigarettes out when the waiter came out and had one in his mouth ready to light as he left. He seemed in a hurry.”
“Can I get up now?” Hilda asked.
Jack got up and looked out the windows to the parking lot. “Ease up, Hilda, while I make a run to the restroom and do a reconnaissance.”
Hilda rose back up to the seat slowly so as not to attract attention. She looked out her side of the restaurant.
“Nothing moving out there.”
Jack returned. “I checked to see if their car was there, but it wasn’t.”
“Or they’ve changed cars,” said Hilda.
“Or the guy is walking back to wherever they are,” said Emily.
“Let’s give him a few minutes before we leave,” said Jack. “Em, that was fantastic. Can you tell me which one it was?”
Emily got out her phone and brought up the photos. She pointed to one.
“Thanks. When we get back to the motel, I’ll call this in.”
“Jack, should we have the car description, too?” Emily asked.
“Absolutely. I should have thought of that.” He pulled his phone out and forwarded the email from Ted describing the eggplant-coloured 2009 Saturn Astra and the Maryland license plates. Hilda and Emily’s phones dinged. They both studied the email.
“Let’s go, Jack” said Hilda. “I can’t make myself look shorter walking home. Let’s hope we see them first if they’re out there smoking or goofing off.”
Jack walked out first and held the door, while he scanned the street before Emily and Hilda walked through. They walked quickly back to the motel, Jack on the street side, Emily in the middle and Hilda away from the street. There did not appear to be anyone on the street and no sign of the Saturn. Three pickup trucks drove by, with lone middle-aged white men driving them.
Inside the motel room, Jack called Ted while Hilda called Pete Sayfield. Emily considered calling her mother but sent an email with the pictures of the dress instead. She chose not to mention what happened at the restaurant.
When they rang off, Hilda said, “the Connecticut State Police have an APB out for the four men and the Saturn Astra.” She turned to Emily. “You were awesome tonight. That was a perfect call, and the right reaction – asking me to get down.”
“Thanks. I’m glad Jack had us study those photos.”
“That was important, but your reaction is what allowed Hilda and me not to draw attention to ourselves by turning around to check on him. Well done.”
Emily blushed. She was more pleased than embarrassed, and feeling a little scared. “Will we have to change our plans now?” She looked at Hilda.
“I don’t think so. The coast road has great visibility. It would be hard to set up an ambush, and we should be able to spot an old eggplant Saturn. There are not that many of them around anymore.”
“If he never looked our way, we might be safe. Did he seem chummy with the waiter?”
“Not particularly,” said Emily. “They looked awkward at first.”
“He tried his English first,” said Hilda, “then found out that the waiter understood Arabic. He only placed the order for four döner kebab dinners with rice and thanked the waiter after counting the cash for the dinners.”
Jack said, “that makes it pretty clear that he didn’t know the waiter. I think that we should be safe for now.”
“What if they try to run us off the road?”
“Bad for us and bad for them. They’d be unlikely to take out all three of us. The survivor would recognize them and dial 911. Right?”
Emily realized that he was referring to her. Wide-eyed, she nodded. “I hope so.”
“We don’t know why they are here. They might be on their way to wherever, and they are not looking for us.” Jack filled a glass of water from the sink. “Even if they are, I don’t think that they have found us.”
“But we are definitely inside their one-day search radius now,” said Hilda.
“Do you want to leapfrog?” Jack asked Hilda.
“Leapfrog?” Emily asked.
“Jump on a train and go far away in a different direction.”
“Let’s see what tomorrow brings,” said Hilda. “I have a good feeling about this.”
Emily stood to leave.
“Not so fast, Em,” said Jack. “What else did you observe tonight?”
Emily sat down and thought for a minute. “There were three waiters, one looked Turkish or Middle Eastern, but the other two looked Hispanic to me. The lady at the cash register just died her hair at home, probably in a hurry. There were 18 men and 12 women in the room and the nearest man was our person of interest tonight, when it wasn’t our waiter.”
“Impressive. You are learning well. What’s with the dye job?”
“She had dye on her scalp and a little trickle that seeped out beyond her hairline. A real rush job. Which makes me wonder, Hilda. Don’t you colour your hair? I mean, you’re over 40, aren’t you?”
“Just barely 40, Em. I’m lucky I got my father’s colouring. His hasn’t turned grey yet either. I don’t plan to hide it when it comes. It looks good on my mother.”
“Another thing I like about her,” said Jack.
Emily yawned. “Did we just go through three states today?”
“We did,” said Hilda. “And I’m coming down from that little excitement at the restaurant.”
Emily got up again and hugged them both. “Good night, y’all.”
“G’night, Em. We don’t have to leave early tomorrow. Breakfast at eight?
“OK. See ya.” She was asleep in her bed 15 minutes later. This time she remembered to draw the drapes.
“Are you sleepy?” Jack asked as he climbed into bed.
“Not sleepy.” Hilda slid her arm under his head.
“I wondered if you need to take your mind off things.”
“I think I do.” She lifted herself over him…
Until next time
Smooth roads and tailwinds,