Vermont

“Don’t you just love small towns?” said Bill, as passed the local paper to them over breakfast. The Hartford Courant ran an article in the “Courant Community” about the police response to the supermarket, with a photo of the police cruisers outside, and full descriptions of the Fab Four. “I also got an alert on the Patch, which is a local on-line newspaper. These guys won’t have anywhere to hide.”

“I’ll still be glad to be on that train this afternoon,” said Hilda. “No reflection on the hospitality. Bill, you’ve been a lifesaver – literally.”

Bill nodded and smiled. “Least I could do for this young guy who keeps getting into trouble.” He slapped Jack gently on the shoulder.

Bill insisted on following them in his car to Springfield. They could hardly refuse, not knowing where the Fab Four might be.

Riding through Enfield, Emily shouted, “Look! Legos! I didn’t know they were here.”

Before they knew it, they were riding into Massachusetts. Longmeadow was a pretty town in the idyllic way of a Rockwell painting. Springfield lay just beyond it.

While waiting on the platform, Jack got confirmation from a WarmShowers host just north of the Amtrak station in Saint Albans. When the Vermonter pulled in, they walked their bikes to the baggage car and passed them up to the baggage car attendant, who hung them on hooks near the door.

They found their seats as the train began to move. Jack excused himself to go to the restroom. Emily sat by the window. Hilda stood up to secure the flap on her pannier better.

Emily gasped. Hilda followed her gaze and found herself looking at man the who had bought takeaway in West Haven. He stopped, and recognition flashed across his face. He began running from the end of the car toward Hilda, pulling out a large knife. A passenger screamed.

The scene switched into slow-motion. Hilda saw him raise the knife and realized that he was going to try a deep stab at her upper body. She ducked to the floor, pushing herself into him and coming up under him with her hands on his scrotum. Using his forward momentum, she lifted him off his feet and let him fly over her, crashing to the deck, his head resting under one of the aisle seats. She heard the knife clatter to the floor but did not see it. She flipped around and knelt on his back to hold him down, but he did not move. Jack came running from the other end of the car. A conductor hurried up behind him.

“I think he’s unconscious,” she said.

Jack knelt down and felt his neck. “He’s alive and his pulse is strong.” He looked up. “Hilda! You’re bleeding.”

Hilda looked down at the long cut on her left arm, which had not begun to hurt yet. She looked at the conductor. “Do you have Amtrak police on the train?”

The conductor, a young woman with terrified eyes, suddenly came to and called into her radio. “They’re in the café car and they’re on their way.”

“Thanks. Jack, call Pete and Frank.” Jack already had his phone out. She reached down and checked the man for injuries. Then she leaned over him and whispered into his ear in Arabic. He stirred slightly and opened his eyes. Hilda pulled his hands back behind him, never letting him move.

“He’s not hurt seriously. I can hold him down for now.”

The two Amtrak police arrived. One was a burly man of about forty, the other a thirty-something woman. The man spoke first.

“What the –“

Jack closed his phone and showed them his identification.

“Military Police?” said the older police officer.

“Yes. This man is wanted as a material witness in an attempted murder in Maryland. His three companions are probably on the train. Major Paisley here is their target, and she is a combat nurse. She can take care of him – and herself.”

“But it looks like she assaulted him.”

“Nope. He attacked her, to his eternal regret. I just alerted the FBI. They will have people at the next stop to take custody of all four. Here are the photos of the other three.” He showed them his phone.

“We have an APB on them,” said the woman.

“You go forward, and I’ll go to the rear,” said the man.

“If I may suggest something,” said Jack, “you might want to go together.”

The conductor spoke up. “I came from the rear, and I did not see them.”

The two police officers headed to the front of the train, the man talking into his radio. Jack turned to Hilda.

“Are you OK?”

“If I weren’t wearing a bicycle kit, I’d have ruined another shirt. Can you get my pannier down? There’s a first aid kit in it.”

Jack reached up and handed the pannier to Emily, who set it on Hilda’s seat and opened it. The first aid kit was near the top. Hilda motioned to Jack and traded places. Emily took a paper napkin that was in the pocket in front of her seat and reached under the seat.

“Do you want this?” She was holding the knife.

“Good for you, Em,” said Jack. “Ease that into the seat pocket without touching it. We’ll turn it in with Hamid here.”

Hilda took out the bandages. Emily helped her wrap her arm. Jack noticed a bungee cord in the pannier and used it to handcuff Hamid, who glared at him, but seemed seriously cowed by Hilda’s fierce blue eyes.

The train pulled into Holyoke and stopped. Emily saw dozens of police cars, and a SWAT truck at the little station. The head conductor made an announcement that passengers would please wait while the police completed their activity. Emily saw the other three men being escorted in handcuffs down the platform, just as three officers and a man in a suit came into their car. The man in the suit pulled out his credential pack.

“Major Rathburn?” Jack nodded. “And you must be Hilda – Major Paisley.” Hilda smiled and nodded. “I’m Frank Daglio. Very pleased to meet you after all.”

“And this is Hamid al-Mansour,” said Jack. “I don’t know about the other three yet.”

“They’re coming down the platform now,” said Emily, “in handcuffs.”

Jack shook his head and grinned. “She always sees them first, doesn’t she?”

Agent Daglio motioned to the two officers, who produced proper handcuffs, and bound Hamid, after taking photos of him on the floor and of Hilda’s wound. After bagging Hamid’s knife, they led him away. The conductor made an announcement that passengers could now debark.

“We’re going to need statements,” said Frank, “and you should have that wound checked.”

“It’s shallow and already clotted,” said Hilda. “Is there any way that I can avoid being in the same town with those four?”

“Let me work on that.” He pulled out his phone and called the SAC in Hartford. After some back and forth, he rang off. He looked at the conductor waiting by the door and motioned for her to let the train move on.

“I can take your statements on the way. The Bureau will send a car to take me back to Holyoke.”

“Thank you, Agent Daglio,” said Jack. “You didn’t have to do this.”

“I know,” Frank smiled, “but I did not know that I would be riding the Vermonter with a celebrity.” He put out his hand to Emily. “Frank Daglio, amateur racer and serious fan. Emily Hampstead, isn’t it?”

Emily blushed and shook his hand. Hilda mock-rolled her eyes, and Jack laughed. “Not again.”

“My fiancée will be totally blown away when I tell her about meeting you, Emily.”

“Who’s that?”

“Marian Van der Fleet.”

“Cornell University. She was ahead of me in the Tidewater Classic.”

“That’s the one. She came home talking of nothing except the teenager on the podium with her.” He smiled. “We looked up all the video we could on you after that. It looks like you have recovered from your crash. That was awful.”

“Officially recovered, but I can’t compete yet. That’s why we’re touring this summer.”

Frank suggested that they move into Business Class, which had lots of room. They set up at the end of the car out of earshot of the other passengers. Some were shocked at the appearance of the three cyclists, one blood-stained, but soon everyone was ignoring them. Frank recorded their statements on his phone. He reminded them to stay in touch, because they might have to return if the case were to go to trial. Then they went back to their regular seats. Frank got off in Brattleboro, after taking photos with Emily to send to his fiancée.

“What did you murmur into Hamid’s ear?” Jack asked when the train started moving again. “I recognized some words, but not much.”

“I told him that I was the blue-eyed djinn that his imam warned him about, and that I would be waiting for him instead of the virgins in paradise if he did not mend his ways.”

“Omigod, that’s awesome, Hilda!” said Emily. Jack laughed until the tears ran.

It was dark when they pulled into Saint Albans, Vermont. Their host was a retired railroad engineer who liked riding the rail-trails and hosting cyclists coming through. Hilda and Emily were able to wash the blood out of their clothes and dress Hilda’s wound again. They checked in and learned that the incident on the train was already national news. The only video was taken as the four men were bundled into police cruisers. Ted and Pete complimented Hilda on her taking down Hamid. When they rang off, Emily was holding her phone out to Hilda.

“Mom wants to talk to you. I told her that we knew about the four men on the train, and that it was our train. She said that your takedown is going viral on the internet.” Hilda sighed and took the phone.

“Hello, Katharine.”

“Facebook is full of pictures of you kneeling on one of those four men arrested in Holyoke. What the hell is going on up there?”

“They boarded in Windsor Locks; we boarded in Springfield because of the bicycles.”

“So they were looking for you.” Katharine’s voice was rising as she struggled to keep calm.

“No. They weren’t looking for us; they were trying to escape from Windsor Locks. One of them went for a walk, maybe to go to the café car. He recognized me, but he was completely surprised. He rushed me, and I put him down.”

“Just like that?”

“Just like that, Katharine. Emily warned me, so I had the whole length of the car to get ready for him when he started running at me.”

“Omigod. And what if Emily hadn’t warned you?”

“It might have been more of a struggle, but he was an amateur, not a trained fighter. And Jack came down the aisle just at that moment. Hamid – that’s his name – could not have subdued us both, even armed.”

“But now they know where you are.”

“It doesn’t help them. Those four are in jail; so are the two Forebears in Canada. Right now, we don’t have anyone that we know of looking for us.” She could hear Katharine breathing into the phone. She waited.

“I guess that’s a relief.”

“Yes. Has Greg been briefing you?”

“He told us that Emily was in Windsor Locks, and he told us about the scene at the supermarket.”

“Good. We’ll be crossing into Canada tomorrow. If you don’t mind, we’ll call about every three days. It costs more to call home, so we’ll take turns. We’ll call Ted Tinsley in Aberdeen or Pete Sayfield in Baltimore each day; whoever we call should call the others, including Greg. Emily will call every third day at least – or if she gets bored with us.”

“She’s having too much fun for that, I think. Will your phones ring if we call?”

“Yes. And we’ll call you regardless, if something important happens.”

“OK, then. Let’s hope we don’t see you on the news any more.”

“We hope so, too. Give my best to Mark.”

“Will do. Thanks.” She rang off. Hilda returned the phone to Emily.

On their host’s recommendation, they changed their plan to ride straight to Montréal. Instead, the next day, they rode the Missisquoi Valley Rail Trail some 45 km to Richford on the Canadian border. They climbed a steep ridge out of Saint Albans overlooking the Missisquoi River and plunged to the rail-trail. It took them on a gentle climb through the hills of northern Vermont, cutting through breathtaking valleys and around imposing hills. They arrived in Richford about 10:30 and stopped for a snack. After making sure that they had their passports in their pockets and that their phones were on the international plans that they expected them to be, they took the Richford Road towards Frelighsburg in Québec. The road climbed sharply to the border north of town.

The Border Patrol waved them through, but Canadian Border Services Agent did not look happy to see them, especially Hilda. He scanned their passports very carefully. Then he asked Hilda, “Where are you from originally, Ms. Paisley?” His French accent was soft, but distinct.

Hilda looked at his nameplate: Jean-Louis Bertrand. Allemagne, monsieur.” His face cleared to something less hostile.

Mais comment êtes-vous américaine?”

Par mon père, qui était en service OTAN.”

Bien donc. Passez.” He returned her passport.

They crossed into Canada before noon. From there, a dizzying downhill run put them on the plain that sloped gently toward the Saint Lawrence River. They had lunch in Frelighsburg, by an organic produce store with a delicatessen, where they bought sandwiches made with the local Oca cheese, arugula and tomatoes.

“I’m in heaven,” said Hilda. “Real bread.”

“These are delicious,” said Emily.

“Bad food is against the law in Québec,” said Jack.

“Why did the Border Agent quiz you, Hilda? Didn’t he believe your passport?”

“You followed that?”

Bien sûr,” she said, grinning.

“My, she is full of surprises,” Hilda said to Jack. Turning to Emily, she said, “He may have suspected that I was African. The recent flood of African refugees from the US – mostly Nigerian – is making the CBSA lose its famous welcoming face.”

“It looked racist to me,” said Jack.

“There could be some of that, but it’s been the public outcry against using asylum requests to skirt immigration procedures that has caused a crackdown at the borders.”

“Well, it was smart to use French with him,” said Jack. “He clearly dropped his suspicious tone when you did that.”

“That’s ‘cause your accent is so good,” said Emily. “When I try it, they keep speaking English to me.”

“Maybe we can work on that, too,” said Hilda. “Have you lived in a French-speaking country?”

“No. I took it all through High School, and we had a trip to France my junior year at Newton High.”

Jack booked a tent site at Camping Les Cedres. They mounted up and rode out of town. With the gentle downhill slope, they sped past the large farms on either side of the road. Cars seemed to give them plenty of room, and they saw more bicycles on the road than they had seen anywhere except New York City. They rolled through Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu by four pm, in plenty of time to set up camp.

“This place is like Disneyland!” exclaimed Emily as they rode through the RV resort. “This isn’t really camping, is it?” She pointed to the water park and pool.

“It’s hardly roughing it,” said Hilda,” but it will be more natural in the camping sauvage area where the tents are.”

“And we won’t have the noise from the RVs,” Jack added. The woods dampened the sounds bouncing off the tightly-packed motorhomes and trailers.

After pitching their tents, they found the showers, changed and washed out their sweaty bicycle kits. They bought muesli and yoghurt for breakfast at the convenience store, but had supper in the restaurant: moules marinières, frites, accompanied by a smooth white wine.

Jack held out his glass and proposed a toast. “To a night without Forebears or the Fab Four.” They clinked glasses and sipped their wine with smiles and sighs of relief.

No one had room for dessert, so they were glad for the walk back to their site.

For the first night in almost a year, Hilda and Jack slept deeply and worry-free. Emily dreamed of adventures – and her dreams would come true all too soon.

=======

Until next time,

Smooth roads and tailwinds,

Jonathan.

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