CHAPTER THIRTY FIVE

Kurt had some trouble finding a suitable vehicle. The town they had been dropped off in, Ballard, Utah, had maybe 500 people living in it. There was no such thing as an auto dealership or car rental. There was, however, Ballard Auto Wrecking & Repair. Kurt looked over the yard, discouraged. He really didn't see how he was going to find anything drivable, let alone something that would get them 650 some miles through desert. And Randy wanted a van. Sure. Nothing to it.

"Help you with somethin', fella?" Faded, oily jeans, grimy tan shirt, beer belly. Talk about stereotypes. This place was full of them. The man held out his hand, after wiping it carefully on an oily rag. "Ken Weaver, owner and chief mechanic here. Well, only mechanic," he chuckled.

"How do you do?" Kurt reluctantly shook hands. Wasn't exactly the time to be finicky, especially when this guy could rob them blind and they'd have no choice in the matter. "I'm, uh, looking for a van, actually."

"Got lots of 'em. Most of 'em parted out by now, but we got a few that're only missing a few things."

"Well, actually, I need one in running condition. We have to leave for California in the morning, and our own, uh, transportation having given up the ghost, so to speak..."

"Oh, I get 'ya. Hmm. Well, you know, we do got one over here that's not in too bad a shape. Needs a little work, but I could probably have it up and running in a day or so."

"No, I have to leave first thing in the morning. Is there a cab or bus or something to Roosevelt? Someone told me they have a dealership there."

"No, not really. Most folks around here have their own 'transportation'." Weaver was starting to look suspiciously at Kurt. "Just how did you get all the way out here, anyway?"

"Oh, uh, friends...some friends of ours dropped us off. It was on their way...somewhere else."

"Hmm. Well, like I said, I can have it ready for you in a day or so. Take it or leave it."

"How much?"

Weaver grinned, friendly as could be now. "Well, the van's 500. Repairs, probably run around 300. Give or take."

"Hmm. Give or take. How much extra if you get it done by morning?"

Weaver grinned, but his eyes were steely. "Thousand bucks even. Cash."

Kurt really wanted to belt that grin off the guy's face, but his was the only game in town. "Fine. First thing in the morning, like 6:00am."

"Like hell, boy. 8:00am. No sooner, but no later. And I'll need a deposit. Half."

Kurt was seething as he returned to the hotel room. He was not looking forward to telling Randy about this. Surprisingly, Randy took the cost and delay with equanimity.

"One has to be flexible, after all, Kurt. Two hours doesn't matter that much. And the man does have to be compensated for the extra effort he's putting in."

Nothing further was said about the matter. Randy made sure everyone retired early so they would be ready to leave when he woke them the next morning. Kurt didn't like how calm Randy was. And he really didn't like that little smile on his face as he closed the door to his room.

Randy could hear Sam's even breathing from the other side of the room. He had slipped him a light sedative with his dinner, and would give him another when they left in the morning. He wasn't totally without concern for Sam on this trip. But one had to prioritize. Tonight he needed Sam to sleep soundly. Tomorrow, he wanted to spare him as much discomfort as possible. He wished it were possible to dope the other two; he had a feeling he would be facing some arguments in the morning, but he would handle that as necessary. Priorities.

He waited almost two hours before slipping out and down the hall to the other room. Listening at the door, he heard light snoring; two sets. Smiling softly, he crept down the hall and out of the back door. It was chilly, but not yet cold. Sending everyone to bed early had been a necessity in more ways than one. It was only a little after 11:00. Plenty of time yet.

He made his way carefully through the town. The streets were mostly empty. There wasn't even a bar in town. He didn't like that. Too quiet. Made any disturbances that much more noticeable. And he had no doubt there would be a disturbance tonight. Nobody ripped him off, and nobody changed his plans.


*****

The guy was strange, no doubt about that. But Murdock liked him. And the guy liked Murdock. They thought alike. Well, maybe not really, but the pilot had learned how to go along with a lot of strange ideas, just to keep the peace. And, the more he knew about Stockwell, the more he was inclined to believe this guy for real.

"Yessir, I won't have one of those things in my house, I don't care how popular they become. Just another way for the government to keep tabs on its citizens, my friend. They say that 'monitor' is just like a TV screen, but I know better. Government can just watch right through that thing, see every move you make, right in your own house. And everything you keep on these computers, the government can copy. Yessir, you'll see. The government'll have everyone under their thumb. Just wait. They'll even have them in the schools and libraries, local government offices - any where they can to keep tabs on people."

Fascinating as these theories were, Murdock was getting impatient. It was getting late, and so far he'd gotten only more rumors about what went on at Stockwell's place. Wild stories, really. The one thing people did notice was when someone came or went down that road. Hard to miss, since the road only went there. Could've been construed as sloppiness, but it was also one good way of making sure Stockwell's security knew who was coming. Just a matter of priorities, he guessed.

"Now you take that place outside town. People don't know what it is, exactly. But I know. Yessir, I know."

"I thought it was a hospital."

"Bullshit! Bullshit, my friend. Never see any ambulances go in there. Lot of vans, lot of cars. Never no ambulances. And never one at a time, either. Always at least two." The man took a long drag of his cigarette. "Yep, always two. Well, except the other day. But that was just some laundry truck."

"You make it sound unusual to see a laundry truck. Surely they must have a lot of laundry, for a place that size."

"Well, sure they do. But Emma - that's our local gal, owns the laundromat - she usually picks it up in her truck. Guess they musta had something special. Wouldn't surprise me. God only knows what crap the government's really doing in there."

"Uh, you remember when this other truck left?"

"Huh? Oh, I don't know. Sometimes in the afternoon, I guess. Day before yesterday, I think. Why?"

"Well, I think you're right. Everything I've heard about the place, it's weird. And then all of a sudden there's this truck...get my drift?"

"You think there was something in that truck? Something that shouldn't be?" The man's eyes squinted angrily.

"Well, you never know. Maybe sneaking somebody out. Maybe sneaking something out. Something they wouldn't want people to know about."

"Yeah..."

"Sure would be nice to know where that truck was heading. Might tell us what was in it."

"Hmm, yeah...well, that shouldn't be too hard."

Murdock stared at him. "Really?"

"Oh, hell, no. There's five roads outta here, and two don't go anywhere. And I know plenty of folks living on the three that do."

"So you could find out which way it went? I'm impressed." Murdock gazed at the man, awestruck.

"Aw, hell, pays to be paranoid, right?" he joked.

"You got that right, brother!"


*****

"Rise and shine, gentlemen, rise and shine!" Randy popped open the door and strode in, apparently unmindful of the two guns pointed at him.

"Jesus christ, Randy, you want to get killed?" Kurt glared at him from his bed.

Randy just grinned at them. "Bang, bang, you're dead." Turning serious, he tossed a handful of bullets on the bed. "Be more careful next time. C'mon, van's out front and Sam's waiting. We'll catch breakfast on the road."

"What? What time is it? I set the alarm for..."

"For 5:30. I know. You've got about four minutes until it goes off. We've got a chance to leave a little early, so I thought we'd take it. I'd hurry if you want to go with us."

"What? But the van wasn't supposed to be ready until 8."

"Ah, well, our friend at the junkyard got real ambitious last night. And much more...reasonable on the costs involved. Anyway, we need to get going."

Kurt and Daryl were already getting dressed. "We aren't going to have problems with that guy, are we, Randy? He didn't seem all the reasonable yesterday."

"Don't worry. He's taken a vacation. Real sudden, but then, stress will do that to a person." Randy glanced at his watch. "Five minutes, guys."

Randy strode out of the room, leaving two very nervous men hurrying to gather their things.