On the Road Again
Even with the future of American liberalism and the wellbeing of the world’s economy now in my hands, I was still exhausted. I hadn’t had a good rest for days, and I pleaded for sleep.
“I’m sorry, but we can only give you a few hours to nap,” said Deborah. “Time is of the essence. You must leave Chicago before sunrise.” She then showed me to a guest bedroom and allotted me only three to four hours of rest. “The game is afoot and you must get out of here before daylight,” she explained.
I was grateful for even a short respite. I quickly collapsed on the bed and was soundly asleep.
True to her word, Deborah woke me in the early hours of the morning. “Here’s the scheme we’re setting up,” she explained while I cleared the cobwebs from my head. “We are going to move you secretly across the rest of the country until you reach New York City. You will be leaving here in a few minutes.”
“But be forewarned,” added Professor Watanabe. “There are people sworn to capture or kill you. They don’t know where you are, but they have your photograph and they must know by now that you’re no longer in the Yellowstone area. So, assume that they’re looking for you everywhere.
“Furthermore, because you have met us, you now have information that they will torture or kill to obtain. So, trust no one. Don’t tell anybody about what happened in Camp Limbaugh or this safe house; and above all do not divulge details of Toward Confederacy II. Don’t even discuss these matters with the underground operatives who will be moving you east. If our enemies realize that you know their master plan, they will stop at nothing to get to you. And you, Mr. Tenney, will immediately be terminated…with extreme prejudice.”
With that frightening charge, the Professor handed me his document sealed in a plastic pouch attached to a long, thin strap. “Place this cord around your neck and keep the plastic container hidden under your shirt. Guard it with your life,” he commanded. “This is my summary of the TC-Two master plan. Get it to New York City, to the United Nations building.
‘When you get there, ask for one person in particular, Dr. Hadiye Ataturk. She’s the Turkish ambassador to the U.N. She has been our friend and political contact for years. Dr. Ataturk is a true democrat and a renowned advocate of human rights. She also has a doctorate in economics from Harvard and is an expert in global finance. She will understand our dilemma immediately. I have every confidence that she will assist you in gaining access to the member nations.”
“See that the other countries learn the truth,” added Deborah. “Make duplicate copies, if you have to, and let the delegates read this blueprint for conquest. Make them understand that the political consequence of a confederated United States would be the irreparable collapse of international order. The U.S. is the linchpin of global stability. Overthrow it and you completely destabilize the world. God knows what turmoil would ensue, but it would be catastrophic.
“Show them, too, that the consequence of TC-Two would be the destruction of the American economy. And explain how we’re now on our way to converting this country into a pool of highly-skilled low-wage workers at the mercy of a few vertically-integrated monopolies that hope to control us economically from concept to recycling.
“This would be cataclysmic. It would shatter financial interdependence around the planet. It would mean the end of the nation state and its eventual replacement by megamonopolies—gigantic transnational corporations that would link together like so many warlords to control our lives from cradle to grave. Literally, we’d have the United Monopolies instead of the United Nations. These are horrific scenarios, Mike. Tell the U.N. that we need their intervention urgently. Without it, neither we nor they will survive.”
A soft rap on the front door gained everyone’s attention. Deborah answered the knock. A few whispered words followed. I was then introduced to a young man standing on the porch. “Mike, this is Virgil,” said Deborah. “He will be your guide. Do what he says as if your life depended on it because it does. We’re all counting on you.”
Deborah handed me a plastic bag containing money. “Here’s some cash, you may need it,” she said. “It’s all we could gather on such short notice. Hopefully, it’ll get you to New York City. Now, go, hurry. Good-bye and good luck.”
That was the extent of my introduction to Virgil. Quickly, I was out the door and tiptoeing down the stairs and onto the street. “Don’t say a word, just follow me,” whispered the young man. Both of us dressed in dark clothing moved quietly through the sleeping community. We kept close to fences and buildings, exposing ourselves only when we needed to dart across empty streets.
It was eerily quiet at that time of the morning. But I could see a glow from fires still raging on the Southside of Chicago. The city was still holding out against Republican bombardment.
After a walk of about fifteen minutes, I saw Lake Michigan. We were approaching Montrose Harbor where dozens of small boats were anchored. “The first leg of our journey will be by speedboat,” Virgil said softly. “Just do as I say. We can speak when we get out of the harbor and into open waters.”
We walked along the pier until we came to a large boat with twin outboard motors. Virgil signaled me to climb aboard. He then untied the rope that secured the craft to the pier and we shoved off. We drifted for about a hundred yards before he started the motor. At trolling speed he piloted the boat out of the harbor and into the lake.
Our course was to eastward in the direction of the Michigan shore. After a few minutes at low speed, he increased motor and the boat moved briskly over the black, placid surface of the lake.
With Chicago receding behind us, Virgil broke his silence. “OK, we can talk normally now. We’re out of earshot. Even if they spotted us, they can’t hear what we’re saying.”
“Great,” I replied with obvious relief. “First, where are we going; and second, why by boat?”
“There are enemy troops guarding all land routes in and out of Chicago,” Virgil answered, “particularly on the far Southside. We wouldn’t have a chance breaking through the private militias and government troops surrounding Chicago and Northeastern Indiana.
“My job is to get you to the other side of the lake, to a remote dock near Loveland, Michigan where you will be met by others,” he explained. “They tell me to protect you at all costs, so that’s what I intend to do. I’ve planted a few fishing poles around the boat. Hopefully, if the authorities spot our boat they’ll leave us alone because they’ll think I’m out for some early-morning fishing.
If not, and if we’re stopped, you must be found on this boat. Here’s a snorkel, you’ll have to stick it in your mouth and climb overboard. And if you do, be sure to hold on to one of the ropes attached to the boat. But stay underwater and breathe through the snorkel. I’ll signal you when to come up.”
It was not a prospect to which I looked forward. “Do you mean there’s a chance I’ll have to dive underwater in the middle of Lake Michigan?” I asked. “It’s wet and doesn’t Lake Michigan water come from melted ice and snow? That means it’s very cold.”
“Hopefully you won’t have to going swimming this morning, but if one of those Coast Guard cutters or Navy boats gets too close to us, you’ll have to go overboard,” Virgil responded. “I could try to outrun a curious patrol vessel, but that would arouse more suspicion and bring greater attention to this part of the lake. We’re lucky, however, because most government watercraft have been ordered north to patrol the Canadian border running along Lake Superior and Lake Huron.
“You do know how to use a snorkel, don’t you?” he asked me.
“Yeah, I grew up skin diving off Palos Verdes in Southern California,” I answered. “I can use a snorkel. But do I want to? That’s another story.”
Our voyage through the darkness went smoothly for about a half-hour. Apparently, however, the noise from our motors aroused the interest of a Coast Guard vessel we hadn’t seen. Flashing red lights and a loud siren on our port side were the first indications that we were about to be stopped by the U.S. military.
“Sorry, man, but it looks like it’s time for your morning dip,” Virgil whispered to me. “Quick, slide over the starboard side with this snorkel, but stay underwater and keep a hand on a rope. I’ll give you a tug when it’s safe to come up. Now, into the water, and no splashing.”
Slowly, I slipped into the chilly water and submerged myself out of view. It was about ten brutal minutes before I felt tugging on the rope. When I surfaced the Coast Guard cutter was heading off into the horizon.
“Man, that was a close call,” I said softly as I climbed aboard.
“Really was,” Virgil remarked. “They weren’t looking for you, specifically. But they asked me about why I was on Lake Michigan at this early hour, and where I was headed. I told them I was on an early fishing run, looking for salmon and trout. I don’t think they were suspicious.”
“Well, they’re out of sight now. Looks like they bought your explanation,” I said.
“Yeah, this time. Maybe not next time. We’d better get to the Michigan shore ASAP,” he answered.
By the time we reached our Michigan destination, the sun was coming up. Virgil brought the boat as close to land as he could. “You’ll have to wade the rest of the way, but here’s a waterproof bag with a dry change of clothes. Deborah gave it to me just in case. You can change on land,” he said, “but be careful where you dispose of your wet clothing. The police forensics people may find clues that’ll lead them to you.
“You’ll meet a friend on shore. You’ll know him by the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball cap he’ll be wearing. Good luck, Mike,” Virgil added.
We shook hands. I took the plastic bag with the fresh clothing and entered the water, my second aquatic adventure of the morning. I waded to shore and found a thicket of trees where I dried off and changed. Carefully rolling my wet clothes in a spiral, I placed them inside the plastic bag and shoved the package under my arm. I also made sure that the document I was carrying was secured around my neck.
About a half-hour after coming ashore, I heard an automobile approaching the clump of high grasses where I was now hiding. The window must have been rolled down, because I could plainly hear a male voice loudly singing an old rock song, We Are Family, but with new lyrics that proclaimed the greatness of people named Dave Parker, Willie Stargell, and Curt Tekulvey.
I left the trees and approached the singer. Indeed, he was wearing a Pirates baseball cap and driving a late-model Chevy Impala. “Hey, man, do you know the way to Kalamazoo?” he inquired.
“I sure don’t,” I responded. “But I’ll bet it’s east of here. Must be somewhere between here and New York City.” It was improvised code talk, but it worked.
“You must be the guy I’ve been waiting for,” the driver said. “I knew my ballad about the great 1979 Pirates team would draw you in. Get in and let’s get out of here.”
I jumped into the back seat. It was then that I noticed the woman sitting next to him. “Oh, that’s my wife Lulu; you can call me Corrigan,” he said. “For safety’s sake, I’ll give you a name: at least for this trip, you’re Spud. I’m assuming that you like French fries.”
We drove south, then caught the Interstate I-94 which cuts east across Michigan toward Detroit. Corrigan and Lulu were short on conversation. Occasionally, however, he would tell me what he was thinking. “We’ll head this way, but there’s so much military presence along this route, we’ll go as far as we can, then we’ll turn south and pick up the Ohio Turnpike,” was typical of his informational announcements.
I did learn from him, however, that Republican military forces had laid siege to Detroit in an attempt to starve the residents into submission. This was a difficult maneuver because Canada was just on the other side of the Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. To keep away Canadian gawkers, Corrigan explained, the military had closed the bridge and the tunnel and positioned a flotilla of U.S. Navy ships in the Detroit River to shield the city from view.
It’s ironic that we had no problem passing through Michigan, as long as we stayed on the highway. Lots of military vehicles passed us in both directions. But, apparently, we were flying under their radar. But where we did encounter trouble was when we stopped for gas. I don’t know what made the station attendant suspicious. Maybe he recognized me. Maybe he was just curious about two men and woman riding together. Whatever his reason, when we pulled away I noticed him writing down our license number.
Amazingly, Corrigan wasn’t shaken by my observation. “Don’t worry, Spud,” he said, “Lulu and I have a contingency plan for just such an emergency.” A few miles from the station, he stopped in a deserted rest area and opened the trunk of his car.
“You see, Spud, they’ll be looking for three people in a white car with a man driving. So, if you move into the front seat, and Lulu drives, we’ll change the whole description. And me? I’ll be travellin’ in the trunk. But first, I need to change the license plates. I got lots of different plates. Let’s see, we’re a Michigan car now, so let’s become a Kentucky car.” Just to be safe, Lulu put on a blonde wig, and I was given a toupee with long hair to camouflage my balding head.
It worked like a charm. At one point a Michigan State Police car actually pulled up behind us as we passed through Jackson, but the cop didn’t stop us—didn’t even turn flash his red light. It was clear, however, that it was time to leave this highway and the state.
We turned off I-94 and moved southward along smaller state and county roads. As soon as we left the Interstate, however, Lulu pulled into a large Wal-Mart parking lot and let her husband back inside the car. I used the opportunity to drop my wet clothing from this morning in a Salvation Army collection bin. We then headed for the Ohio Turnpike.
“This should be a safer route.” Corrigan said. “Ohio has been purged of liberals. Even Cleveland has been cleaned out—or, so they think. We’ll stay on the Turnpike until we reach the safe house east of Cleveland. That’s where we’ll change cars.”
Ohio was a madhouse. The Turnpike was thick with military vehicles, and when helicopters and low-flying jet planes passed overhead, the sound was deafening. The Republican revolt must have progressed significantly, at least in this state, because there were signs of triumph everywhere. Skywriting aircraft painted victory slogans in the heavens. Billboards hailed President Birch and the reactionaries as great champions. Drivers honked at each other playfully, apparently joyous about recent developments. Corrigan even honked his horn a few times.
It was the Turnpike service area in Vermillion Valley that changed everything. We stopped there for fuel and a quick meal. No one expected complications, but the ever-cautious Corrigan had already told us his plan for eating. Whenever we pulled into a restaurant, he explained, the first move was for him and Lulu to go in as a couple. They were to sit and eat together. I was to follow in several minutes later and sit alone at the counter or at a table distant from them.
When I entered the Vermillion restaurant, Lulu and Corrigan were sitting far away from the counter. I could see them talking, but I couldn’t hear what they were saying. What really grabbed my attention, however, was the Ohio National Guardsman sitting in a corner booth. He was watching my friends intently. Corrigan apparently spotted the soldier, too, because he abruptly left Lulu and walked to the restroom. Lulu stayed seated and continued drinking her coffee.
While Corrigan was away, the Guardsman used his cell phone. He must have been calling for backup, because within a few minutes a half-dozen state policemen entered the diner. When Corrigan left the restroom, he was immediately approached by the police. So, too, was Lulu. I heard angry but indistinct words.
The interrogation, however, was quick and decisive, and in short order my friends were handcuffed and marched outside to separate squad cars. The police, apparently sensing a great arrest, congratulated themselves as they walked out of the restaurant. Lots of high-fives and prolonged handshakes suggested satisfaction. They also indicated that the police were finished with this place, unaware that I was still here.
Needless to say, I was shaken by the arrests. I feared for the safety of Corrigan and Lulu. And more personally, with my drivers now in jail I was extremely vulnerable. To ponder my situation, I retreated to the privacy of the restroom. And after considerable evaluation, I decided to gamble that I could hitch a ride before any policeman or soldier could notice me and stop me for questioning. I know now that it would have been an extremely stupid move on my part, but I was desperate and hitchhiking seemed to be my only option.
It all proved to be hypothetical, however. As I washed my hands at the lavatory sink, I spotted a wet paper towel left conspicuously on the counter. When I picked it up to dispose of it, I found it to be it was unusually heavy. I felt something hard, even metallic wrapped in it.
Opening the hand towel, I found the ignition key for a Chevrolet. I knew immediately who had left it there, and to what car it belonged. Obviously, Corrigan had sensed his capture, so he placed the key in the towel in hopes that I would discover it. I wasn’t sure if it was skilled planning or blind luck, but I now had a way to get out of Ohio. But I still felt apprehensive about the fate of my two friends.
For about an hour I remained in the restaurant drinking coffee. Fearful, confused, uncertain, I was trying to gather courage to make my next move. Was it safe to take Corrigan’s car and continue east? Maybe I should try to mooch a ride from a car or truck here at the service area? Was there any other way to get to New York City?
After much agonizing I finally decided to take the Impala and continue my Turnpike odyssey. But leaving that diner and walking to Corrigan’s auto would be a tense experience. What if the authorities were watching the car? How could I explain driving off in an automobile not registered to me? I had only a few dollars in my pocket, but with no wallet, no license, no identification or credit cards, just how far could I get in that car?
Self-questioning breeds doubt, and I was extremely doubtful as I walked toward the parking lot. I was so preoccupied that I didn’t even notice the dark green vehicle that was following me as I entered the aisle where the Impala was parked. When I did spot the green car, I turned quickly and began walking in a different direction.
“Hey, Spud, how’re you doin’?” said a male voice from the mysterious automobile.
The question was doubly alarming for me. Who was this stranger talking to me? I didn’t know anyone in Vermillion Valley, Ohio. And why did he call me Spud? Only two people ever called me that and they were under arrest.
I stopped and turned toward the questioner. “I’m fine. Doin’ good. But I don’t know who you are, and why did you call me Spud?” I responded.
“Lulu sent me. She thought you might need a lift,” the man replied. “Said you might like a ride into Cleveland?”
I had been fortunate so far with the people helping me on this modern underground railway, so I pressed my luck once more. I could see that the driver was a heavy-set man, about fifty years of age with graying hair and a thick mustache. “Well, if Lulu thinks I need a ride, then I need a ride. Whatever Lulu wants, Lulu gets,” I joked.
“Jump in, Spud, and we’ll get you on your way,” he said.
I followed his advice and got in on the front passenger side. I was still leery, but the casual confidence in his introduction gave me hope that I was making the correct move.
“Hi. My name’s Rico, just plain and simple Rico. And I know you’re Spud because you like French fries,” he quipped.
“Damned right I like fries. And with a name like Rico, I’ll bet you like rum,” I answered back in kind.
“Hey, how did you know? Did you spot an empty Ron Rico bottle on the backseat?” he asked.
“Nah,” I said, “it was just a lucky guess.” At this point I had no desire to continue the jocular banter, so I switched the tone of my voice and asked Rico how he happened to know Lulu, and why he was here to meet me.
Rico, too, got serious. “Lulu and Corrigan are old friends from high school days. Lulu texted me from the restaurant. Told me in code the cops were just about to grab the two of ‘em. She described you and said you were critical cargo that needed to be priority-shipped east. So, I’m here to get you on your way. Just call me your expediter.”
“Well, thanks for coming,” I said. “But, I never thought of myself as cargo, and I never thought of my trip east in shipping terms.”
“Well, man, I am old truck driver. Former card-carrying member of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 1145. Was so until the government shut down the union, shut down all organized labor for that matter,” Rico explained. “I squeak out a living now, but I miss the old days and the good pay, the fair pay for drivin’ those big rigs.”
The afternoon was fading when left the service area. “I’m going to take you to a safe house in Streetsboro. It’s on the other side of Cleveland, little over an hour from here” Rico announced. “They’ll move you from there.”
We passed the time with small talk, mostly about long-haul trucking and the interstate highway system. Rico’s stories reminded me of the old Hank Snow/Johnny Cash song, “I’ve Been Everywhere.” He really had been to Winnemucka and Mattawa…Oskaloosa and Tallapoosa, too.
“Yeah, I’ve covered almost every road in this here land, at least in the forty-eight contiguous,” he boasted. “Never driven in Hawaii, but I did take a 53-foot rig up to Alaska a few years ago. Man, the mosquitoes up there were so thick I couldn’t go outside even for a leak. They were THICK.”
We left the Ohio Turnpike at Exit 187 and drove a few miles to the small town of Streetsboro. I must say, Rico was a pro at this. He was careful in approaching the safe house. Cautiously, he turned off the headlights and pulled to the curb about half a block from the place. We sat in silence and watched for anything suspicious. After a few uneventful minutes, the front door of the house opened and a man emerged wearing a police uniform. I could plainly see that he was carrying a gun, a billy club, and what appeared to be a taser. The man walked toward an unmarked car parked farther down the street. He entered it and drove away.
“Danger City,” said Rico. “This place has been compromised. Anytime you see an armed cop coming out of a safe house, it’s not a good sign. We can’t take the chance. Lulu said you were top priority, and in my line of work that means protect the package at all costs.”
“What are we going do then?” I asked.
“I’ll tell you what we’re going to do. We are out of here. Right now,” Rico announced in a soft, deliberate tone. “I’ll just quietly turn this car around, and we shall slip away into the night. Sit back, Spud, we’re goin’ to Pennsylvania.”
Copyright © 2012 J. Fred MacDonald - All Rights Reserved.