Monday, July 29, 2013

Baxter: Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Two

On the way to the car dealership they split up, both stopping at several stores on the way, both buying hats, changing details about their appearance, hoping against hope to throw off the eyes in the sky. 
“So I said, shit, you hang onto it, fix it when the belt comes in, and in the meantime, we’ll just buy a clunker to get home. Give it to the kid when he comes home from college, he’ll be happier ‘n a pig in shit, right?”
The car salesman (call me Mark!) seemed far more thrilled to be starting off a day with a sale than worried about getting a cash deal. Barnes stood by and smiled when referred to and otherwise played the little woman to a T. Baxter even managed to get Mark to throw in a tank of gas. That required them to take the truck into the garage, where Baxter and Barnes climbed in, hoping to hide their ownership, at least temporarily. 
They wound up with the small Ford Ranger, a pickup with no delusions of greatness. The gear went behind the seats in the cab, which was handy, and the four-wheel drive might come in handy on the mountain roads.
“That was too easy,” Barnes said, as they pulled away. 
“No,” he replied, “that is what people are like outside the city. We talked the part, we looked the part, he bought the story. Sometimes it’s that easy. Not usually, but sometimes.”
“We’re still going to trade cars again in Bend, right?”
“Yes, and on my other ID, just in case. If we can find any long-term parking, I’m game to steal a car instead, so long as we get to Boise tomorrow. It’s not big, but it’s big enough to go to ground in if we have to.”
The highway toward Bend wound in a generally southern direction through woods and foothills. Every so often, Baxter would think of the drones and the hair on the back of his neck would stand up. He didn’t mention it again. She was probably right, but if she wasn’t, there was no point in arguing. 
After driving in silence, he tried the radio, but there was nothing but static and weak signals. 
“Will they put us on the news?” he asked.
“What?” she’d been staring out the window, half-tranced.
“Well, it’d be an easy way to run us down. Put us on TV, make us public enemies.”
“Smith would have to admit that you exist, someone would remember your picture, your face. So that would mean admitting he fucked up. He’s not going to want any public attention on this at all.”
“Well that’s good, right?”
“It means his resources are limited, any way.”
“And he’s got less soldiers than he used to,” Baxter grinned fiercely.
“That too.”
“What about ID scans?”
“That’s a better question. He has the IT resources to pull a lot of photos looking for us, so even once I have a clean passport, we shouldn’t use it. They won’t have the time or bandwidth to try to track us by cameras like we found you, but ID scans they probably always pull anyway.” 
“How did you find me?” he asked.
She barked a laugh and then covered her mouth, looking surprised at her own reaction. When the hand came away, her lips were tight, trying to hold her laughter in.
“You won’t believe it,” she said, and she told him. Poor little Frank Dixon who was just hanging out with his dad. The amber alert, the ATM photo, and Smith sending Falconer to do her second only official wet job.
“Now tell me why you got so lazy,” she demanded.
“I didn’t at first,” he admitted, and that was how he told her the second part of his story: the traveling, the settling down, the entertainment, the bad habits.
“I never thought of it as being lazy,” he said. “Mostly I felt like I deserved it because I’d spent so many years working so damn hard.”

The gently winding road eventually worked its magic, and Barnes was snoring softly, head propped against the window. Bend was only another hour or so, and Baxter realized he was starving already. 
Everything was 50/50 he’d told her, and that was always the way it felt to him, now that he understood it. There probably weren’t drones after them, or they’d already be a smoking crater. By now they’d thrown off the satellites or they hadn’t. They’d keep pulling tricks, just in case. It was all they could do.
He looked over at Barnes. He hadn’t thought about her in a long time, but partly that was training. Once he had been clear of his old life, he’d thought about it as little as possible, there was no profit in it. The scenarios where they’d come after him had fallen to the other side of the 50/50 equation, so he’d stopped worrying about them. Somewhere along the line it had become evident they weren’t going to come for him...and yet here they were. 
Pulling off the highway he picked out a Best Western where they could stay. Less than a mile away he found a mall. They condensed their possessions once more, carrying nothing but her Sig, a dismantled MP5, his extra ID, and his money. 
They went shopping, buying entirely different outfits and changing. They bought extra changes of clothes and two new backpacks. They stopped at a drug store and stocked up on essentials. He also bought hair clippers and she bought bleaching kit and hair dye. He bought them a set of cheap prepaid phones.
They split up, her leaving the mall by one entrance twenty minutes before he left by another. They had lunch separately, both sitting by themselves in a corner of a fast food joint, watching for unmarked black cars to burst into the parking lot. 50/50, Baxter reminded himself. Nothing happened.
They reunited in the hotel lobby at an appointed time, and he checked them in as husband and wife. One bed, of course, wouldn’t do to draw attention. People sometimes remembered such things. 
They unpacked and repacked in their room, laying out the new outfits they’d wear the next day. The food he’d eaten was slowing Baxter down, and he eyed the bed.
“Go ahead,” she said, “I slept in the car, I can stay up for a while.”
He raised his eyebrows to ask “are you sure?” and she just nodded.
He didn’t question her, just took off his shoes, flopped facedown on the bed and let sleep take him. It wasn’t until after he woke up that, more than anything else, this clearly meant he trusted her. He wondered if she thought the same thing.

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