“It started out as a hanger with a few old airplanes, but it has grown over the years.”
As they walked back to the car, Jack’s phone rang. He stopped walking to take the call, then ran to catch up with them.
“That was the local FBI agent.”
“Frank Daglio,” said Bill. “I know him. He’s out of the Hartford office, but lives here, because of the airport.”
Jack nodded. “Pete gave him my number. A weird breakthrough. They got a lead on the Fab Four after they could not find any record of their having rented a car at the airport.”
“Well?” said Hilda as they buckled up.
“Frank asked Pete if they could see if any of their credit cards were used in Connecticut. It took a while to trace, but one of them rented a car in New Haven just after we saw the guy ordering kebab in West Haven. They probably drove both cars up to Bradley to leave the Saturn in long-term parking.”
“He’ll send me pictures soon. They only just talked to the rental agency in New Haven.”
They arrived at the house and went inside. It was already hot outside, so they gathered in the family room with some orange juice. As they sat down, Jack’s phone rang again with pictures of a grey Ford Taurus with Connecticut plates.
“Couldn’t be more inconspicuous,” he said.
“They probably finally realized how they stood out in the Saturn,” said Hilda.
This time her phone rang. They all watched her silently as she mouthed “Pete” and settled in to listen. Her face darkened as she made courteous noises while Pete talked.
“Bad news,” she said as she rang off. “The guys watching the Arabic social media spotted the Chicago photo going around again – this time with a story that I was no longer in Aberdeen or Charlottesville, but probably headed north. And, of course, all the faithful are to be alert and kill me if I am seen.”
“Another fatwa?” asked Jack.
“No. It’s the hate echo-chamber effect, which can be worse, because it’s so hard to turn off.”
“Anyone mentioned where you were last sighted?”
“Charlottesville. No mention of you two – yet.”
Bill spoke up. “Let me call some of my local friends in law enforcement.”
Jack held up his hand. “Just a minute, Bill. Does anyone locally have any reason to know that Hilda was coming to your house? Or me, for that matter?”
Bill though for a minute. “Well, no, now that you mention it. I don’t run into many folks lately, and I haven’t had a reason to talk about you – or Hilda.”
“Good. Let’s not spread the word that you are hosting us right now. I can talk to Frank directly, and I never told him where we are staying.”
“I see. The fewer people who know where you are, the better.”
“Right. As of now, it’s only Ted, Pete, and Greg Sprouse in Charlottesville.” He saw the question on Bill’s face. “He’s the Resident Special Agent there.” Bill nodded.
“Is it time to leapfrog?” The three adults turned in surprise at Emily’s question. They had forgotten that she was there.
“I think it may be,” said Hilda. Jack nodded. “But let’s think this thing out. We still have today – if Bill doesn’t mind.”
“You can hide here forever it you like. I can use the company.”
“No need for that, but let’s get some lunch and lay out our options.”
“Speaking of lunch,” said Emily, “don’t we have to shop for supper?”
“You’re right, Em,” said Hilda. “Let’s see what is here already and make a quick run this afternoon for what we need.”
“Let’s take my car to Geissler’s Supermarket across the river,” said Bill. “you three draw attention on your bikes.”
That settled, they repaired to Bill’s big kitchen, where they found enough lettuce and other things for a big salad with tuna on it, some fresh Italian bread, and two kinds of ice cream.
“Perfect for a hot day,” said Hilda. They dropped the subject of the phone call while they ate. Bill and Jack told a few sea stories about their tour in Germany together. Bill had been Jack’s first CO overseas, and a mentor to the young 2nd lieutenant. The stories were mainly funny ones – at Jack’s expense, even when he was telling them.
“Gosh, Jack” said Emily at one point. “You’re so cool all the time. It’s hard to picture you screwing up.”
“I was only four years older than you, Em.” He looked at Bill. “What was it you told me, about the fourth or fifth time you had to chew me out?”
“You can make every mistake in the book; just never repeat them.”
“That sounds like the bumper sticker we had, ‘OMG, not another learning experience!”
After a good laugh. Bill got up and set out the two half-gallon boxes of ice cream. Jack put out bowls while Emily found the ice cream scoops in the kitchen drawer. When everyone had topped off their bowl, Bill put the ice cream back in the freezer, then sat down. He looked at Emily.
“Is this leapfrog thing what I think it is?”
“We jump on a train and go to someplace more than a day’s drive from trouble.”
“The Vermonter and the Northeast Regional both stop here, but only the Vermonter takes bikes. It’s only 25 km to Springfield, which has checked baggage service to load the bikes.”
“That’s what we were thinking,” said Hilda. “From St. Albans, it’s only 20 or 30 kilometers to the border.”
“With the Forebears enjoying the hospitality of the Canadian government, we’re actually safer in Canada than here until the Fab Four are found.”
“The Fab Four? Are you Beatles fans?”
“Hilda called them that the other day,” said Emily. “It kind of stuck.”
Since they had to ride to Springfield anyway, they discussed going east to Boston or west to New York state, but decided to stick with the Vermonter. Jack took out his phone and got their tickets for the train.
“Good thing we booked now. There were just three hooks left for bikes.”
Next, they figured out what to fix for supper, Bill offered to pick up the shopping list, but Hilda shook her head.
“Let’s all go. You have the car. Jack is our bodyguard. Emily is very observant – she has already spotted one of them herself – and I want to see the market. We may change our minds there.”
They loaded the dishwasher and drove over the Connecticut River to the supermarket, not far from the restaurant the night before. They picked up some fresh Atlantic salmon, eggs, cream, and more greens and lettuce. Bill was pushing the cart, Hilda was doing most of the looking, with Jack helping her search, and Emily was slightly ahead of them.
Suddenly Emily came back quickly and turned Hilda around.
“They’re in the ethnic food section – all four of them!”
Hilda and Emily started moving away.
“I’ll get the tarragon. You two go back to the car.” Bill tossed Hilda the keys. “Jack, cover their rear.”
Jack eased behind them, as Bill turned into the aisle where the Fab Four were haggling over two different brands of couscous.
Out in the parking lot, Emily and Hilda looked around as they walked quickly back to Bill’s car. Emily pulled out her phone.
“Look! That’s their car!”
“Damn! Parked right next to us. That is one inconspicuous car.” Jack caught up with them, and immediately understood the situation.
“Get in. Let’s move Bill’s car around the corner.”
“I can drive.”
“I know, but I want you to duck if they come out. Em?”
“They haven’t come out yet.”
Jack backed out Bill’s car and found a spot out of sight. He called Frank Daglio while Hilda called Bill to let him know where his car was.
“Bill was in the checkout line. They’re still shopping.”
A few minutes later, Bill came around the corner and they loaded the groceries.
“I got something extra in the checkout line.” He held up an opened roll of red 3M reflective tape. “Who looks at the bottom half of the front bumper of a rental?” He grinned as he started the car.
“I wanted to let the air out of their tyres,” said Emily. “Too risky when they could come out any moment.”
“Well, now we might spot them when we know they’re busy,” said Jack.
As Bill drove out of the parking lot, two police cruisers and an “unmarked” full-sized sedan were easing into it.
“Let’s not stay to watch,” said Jack. Hilda muttered as she nodded.
As they were putting away the groceries, Jack’s phone rang. “Frank” he said as his answered it.
“Hi, Frank. Got news?” Jack listened. “Can I put you on speaker, so Hilda can hear?” He tapped the icon.
“Glad you called. Unfortunately, they were coming out just as we arrived and took off on foot. We have an APB out on them, but you never know what they might do or where they might hide.”
“But you’ve got their wheels,” said Jack.
“And their shopping cart. They’re gonna go hungry for a while.”
“I guess that’s good.”
“That’s not all. We found three rifles, two pistols and a helluva lot of ammunition in the trunk. So, unless they were packing something on their persons, we got their arsenal, too.”
“Thanks, Frank,” said Hilda. “I’m Hilda. We haven’t met, but I would sure like to thank you personally after this is over.”
“I’d like to meet you, Hilda. What are your plans now?”
“We’ll probably take a train to put some distance between us and them, then resume our bike tour.”
“That reminds me. The train goes through here six or seven times a day. I want to make sure we cover the station and get their photos to the patrol officers and the Amtrak police. Good luck, both of you.” He rang off.
“Both of you?” said Emily.
“He was probably briefed about Hilda and told that I was with him. Pete may never have mentioned you.”
“Oh, that makes sense.”
“After you all are gone, Frank is going to kill me when he finds out you were hiding here. We play golf most Saturdays.” He grinned. “Do you all need to do some laundry or take a nap?”
“Actually,” said Hilda, “we should do some laundry and some maintenance on the bikes, while we have a day off them and a garage handy.”
“And I was going to buy the groceries,” said Jack, reaching for his wallet. Bill put his hand on Jack’s.
“I don’t have much to spend my money on living alone. Let me treat.”
That afternoon, they cleaned their chains, checked cables, bolts and wheels, and pumped up their tyres. All their laundry fit in one load, so that was done before they finished with the bikes. Hilda discovered Bill’s collection of classical CD’s, so they fixed dinner while Herbert Von Karajan took the Berlin Philharmonic through Beethoven’s 8th Symphony and Sir Georg Solti led the Vienna Philharmonic in Parsifal.
“You have a beautiful voice, Hilda,” said Bill as he chopped red peppers. “Where did you learn to sing Wagner like that.”
“My mother sang in local opera and my father was her biggest fan. She taught music throughout his career and after he retired to Kaiserslautern.”
“Jack and I were stationed there.”
“I know. I grew up there but left for boot camp before you arrived.”
“Small world. But a teenager in Germany would not know the arias from Parsifal.”
Hilda smiled. “My mother keeps the house filled with arias.”
Dinner was a quiet, relaxing affair. Afterwards, Hilda borrowed Bill’s computer to check for news of the Fab Four and to scan the Arabic al-Jazeera. The Chicago picture was in a story about the arrest of Abdul and Hassan in Canada.
“Why can’t they show the other pictures of Chicago? It was gruesome enough.”
“You’re photogenic, dear. Al-Jazeera probably gets more clicks from that then from a dozen pictures of atrocities.” Jack massaged her shoulders. She had not realized how tense they were. Emily excused herself to call her mother.
“Are we ever going to get out from under this?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s the new normal; maybe it will go away; maybe there will be a new threat.”
“I’m just a nurse riding a bicycle, for God’s sake! Why me?”
“I know that you’re more than ‘just a nurse’, Hilda. When the bad guys run into you, they find out, too.”
“What do you mean?”
“You don’t run. You stand up and do what you have to. When attacked, you fight back – and usually win. How many men have you decked for making a pass?”
“I wasn’t counting.”
Jack laughed gently and rubbed harder. “Let’s check in, just in case Frank has not talked to Pete yet.”
“OK.” She got up and stretched, while they both pulled out their phones. Emily walked in as they were ringing off.
“Mom wants to talk to Hilda. I told her that we saw the four guys from Aberdeen, but that they never saw us. She still wants to talk to you.”
Hilda sighed and looked at Jack. “You’re not ‘just a nurse’, Hilda.”
She called Katherine, bracing herself for a blast of emotional angst.
“Hilda, thanks for calling.” Katherine sounded calm, like a professor considering a dissertation defense. “Emily told me that she saw the four men who were looking for you, but that they did not see any of you. I wanted to know what your take was.”
“Emily is correct, Katherine. Not only did she see them, but she got me and Jack out of the store before they could see us. Our host finished the shopping. We called the FBI, and the police were rolling in while we were driving away. Your daughter has proven herself to be very observant and quick.”
“You’re sure they haven’t seen you? How did they know to be there?”
“They didn’t. Katherine, we don’t know that they are looking for us. They just left Aberdeen before the police could question them, and now they are wanted as material witnesses, nothing more. They came here to hide their car in the long-term parking lot at the airport, because they must know by now that the police are looking for them.”
“But they got away.”
“Yes. They fled on foot. But the FBI got their rental car – and a shopping cart full of food, by the way. We’re taking the train out tomorrow, and hope to be long gone before they can move again – assuming the local police don’t find them first.”
“Where are you going?”
“Same place as always. Montréal. We should be there by the end of the week.”
“What about the two in Canada?”
“I thought Greg would brief you on that. They were arrested for stealing a car and evading arrest, so they will be behind bars for a long time – even before they are extradited to the USA.”
“Well, that’s good news. So, you think you have it under control?”
“Yes, Katherine. And let me add that Emily is a solid contributor to this team. She notices things and acts on them quickly. It’s not like chaperoning a teenager at all. You will be pleased and surprised by the capable young woman you raised.”
“Well, OK. I just wanted to hear it from you.”
“I understand.” She asked about Mark and exchanged a little small talk before ringing off.
Emily was looking at her like a puppy about to be scolded.
“Oh, Em. Get that dog-look off your face. She was fine. Worried, but OK. Any mother would want to double-check information from a teenager. She hasn’t seen you growing these last few weeks, has she?”
Emily smiled. “No. What was that about Greg Sprouse?”
“I think that you might ask when the last time Greg talked to her when you call, so that we can get a sense of what she might and might not know about the bigger picture. She did not know about Abdul and Hassan being off the street.”
“Should I have told her?”
“Not necessarily. That’s my story. Greg is supposed to let her know about that stuff. You can keep your conversations with your mother about things that happen to you.”
“I don’t want her to worry with all this stuff about the guys looking for you.”
“Thanks. Neither do I. But we don’t know that they were looking for me. All we know is that they know that the police are looking for them. They’re scared, now.”
They all turned in early. There was more excitement waiting for them ahead.
Until next time,
Smooth roads and tailwinds,