Earl took the room with Jim first. “Until you get used to it,” said Alyson, leaving the two men and taking the room next door. It was still connected by a door, which Earl left unlocked.
“She’s going to sleep with me?”
“At some point.”
“Which is why we have two beds, Jim. I, for one, don’t swing that way.”
“Well, no, I don’t either, not that there would be a problem if you did, but--”
Earl laughed, “I’m on business. You pick what to watch.”
“I don’t usually watch TV.”
“What do you do at night, then?”
“I”m on the computer.”
“Can you see distances in the computer?”
He laughed, “No, but I can see what’s going on in the room next door.”
“That’s my sister you’re spying on.”
“I said I can see. I didn’t say I was looking.”
“Good, because you’d better not be spying on my sister.”
Jim sat on the edge of his bed. “Isn’t it a bad idea, being partners with your sister?”
“Why? She knows what she’s doing, she’s capable. She’s trained.”
“Then why isn’t she in the Army or anything?”
“She was. Medical discharge.”
“Oh. What was--”
“None of your business.”
Jim watched as Earl stripped before him. Earl had a series of tattoos down one arm that ended at just above his wrist. Jim could make out a series of chains, and naval themes down that arm. “You have tattoos.”
“A few,” Earl said. “I’m taking a shower. Come in the bathroom with me.”
“I said I didn’t--”
“It’s so you don’t go too far. Sit on the john and wait for me.”
Earl took a shower, noting there were no windows in the bathroom, so it was safe for Jim to take one. He got out, toweling himself off.
“You were in the Navy. That’s the insignia.”
“Retired. Didn’t renew my contract.”
“Were you in--”
“No, and the less you know about me, and both of us, the better.”
“I’m just trying to make conversation.”
“We can talk about the Bruins. Go take a shower.”
“I usually take them in the morning--”
“Not while you’re with us. We take showers when we can. Now.”
Jim grumbled and started to get undressed. Earl stood and watched him. “I’m not going to go anywhere, man,” Jim said.
Earl held out his hand for the clothes. Jim stripped down, and handed them to Earl. “Just business,” Earl said, and watched Jim get into the shower.
When Jim came out, Earl was in a pair of knit boxers, standing in the doorway. Earl waited until Jim came out with the towel around his waist. “Is your sister going to be watching me like this?”
“Probably. Get used to it.”
“There’s a lot I’m going to have to get used to.”
“It’s for a week - well, less than.”
There was a knock on the door. It was in Morse code, A-L-Y. He opened the door a crack, and then opened it all the way.
“I see you took a shower,” she said, looking at him in his underwear.
“You did too,” looking at her wet short hair.
“Who knows if we’re going to get another one.”
“Always the optimist.”
“I’ll take first watch.” She went over to the chair next to Earl’s bed.
Jim said, “You’re staying in here?”
“Yes,” she said.
“But you rented a room.”
“It’s a ruse.”
Said Earl, “Think of it as an escape hatch.”
“You guys really think someone’s after me.”
“After what happened earlier, yes, yes, we do.”
Alyson sat down on the chair. “You’re under our protection and we’re going to get a pretty penny after we drop you off in Washington DC.”
Earl climbed into bed, tucking one arm under the pillow, looking for a non-existent gun. He would buy a gun in Tempe, where he had some contacts. Jim stared at Alyson for a minute, and then got into bed as well. Jim fell asleep almost as soon as he contacted the pillow.
He got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, and saw that Earl was up this time. Alyson slept on top of the bed. Earl waved to Jim and put a finger across his lips. Jim got the hint, and quietly went to the bathroom and slipped back into bed.
It was still dark when they were waking him up. “I want to make Texas by tonight,” Earl said. “I have contacts for safe houses there. These staying at hotels makes me uneasy.”
Jim got dressed. “Will you get me to Washington DC in time?”
“If we keep making time like we are. We’re going to stop in Tempe for breakfast and I need to talk to some people.”
Alyson came in through the side door. “All set,” she said.
“Did you check the car?”
Alyson said, “The car is your business.”
“Right,” Earl said, and went downstairs. Alyson turned to look at Jim. Jim looked down and finished getting dressed. Alyson took his bags and waited at the door. Jim sat on the edge of the unmade bed and watched her.
She had the curves of a woman, with a hips and waist, but not much in the way of breasts, or at least she made a good deal about hiding them. She didn’t sway while she walked, so much as glide - Jim would find her to be an excellent dancer.
Her short dark hair did nothing for her figure, did not add to her prettiness or make her look severe. She looked all around normal. He just wished she would smile once in a while.
Earl returned. “No tampering with the truck.”
“Let’s go.” Earl took the bags, and Alyson took up the rear again as they walked out of the hotel. It was quiet as they started the drive north east toward Tempe.
Earl snored sometimes in the back, a light one, while Alyson kept her eyes peeled for any more cars that happened to follow them. Jim was starving by the time they got to Tempe.
Earl and Alyson had switched driving about fifty miles outside of Tempe, and Earl drove them onto the Hopi Indian Reservation there. He seemed to know where he was going, down dirt roads that looked more like cowpaths, and at one point straight through a field of growing corn, following the tractor paths.
He came upon a double-wide trailer, and parked in the middle of the path in front of it. Scattered around the trailer were assorted No trespassing signs in every language. Alyson got out of the car cautiously, and Jim followed.
“We’re safe here,” said Earl. “Lightning Stick is a good man.”
“Whoever said that is a liar!” came a man’s voice as the door to the trailer opened. “As I live and breathe, Chief!”
“MPO Oscar Kilton, meet --”
The overweight, long-haired bear of a man waddled over to Alyson. “His wife?”
Alyson snorted. Jim choked. Earl flushed. “No, my sister, Alyson.”
“Alyson, ah. I see the resemblance.”
Again, she snorted, and shook the man’s hand. “Mr. Kilton.”
“Lightning Stick,” he said. “Because that’s my specialty.” He turned to Jim. “And you are?”
“James Woods.” Jim held out his hand and shook firmly.
“Well, Chief, what brings you out to my neck of the woods, if I don’t mind asking.”
“We need some of your specialties.”
Lightning Stick got a twinkle in his eye. “Oh, I get it. And Texas is too far to go?”
“For the moment. We have four days to get to Washington DC.”
“I would have invited you in for a spell, but I guess it’s right to business then. Come on inside.”
The three of them went inside. A Boston Terrier growled at them when they entered, but Lightning Stick yelled at “Weston” to be quiet. “What are you looking for?”
Said Earl, “Pistols, sawed-off, things that look scary.”
Jim said, “Hey, wait, I don’t know how to shoot anything.”
“They’re not for you,” said Alyson.
Lightning Stick laughed. “I could tell that you weren’t going to use them, kid.” He went deep into the trailer and came out with a pair of shortened shotguns, and a box. “Semi, automatics, or revolvers.”
“Automatics? Dare I ask?”
She smiled for the first time, and looked in the box.
Earl pulled out two semi-automatics, hefted both in each hand. “Got ammo?”
“Let me see - oh the Glocks. Yes, uno momento.”
Jim, meanwhile, was trying to make friends with Weston, who kept baring his teeth at him. Jim didn’t want to think of the possibility of guns being used now - things would get really dangerous, really fast.
“Need permits, too.”
“Oh, I’ll see if Tina can still do that. What state?”
Lightning Stick got on his landline and made a call. Alyson picked out one pistol and showed it to Lightning Stick, who nodded while he was on the call. “Sure, honey, yeah. Done and done.” He hung up the phone. “I’ll take a picture. I got a digital camera around here somewhere.”
Earl asked, “Not a regular camera?”
“The state is a little more, how shall I say, technological now. They’re very colorful, not just slips of laminated paper.”
Lightning Stick handed a box of Milk Bones to Jim. “Give him half of one at a time, he’ll be your best friend. I think the camera’s in the drawer here - yep.” He pulled out a small digital camera and brought both of them to the back of the trailer, taking each of their picture against a neutral background. He also dug out some ammo.
Earl took out a wad of money and peeled off some to him. Lightning Stick nodded. “Let’s go to Tina’s.” He patted Weston, taking the box off of Jim. “You’re spoiled, yes, you are…”
The dog wagged his tail and gave Jim an expectant doggie grin. Jim finally got to pet the animal before they walked out.
Alyson squeezed over while Earl got into the driver’s seat. He followed the directions that Lightning Stick gave to go deeper into the reservation. They got to another double-wide trailer, and all piled out. A dark-skinned woman sat outside crocheting doilies. She looked up and smiled at them.
“Lightning Stick, and friends,” she said. “Come in, come in.”
Lightning Stick unobtrusively handed her the camera, and she went inside. Her trailer was impeccable, clean and tidy (not like Lightning Stick’s). “Who wants to go first?” she asked, looking to Alyson.
“I’ll go,” she said, and followed the woman into the back of the trailer. The woman closed the shades and parted open a closet. Inside was a state-of-the-art computer and laser printer. Alyson was impressed.
The woman pointed to the bed next to the closet. “Okay, honey, I need the name you’re using.”
“Alyson Janet Packard.”
“Date of birth?”
“9 August 1989.”
“And you want to carry on federal lands as well, right?”
“You can do that?”
The woman smiled, “Honey, I can do anything behind this machine.”
Alyson returned to see the men standing around, drinking coffee. “Your turn, Earl.” Earl took her place and went into the back room. Alyson saw the coffee pot, while Lightning Stick took down a coffee cup for her. “Go ahead, have one.”
“I usually have to eat breakfast first,” she said.
“We’ll get Tina to cook you up something nice.”
“We don’t really have time.”
He shrugged. “If you drive seventy miles an hour, let’s say, on the interstate, with no traffic or tolls, you can get to Washington DC in four days.”
“That’s just it. We don’t have time to stop and smell the roses.”
“But you have time to get some guns.”
“It’s Earl’s preference, not mine.”
“You’d keep going without any backup?”
Alyson shrugged. “I was taught not to need backup.”
“Who taught you?”
“So you were in special forces?”
She winced. “No.”
Lightning Stick said, “He was a--”
“I know he was.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.” She took her coffee - black - and went outside.
Jim watched her, concerned. “I wonder what that was all about,” he said.
“I know,” Lightning Stick said, and sipped his coffee.
Earl came out a few uncomfortable minutes later. “Where’s Aly?”
“Outside,” both Jim and Lightning Stick said at the same time.
“Who pissed her off?”
“I’m afraid I did,” said Lightning Stick, “entirely without meaning to.”
“You brought up her hand grenade.”
Lightning Stick frowned, “It seems I did.”
“Hand grenade?” Jim asked.
“An almost. ‘Almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.’”
“She was in the Army. What was she almost?”
“Special forces,” said Earl, sipping his coffee. “Medical discharge, remember?”
Jim looked at the door. “She was almost special forces?”
Earl nodded. He finished his coffee and said, “Drink up. We got a ways to go.”