Author’s note: Whoops. I forgot to post this this morning. Better late than never, though.
For those of you who are new: You are now reading an online serial pulp novel. If you didn’t start at the beginning, you may want to do so. Chapter 1:Â Down By The Bay. New chapters are posted on Fridays.
Chapter 4 â€“ On the Roadâ€¦ Again
I’ve been in more than my share of fights, and through them all, I’ve become pretty good at telling when the other guy is ready to get serious and throw down.
Martin was giving all the signs. His fists were clenched. His bushy eyebrows were scrunched into a scowl. His jaw was set. His face was red and shaking. He sucked in air through his nose. When he spoke, his voice trembled like a pot about to boil.
I didn’t know if I could take him. He was bigger and obviously better built than me, but I’m pretty tenacious. It didn’t really matter if I could, anyway. There were armed guards behind a door less than forty yards away. There was sure to soon be cars of coworkers driving by on their way out of the parking garage.
I could run. But then what?
No, my only out was to diffuse him, or confuse him enough to let me go. The trouble was my mouth has always been better at causing fights than avoiding them.
I opened my hands and brought them up in the least aggressive way I could manage. “Just hold on a minute-”
“No, you listen to me, punk. I guard in those labs. I know you don’t work there. Do you think I’m an idiot?”
I gagged down the urge to answer that question. “You really want a reason why you should let me leave? I’ve got a bunch. Do you want me to start with a logical one, a legal one, or a moral one?”
“Don’t push me. I hate being lied to.”
“You probably also hate being caught on camera beating people up.”
He took a half step forward. “No cameras in here.”
“Right. So, let’s go with a couple of logical reasons then. What if I’m tougher than you think? Or better yet, what if I am evil and everything you imagine me to be, but after you turn me in, I just claim you were my accomplice all along and you just had a bout of conscience? Yeah, you might eventually be acquitted of treason, but is that a chance you want to take?”
He narrowed his eyes a little more. “I am not weak, and I’m not stupid just because I’m a guard. How about you give me a good reason, or I break you?”
A silver car squealed a little as it passed where we were standing.
I raised my hands a little further and shrugged. It was almost painful to keep my voice even. “Fine, how about the legal reason?”
Martin flexed the muscles in his clenched fist. “I could take you with one hand behind my back. You think we stop training once we get assigned to a research base?”
I shuffled back a couple of inches. “I was not, and never have been a prisoner on base. I was not there illegally. I was extracted from, or rather I escaped from Oasis, debriefed to Major Glover and the general who’s name I’ve forgotten, and checked thoroughly for pathogens. I’m only out first because I was first in line. Pretty soon, all the remaining civilians from Oasis will be debriefed and sent away. So, yeah, legally, you have no right to stop me.”
“Right, and just a minute ago you said you were part of the research team.”
“Or how about a medical reason? Yes, I’ve already been declared clean, but what if we get in a fight, and I bite you. You think your bosses will let you just slap a bandage on it? Or do you think they’ll treat us as infected? I think we’d both be receiving tests for a long, long time.”
His shoulders dropped an inch and he shook his head.
At least I’ve got him thinking about something other than punching.
“I’m giving you one last chance.”
“Fine. I’ll give you the moral reason to let me go.”
I lowered my hands. “You know what happened in Oasis. You know that something’s still going on. Something big. You may not know exactly what. But you know it’s going to be bad, and you have the nagging feeling that nothing is going to be done about it.”
“A lot of things have been happening. That’s no reason-”
“The things that are, or rather the things aren’t happening back in your base are going to endanger-”
His face shook even harder. Like he was fighting with himself. “The research that happens on base keeps idiot civilians like you safe. Its ability to keep you safe depends on the secrecy of what goes on-”
I knew he was wavering. I had to stretch the truth a little and take a chance. “I’ve seen the alien corpse, too, you know. I’ve seen it. I was given a package to deliver that can help us to fight against those things.”
Martin’s eyes widened. “You what?”
Time to lay it on thick. “That’s right. I saw it. I also know why they are here. The aliens. I know for certain what you may only suspect- the military is doing nothing and is being hamstrung by Washington. If we do nothing, then those, those things are going to, going to have their way with our whole nation. With your friends. You want your sister to be mutilated? You want your mother to be abducted?”
I glanced at his left hand. Yep, a ring. “How about your wife? You want her to be safe?”
His whole body started to shake. “How did you…”
“I know it’s scary. I’ve seen what you’ve seen down in those labs. We don’t have to just let it happen, though. You personally can’t say anything to anyone. You’re bound by oath and training to keep quiet. You talk, and you’ll be locked up before you know it. But if you let me go, I’ll get a warning to someone who can then warn a lot of people. If you let me go, you give people like your wife and your neighbors a chance to prepare.”
He shook his head. “I still can’t just let you leave-”
“Yes you can, and you have to.”
Martin stepped to the side and leaned against the door of the next car over. He looked at the ground, played with his ring, and appeared to be mulling things over.
I didn’t wait for him to come to any conclusions. I pulled open the half door, hopped up, fished for the keys in the ash tray and fired up the old Jeep.
Martin didn’t even look up until I had half backed out of the stall. When he did, I knew I had to hurry. He didn’t look happy.
He reached out, “Hold on a minute, I’m not-”
He was too late, though. I hit the gas and lurched backward.
Martin jumped back a little. I wasn’t about to hit him, but he didn’t know that.
I slammed the Jeep into first gear and put down the pedal.
In the rear view mirror I saw Martin running. I couldn’t really tell where he was going, but he looked certain to get there fast.
I followed the signs and squealed around a couple of corners.
Martin was gone from sight. Before I knew it, I could see a bright spot of daylight at the top of an exit ramp. There was no gate on the way out, just a line of two or three cars waiting to enter traffic.
I scanned around to see if Martin was following in his car, or maybe if he was running for the ramp.
A red sedan pulled up behind me. I couldn’t tell if it was Martin or not. Nobody got out screaming, so for the moment I figured I was safe.
I clamped the steering wheel and kept looking around.
The cars ahead finally moved.
I pulled out of the echoes and darkness of the parking garage into the blinding Safford sun. I took a deep breath of the hot, dry air. It felt good to be free.
I made a couple of turns just to get out of view and see if I was being followed. After that, I looked for signs that led out of town. I didn’t want to stick around for anything. Five minutes later, Safford was a vanishing speck in my rear view mirror.
I stopped an hour and a half later to get gas, a map, some junk food, and to see how much money the major had given me. Fourteen hundred dollars. I smiled. Yeah, that should get me to San Antonio, all right.
The ride to Texas was the least eventful part of my journey. It could have taken me eleven hours or so, and I probably would have done it in one shot. Unfortunately, the radiator sprung some kind of leak about two hours down the line.
Hey, I didn’t say it was uneventful, just the least eventful.
The mechanic said it would be at least three days to get in the new radiator, or he could try to weld it up himself, but who knows how well that would hold, ten minutes, a week, a year? By five o’clock I was back on the road with a welded radiator and my wad of cash two hundred and fifty dollars lighter.
I got tired driving and spent the night in a seedy little hotel in a town who’s name I didn’t even notice.
Early the next morning, I was back on the road again.
I pulled into the parking lot of the KNRT radio building at a quarter after ten, just fifteen minutes after the bombastic Alan Jex had started his show.
I grabbed the portfolio out of the back seat, took a deep breath, and walked to the front door. Had I known what was going to happen inside, I wouldn’t have gotten up so early to get there.
Keep Reading – Chapter 5