Behind Blue Eyes

byTodd172©

"Strip to your underwear and throw the clothes over there in the corner."

She shrugged and began to pull off a boot. "I'm not wearing underwear."

If she thought I was willing to accept risk to save her modesty, she had another thing coming. "I'm not leering; I just need to be sure you don't have any weapons."

Or radios, or phones, or whatever.

She shot me a look from under her sculptured eyebrows as she took off her second boot. "I don't get a lot of leers these days. But you should've seen me twenty years ago."

She peeled her jeans off, then pulled her flannel shirt off over her head and pirouetted slowly, arms raised like a ballerina. Her slender form had aged extremely well - she was still certainly worthy of a few leers.

She didn't have any weapons either.

"That's fine, you can get dressed."

The only thing she seemed to regret was leaving her fancy boots behind.

"So what now?"

I led her across the fields. It was a bit of a walk to the sedan I'd borrowed, but it wasn't entirely unpleasant - the wind was warming just a bit.

Once in the sedan, she just sat quietly, staring at the passing farmland as we headed south.

I explained to her that if she caused me any trouble at all, someone would go back for her daughter. And grandchildren. I might not be able to hurt The Reinhardt that way, but I could hurt her. She sank into her seat a bit, but nodded her agreement.

I needed to switch vehicles, but I'd made arrangements. They just needed adjusting.

It was nearly a hundred and forty miles to Needle's salvage yard.

He'd been a team medic once upon a time, and I'd shielded him as much as I could from the fallout of a pill habit he'd fallen into after an ugly divorce. I'd made arrangements with him for the car we were in. He'd drop it into a car crusher as soon as we left. I'd also dropped my bags with him before heading up to the farm.

He opened the door as we pulled up; his mustache had exploded to the point it was almost taking over his face under his faded "Coors Lite" fishing hat.

He looked puzzled when Evie got out of the car on the other side. But he knew better than to ask questions. It wasn't the payment he'd gotten from me, although that was probably enough for any amount of inconvenience, it was that residual loyalty that comes with serving together.

He just waved us into his office trailer.

"I need something we can live in for a few weeks, a van or a big car. Transportation just got a lot harder and I need to give my travel agent a bit of time to work it."

He pulled his hat off, and scratched his balding head for a second, then glanced at Evie with a smirk.

"Got just the thing, Boss. Papers are flawless, nobody's looking for it and... damn, it's perfect. Wait here, might be an hour."

It was just about 50 minutes before he pulled it around front. We walked out to meet him and I brought my stored bags with me.

The engine sounded beautiful. But that was about it. An aging used-to-be mostly-white RV, half-covered in Deadhead stickers, and a flowery hand painted sign that proclaimed the warning "If the Camper's a-Rockin Don't Come Knockin" on the back. The sides were painted with enormous fading murals of the 1978 "Blue Rose" Winterland poster. Even the curtains looked to be blue-and-black tie dyed.

Needles swung out of the driver's seat with a huge shit-eating grin. "It's in better condition than it looks. 1970 Ford Econoline 300 Shasta RV. Class C. Everything inside is in great shape. Stove, toilet and shower all work. Maybe a little out of style, but it all works. Filled the water and charged the LP gas for you. Even filled the tank. Bought it at auction for practically nothing six months ago. It was in barn storage for about 20 years, but fired right up when I started it."

He waved toward the giant mural. "I figure you and your lady friend can ride in a style she appears to be accustomed to."

I glanced over at Evie. At first I thought she was crying, then I realized she was desperately trying not to laugh.

We needed to get out of here before Needles actually learned something that could be bad for him. Still, anyone who tried to get anything from him would quickly learn that my Medics weren't harmless pacifists.

And to be honest, a couple of aging hippies in an outdated RV weren't exactly going to register on the radar of anyone I was worried about.

"You search it?"

"Yeah, a couple kilos of really, really old weed were stashed under the wheel well, but that's all. "

I didn't ask what he did with the weed. Not my problem anymore. And from his description it likely would have been about as strong as oregano by now.

Evie looked to me and then at the side door of the monstrosity, silently waiting for my permission, I nodded her on in. She knew the penalty for doing anything stupid.

She opened the door and pulled herself up into the camper with her bag of clothes while Needles and I circled the battered vehicle.

The tires looked surprisingly good, and everything else looked... functional, at least.

As I rounded the behind the camper, she slid the back window open.

"Honey, it's perfect, got a queen-size back here, plenty of room to stretch out and, well, everything."

The lyrical trained voice was gone, her accent was pure Southern Belle.

But it was the wink and the slight teasing tone really caught me out.

Needles grinned. "See? Perfect." He paused. "Let me get that spare set of keys for you two lovebirds."

As he slipped into the office, I glanced up at Evie.

She gave a half smile. "Maggie the Cat from 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof'. I minored in Drama."

Keeping one eye on the door, she continued. "He doesn't know anything does he?"

"Not much. Just paying back a favor or two."

Her mouth twisted. "What happens if Erich's men find him?"

"More than likely The Reinhardt loses a couple men, and Needles pops smoke."

"Shouldn't you warn him?"

"Me just being here is a warning. He knows."

She looked a little unconvinced, but I knew. When we'd initially gone into his office I'd seen him glance at his hides. I'd guess 3 handguns and probably a shotgun or carbine - the salvage yard was no place for a rifle. And he probably had a dozen more weapons stashed around the yard.

He came back out the door with a battered surplus backpack.

"I cross loaded a Unit One Medical pack and some extra antibiotics and meds in this."

As he handed it to me, he quietly added "There's a clean 1911 Gold Cup Match with four mags and an extra 200 rounds in the bottom. I know you love that damn flintlock of yours, and it truly is a thing of beauty." He grinned under his ridiculous mustache. "But, Jesus, Boss, six rounds, no rapid reload? "

Like I said, he knew.

I nodded my appreciation. At least it wasn't a Glock. God, I hate those things.

We were on the road a half hour later heading south, and she seemed far too relaxed for my comfort. She'd dug an old hardbound Cram's Easy Reference Business-Man's Atlas out of somewhere in the camper and started perusing it.

"You know, I've never seen the Grand Canyon."

"I'm not sure you understand the whole 'kidnap victim' thing."

She shrugged and kept on tracing out routes with a fingertip, her nails were trimmed rather shorter than I'd have expected. "You said this would take weeks, maybe months. There's no point in being miserable the whole time. I already promised to see this through, so you don't have to worry about me. Besides, sooner or later Stockholm Syndrome should set in, right?"

"That's fine, but this isn't a sight-seeing tour. And I don't plan on going anywhere snow might hang us up."

I thought I saw her give a slight, secretive smile, but I couldn't be sure.

***

Blue Highways. That was the book. By a guy named Least Heat Moon. A rambling account of the back roads of America. I'd stumbled across a tattered copy while crossing the Pacific in a C-141 that felt like it wanted to come apart at the seams.

Least Heat Moon had traveled thousands of miles by backroads and secondary highways. I'd pretty much decided that was my plan.

If a road had the word "Interstate" by it I intended to avoid it if at all possible. Stay out of any major cities. We'd head south to Florida from Virginia, then west on a crooked path until I reached my "travel agent".

Which Evie pointed out, was a pretty odd idea, given that "my plan" had been on the New York Times Bestseller list for nearly a year.

She arched one eyebrow. "So are we stopping at all the little diners too? I've read the book, you know.

I always wondered what it would be like to just 'go' like he did. No destination, no deadlines, no pressure."

I shrugged with one shoulder, watching the road. "I don't know. I've always had a destination. An ending."

She was quiet for a while after that.

The only electronic device I had was an absolutely clean tablet, purchased months ago at a random Walmart - I'd never even unboxed it, much less turned it on until we stopped at a McDonalds in Catawba County, North Carolina where I set up a Yahoo account, and did a "Buy-it Now" on a ten-dollar battered vintage friction-drive toy plane on ebay.

I bought two of them and had them shipped together.

By the time we'd finished our meals - well, I had anyway, since it turned out that Evie wasn't a fan of McDonalds - I had a response. In three months I could get two planes of the same type. It'd be three times the original price.

Evie had watched the whole process wordlessly. Strictly speaking you shouldn't let your captive watch you do this kind of thing, but I was certain she wouldn't risk her grandchildren. I'd seen her eyes when she talked about them.

"Since this is an odd item to be picking up collectables, I'd guess this has something to do with our journey."

"It's thirty thousand dollars for quiet passage for two from California to Fiji, and it will be three months. I have connections to get to our final destination from there without passing any customs."

"May I ask, where is our final destination?"

"You may not. It's part of that whole 'kidnap victim' thing. I can just abort the Fiji link if I have to."

"Oh. I guess that makes sense. Not wanting to be met at the airport by the police if I run away."

I considered reiterating my threat, but it seemed unnecessary. "Yeah, that."

Actually I wasn't too worried about that. Once we got to the islands, I was more than a little certain that local law enforcement there wouldn't take kindly to FBI or Reinhardt interference. Chief, Frank Rotuma, owed me a favor or two, and he really disliked outsiders throwing their weight around.

The idea of someone trying to arrest me at The Shack with Pogo, his feral little wife, and Monster around induced a grin. They'd better send someone they didn't want back.

"Something amusing?"

"Mildly. Just pondering the difficulties of law enforcement."

I didn't bother explaining further than that.

She was uncertain that first night. We laagered down in a Walmart parking lot. She changed into a t-shirt and shorts in the camper's tiny bathroom. I could sense her steeling herself in case I turned out to have expectations.

The only expectation I had was rest. I hadn't slept well for over thirty years. . "Light sleeper" didn't even begin to cover it. I wasn't too concerned she would get the drop on me.

I tossed a blanket and a pillow on her side of the bed, and another set on mine. She might get skittish, so I decided that comment I'd skipped earlier might be a good idea.

"Just a reminder, I have friends. Sooner or later, if something happens, they will get around to dealing with your daughter and grandkids."

I wasn't actually sure about that. The grandchildren, anyway. Monster seemed a little odd about children. If he saw Emma Reinhardt as a threat, she was as good as dead, but her children, maybe not. If what Finn had told me was true, they were probably safe. But she didn't need to know that.

"I made a promise, I'll keep it." Cold, lawyer-like.

She slept with her back to me, wrapped tight in her blanket.

I put a line of pillows between us.

***

She was almost rigidly courteous the next morning, probably because it felt less like an adventure and she'd had more time to dwell on the consequences.

As I watched her put herself together as much as much as she could, I thought about the logistics of the next three months. We'd need food, more clothes. Soap and shampoo, another toothbrush. Some toiletries.

"We need to do some shopping. Groceries, some clothes."

She looked over at me "Can we pick up a hair brush? "

Her hair had fallen back into near perfect order without her doing much more than running her fingers through it. It seemed to be as determined to put up a graceful appearance as she.

Still. "Sure, if you need make up, or anything, we'll get it. Probably not exactly the quality you are used to, but it'll work."

She brightened just a little. "I don't need much in the way of make-up."

"Much" appears to be a relative term. I hadn't actually lived with a woman in so long, I'd forgotten how much make-up it takes to look like no make-up at all. It was easier to buy it than make a scene, though. And it seemed to do wonders for her mood. All we ended up picking up were the toiletries, make-up and some underwear. Didn't need make ourselves too memorable by making a large cash purchase.

We had to spread the purchases out, hitting a Goodwill store a few towns over and a grocery store in another one.

At the Goodwill store, I picked up cooking utensils and silverware. Evie ended up picking out several more outfits - sticking with the "aging Woodstock refugee" theme. Frankly, she seemed to be enjoying the whole thing a lot more than she should. She still didn't seem to completely understand the whole kidnap victim dynamic.

In public, she used a toned down version of her southern accent. She also apparently decided to use the name "Libby" and called me "K".

One we'd loaded her treasures up and were back in the rolling Summer-of-Love shack, I had to ask.

"Libby? I get 'K', it's easy to remember, makes sense. But why 'Libby'?"

"It's short for Liberty Moonflower. When I was a teenager, I decided that if I'd been a hippy that would've been my name. 'Liberty Moonflower' just sounds... free. I'd have had tie-dye dresses, love beads..." she held up her clunky rosewood bead necklace -one of the milder ones from Monica's collection "and a fur-person companion named 'Spindrift'."

That sounded entirely too thought out. And too earnest. The last bit of that had been more to herself than to me. I glanced over out of the corner of my eye. She was just distantly looking out the widow, lost in some kind of reverie.

The Bird in a Gilded Cage. We all want whatever is on the other side of the fence. For the poor it's wealth. For her it was freedom. Freedom from her life, freedom from the responsibilities that had held her.

I let her sit for a while until she started to come out of the dream she was lost in. I pretended not to notice.

"So exactly what the hell is a 'fur-person companion'?"

She smiled "A dog. I think. Maybe a cat, but probably a dog. I never had a dog."

The grocery store was another revelation. She had no idea how to cook. At all. She'd had people for that her whole life.

Thirty years of bachelor living had made me a passable cook.

Besides, on the darker fringes of the Army when you show up at a remote jungle camp or safe house far from normal facilities, nobody asks if you can shoot or fight. Everybody assumes you can do that or you wouldn't be there in the first place. They want to know if you can cook something other than ramen noodles or cut hair without leaving someone looking like they have the mange.

She looked on in frank puzzlement as I put together all the basic ingredients to cook. I swear she had no idea what cooking oil was used for. Much less why anyone would need both shortening and cooking oil.

As we moved on, we tried to be obvious. The best way to hide is to get people to see you as something else. Other people in the campgrounds just saw a couple of ex-hippies who'd pulled the old camper out and hit the highway on a retirement tour. Evie kept her word about cooperating, to all appearances whenever we were out of the camper, she was "Libby".

By the time we reached the panhandle of Florida, we had a rhythm established.

I drove four or five hours each day, stopping at either a campground that took cash, or a Walmart parking lot if necessary, seeking a fairly dark corner of the area. I was as random about routes as I could be. Humans aren't actually very good at random, but I did my best.

We'd typically fix breakfast and dinner in the camper. Or rather I would fix breakfast and dinner. But we ate lunch on the road, stopping at some restaurant or other.

Evie never chose a regular chain restaurant when it was her turn to choose where to eat, always a local place, usually with some kind of specialty. Foot-high pies, emu, gator stew, deep-fried-damn-near-anything.

I wasn't even sure how that had happened in the first place. I was more than a little certain that kidnap victims typically don't "get turns", but somehow it'd just happened.

She really seemed to relish the strange stuff. Somewhere in Louisiana, I finally asked her about it.

She smiled over her plate of alligator sausage jambalaya. "I was raised on French cooking. Calf's head, pancreas, escargot. I just like to try food that is a little beyond McDonald's. You certainly don't seem to have a problem with it."

"Jungle survival school. Nothing like living on grilled tarantulas, steamed paddy bugs and fried crickets to burn the food aversions out of you."

She wrinkled her nose impishly. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out how she'd managed to so completely drop her Swiss boarding school upbringing and be so normal.

She delicately speared a bit of sausage and chewed it. "A lobster is really just a giant water bug with good public relations, I guess."

"I think the definition of 'good' depends on whether or not you're the lobster."

"That's certainly true."

She picked up another cayenne cornbread biscuit and smeared extra butter on it.

I couldn't help myself "It's nice to see a woman who actually eats like she means it."

"I'm going to have to slow down a bit, I was doing yoga and riding every day when you decided to carry me off. If I keep eating like this and not getting exercise, I won't fit in Monica's clothes for too much longer."

As far as I had been able to tell, she wasn't in much danger of that. "Seriously, I doubt you have much to worry about."

She suddenly lapsed into her Southern Belle accent. "While I do so appreciate the compliment, Kind Sir, my ever-widening ass must beg to differ."

I damn near snorted alligator out my nose.

I couldn't help it, I began to laugh; she joined in shortly, right along with me until we were both near to tears. We were over a half hour down the road before we could make eye contact again without starting up again.

She had her atlas out again. "I'm not sure how important this is, but if we stay on course, we'll be in California, waiting for two months."

That concern had been playing on me for a while. I wasn't worried about Hawthorne; she'd already had a chance at the farmhouse. She could have had me cold, but hadn't taken the shot. I really didn't want to be a static target for The Reinhardt, if he'd started looking, though. I was thinking about how to respond when she continued softly.

"I've really never been to the Grand Canyon."

It had an almost pleading sound to it.

I sighed. "You really are missing the point of being a kidnap victim. But it'd kill a little time. We'd better pick up a couple heavy comforters at the next stop. And some flannel pajama sets. It can be damn cold there in winter."

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