This is the first draft of a science fiction novel I've penned named "Hollis Whittaker." There are succeeding drafts underway, with both storyline, chapter order and grammatical changes, but if you have any thoughts, feel free to contact me about them. I'd love to hear what you think, even if it's critical.
Dobie’s General Store had a mixture of just about everything for sale: groceries, clothing, cookware, liquor, knives, livestock feed, postcards, mugs, home decorations, tools, books, fishing supplies (worms and flies too) and there was always something unexpected. There were four gas pumps and one diesel, plus a kitchen serving a variety of freshly made foods for eat-in diners. The adobe structure was the main gathering point for residents in the sprawling village of Navan, New Mexico, population 231. With the first Spanish settlers arriving in the Navan area in the 1730s, the village was the much younger sibling of Agóyó Pueblo, just 15 miles away.
Dobie’s parking lot was half full of cars and trucks, mainly locals. A family just passing through the area had stopped their SUV for gas and to let their dog have a bathroom break. In the front of the store, a man was dumping 50-pound bags of poultry feed into the bed of his F-150.
There was also a blue Volvo.
For miles behind Dobie’s, there was nothing—desert ground dotted with blue grama grass, sagebrush shrubs and untold numbers of hibernating rattlesnakes. Cha’Risa, Hollis and Kirby skirted along the side of the store and around back where an old faded neon store sign leaned against the wall, partially covered by a blue plastic tarp, and past that a screen door. Cha’Risa opened the spring-loaded door and peered inside. There was a woman in her 50s with her back to the door working on a computer, a small radio beside her playing U2. The woman, a Navajo, turned when the door squeaked and she beamed at Cha’Risa.
“Rissa!” she said, leaping from her chair. She rushed to the door to greet her guests, her arms outstretched. Cha’Risa stepped inside and hugged her, as Hollis and Kirby wandered in behind her.
“My dear, I have been so worried,” the woman said.
“I’m good,” Cha’Risa replied. She turned to the two fifth graders. “Guys, this is Mary Nez. Mary, meet Hollis and Kirby.”
“They’re so cute,” Mary said. Hollis and Kirby rolled their eyes. “Are you boys okay? Do you want a milk or something? A hot dog?”
“Sure,” said Kirby.
Cha’Risa interrupted. “Later, okay?” She turned to Mary. “Have you talked to Naali or Abraham?”
“I have. Which one has the Níłchʼi.”
Hollis reached up to his neck and pulled the medallion out of his shirt, letting it dangle across his chest. The metallic blue glow from the Níłchʼi was becoming evident, even in the daylight.
“Oh my,” said Mary. “That’s it?”
“That’s it,” Cha’Risa answered.
“It’s so beautiful.” She regarded it, speechless for a moment.
The back room was cluttered, a large area stuffed with backup stock that had yet to make it to the front of Dobie’s. Boxes teetered on chairs, and more boxes were piled on top of that. Crates of Pepsi and Coke products were stacked six feet high. Even the desk that Mary had been working on looked like it had found itself in the path of a small cyclone.
Cha’Risa was gauging Mary’s reaction to the medallion. Mary was older and had heard more stories through the years of the Níłchʼi. And Mary certainly would have given the old superstitions more clout than Cha’Risa. “Do you know anything about it?”
Mary crouched down in front of Hollis, placed her hands on his shoulders and stared into his eyes. “I know that this young boy has been given both a gift and a burden. I can only imagine what he has seen in the short time he has possessed it, but it must be overwhelming for someone so young. I know there will be many people jealous of him, and those who will want to take it from him.”
“And many who will want to take him from it,” a voice arose from the other side of the screen door. It belonged to an old man, a Native American clad in a jean jacket and a Stetson hat.
“Naali!” Cha’Risa shouted, her relief evident. She leapt toward the door as her grandfather stepped inside.
“Hello my little flower,” he said. “How was the journey?”
They held each other in an extended embrace, the room falling silent except for the tinny sounds of Bono over a cheap radio. And then Naali’s eyes fell on Hollis. He moved toward him with his hand extended. “Hello my friend. I have waited a long time for this moment.” He shook hands with the boy, glanced down at the Níłchʼi and a calm took over his visage.
“Naali,” said Cha’Risa. “Where’s your oxygen? What are you doing?”
“That reminds me,” said the old man, struggling for a deep breath. “I’d better sit down.” His shoulders hunched, he took a couple steps toward a rolling chair and carefully set himself down on it, revealing the failings of an aging body.
“Where’s your oxygen tank?”
“Your Uncle Abraham has it. There is no such thing as sneaking out with an oxygen tank.”
“Well, where is he? You need that.”
“He is in my truck riding east. I told him to put at least two hours between us and only to stop where there are people. I pray that he is safe.”
“How did you get here?” Cha’Risa asked.
“I took his car. We exchanged clothes. He took my oxygen and truck. We were hoping it was enough to mislead those who would follow us.” He took a deep breath. “I took detours and turned around several times and I noticed no one trailing.”
Mary interrupted, “Just because you didn’t notice them doesn’t mean they weren’t there.”
“This much is true,” Naali responded. “But we must start somewhere.”
Cha’Risa turned toward Mary. “I don’t suppose you have any oxygen in the store, do you?”
“The store is well stocked,” Mary said. “But not that well.”
“We need to find him some.”
“I will make enquiries,” said Mary. She marched to the far door which led out to the storefront, making sure to open the door as little as possible before slipping out.
As much as the temperature outside was hovering in the low 40s, Dobie’s back office was sweltering, probably from a decades-old heating system with too few zones. The front of the store was cavernous and needed a constant supply of heat to keep it from escaping out the continuously opening outside doors and overall drafty walls and windows. There weren’t many realistic options. Mary could pay someone to insulate the building better; she could purchase a new heating system; or she could keep the office’s back door open. Option three had been working for so long, she never even really thought about it anymore.
Naali pulled a handkerchief from his trouser pocket and wiped his brow, resting his hands on his knees afterward. “And who is this young man?” he asked, looking to Hollis’ left.
“”I’m Kirby Cooper-Quinn,” the fifth grader replied. He offered his hand, which the old man accepted with a grin.
“You are special too Kirby Cooper-Quinn. An old man has ways of knowing these things.”
Naali reached inside his jean jacket and retrieved sheets of folded paper from an inside pocket. They were yellowed from age and crinkled as he flattened them out on his knee. He laid them out on the top of cardboard boxes next to him. There were several sheets covered in Navajo text and illustrations, but the top one contained drawings of both sides of the Níłchʼi, with more text and symbols in the borders surrounding it. The papers looked as if they were from the same batch as the one Cha’Risa had shown the boys on their first night in the woods—the drawing of Hollis’ face.
“The Níłchʼi Bee Hane’e was with our people for a long time—millennia,” Naali began. “It had always been handed down from one bearer to the next whenever death was imminent. And that is one of the key dictates. Once it has imprinted on someone, it is that person’s for life. It can only be utilized by the true bearer. Many have tried to abscond with it through the centuries, but the Níłchʼi Bee Hane’e will do nothing for the thief. Hollis, you are the true bearer. The Níłchʼi will be little more than a beautiful object to anyone else.”
“Unless he dies,” Cha’Risa said, a hint of understanding in her voice.
“Unless he dies,” Naali repeated. “Then the Níłchʼi will begin its quest for another bearer. It does not seek a moral person, nor a wise person, a man or a woman. It settles on anyone who possesses it long enough. That is why the government killed my grandfather. They needed the medallion to imprint on one of their own men in order to use it. And use it, they did. For centuries we used the Níłchʼi Bee Hane’e for the amelioration of our people, but once it was discovered, there were those who wanted it for destructive purposes. In the few years the military held the object, it was responsible for dreadful advances in technology. It allowed for the creation of the first atomic weapon. I cannot think of the future if it falls into the same hands as it did those many years ago.”
Kirby leaned against a side wall. “So it just makes your brain bigger or something?”
“Not bigger, no. Níłchʼi Bee Hane’e is the Navajo word for radio. A close enough translation would be ‘news over the air.’ But the term is much older than that,” Naali replied. “Níłchʼi means wind or spirit. It makes a connection to the gods. It allows the bearer and the gods to share one mind.”
“Geez!” Kirby cried, gazing at his friend. Hollis face had gone pale, his jaw slacked. All eyes were upon him.
Hollis had felt another being in the doctor’s parking lot, when he thought they were being watched. But it was more than that. He realized it now. Naali’s explanation fit better. It was as if he was sharing minds with someone else, that he was able to partially become the other being and that being partially became him. Hollis hadn’t ever given much thought to the notion of gods. He only knew of the one they’d made Christmas about, and everyone had told him there was only one god anyway. Was this the same god he’d been sharing his mind with or was he going to have to learn about a whole different set of them?
“What’s up with the seizures?” asked Cha’Risa. “He’s had a bunch of them. Just another one on the way in here.”
“Another one so soon?” Naali asked. “I’ve never heard of anyone experiencing them so close together. These are usually spread out over years, even decades. It is imprinting on him. I can only assume it is because he is so young and his mind is more malleable than anyone who has bore the Níłchʼi before. The succeeding bearer was always chosen by the current bearer years before he or she had passed from this life, and so it has never gone to anyone so many years from adulthood. Perhaps his body is absorbing it faster.”
The radio’s volume seemed to increase as everyone in the room pondered. Even Naali was at a loss for words. Then the sound of rustling broke the stillness. Heads darted toward the screen door, where a beautiful woman stood, wrapped only in a blue plastic tarp, her bare shoulders and legs exposed. She was shivering.
“Who are you?” Cha’Risa growled.
The woman spoke from the other side of the screen. “My name is Eleanor. I’m sorry to interrupt. I was sitting at my desk and . . . I can’t explain it. Suddenly I was lying by the bushes out back.”
Naali shrugged his shoulders and Cha’Risa took the hint. If she didn’t know the naked woman at the door and her grandfather didn’t know her, the misfit wasn’t welcome here. And the woman’s timing couldn’t be worse.
“Get lost,” Cha’Risa barked. “We don’t have any smack and we don’t have any money.” She showed her back to the screen door, Kirby and Hollis ogling the stranger slack jawed.
Eleanor jerked the plastic tarp tighter around her torso and turned to take her leave.
“Wait,” said Hollis, all eyes focused on the fifth grader. The woman at the door stopped, but didn’t face him. She waited to hear what he wanted.
“I’ve seen her before,” he said.
That caught Eleanor’s attention.
“What do you mean you’ve seen her?” Cha’Risa asked.
“In a dream.”
Naali spoke up. “You say you have seen this woman in a dream?”
“Yeah,” Hollis answered. He didn’t know how to continue. In his dreams, Eleanor had been shot and was dying on the side of the road. Should he explain? This woman was obviously important in some way, but he doubted she wanted to hear about her own demise.
“When was this? What happened in this dream?” asked Naali.
“She was . . .” Hollis trailed off. “There were other people there, an old lady and a bunch of men.”
Eleanor turned her head and looked in through the screen door at the boy.
“Are you sure?” Cha’Risa asked.
Cha’Risa met eyes with Eleanor for the first time. There was a moment of silence as she strongly considered disregarding Hollis. What could this bimbo do for their cause other than cause disruption? What if she was some sort of government agent and Hollis was being used? But it made no sense that anyone coming to sabotage their plans would present themselves wrapped only in a tarp. Cha’Risa wanted to err on the side of caution, but she didn’t have the faintest clue what the Níłchʼi was capable of, and if Hollis said he knew the woman, than perhaps she should just let the whole incident play out. “Come on in.”
Eleanor pulled the door open and stepped inside, yanking the long trail of the tarp through so the door could close. It bunched up behind her legs and she studied the faces, leery of the reception, but thankful for a bit of warmth and the possibility of help.
Naali met her gaze, interested. “When you say you were at your desk, you were working? When was that?”
“Just now,” Eleanor replied. “A couple minutes ago. I was pulling out a stack of paper and suddenly I’m looking up at the sky out back here.”
“I see. And where do you work?”
“At the Potomac Research Facility.”
With a raised eyebrow, Naali indicated to Cha’Risa that he had never heard of the it. Cha’Risa shrugged her reply. She hadn’t either.
“I know it,” said Hollis. “It was in my dream too. It’s not too far from Delacroix.”
Eleanor nodded in agreement.
Cha’Risa shook her head. “Hold on . . .” She looked at Naali who was nodding as if he knew something. “What? What is it?”
“This is something that is beyond my understanding,” he said.
“Where are we?” Eleanor asked.
Naali responded, “New Mexico.” He kept an eye on the woman as she scanned the room, her gaze focusing on the computer screen for a moment before becoming fixated on the drawings he had strewn over the boxes. There was a look of panic on her face and he knew that she recognized the illustration of the Níłchʼi. “Do you know this object?” he asked.
She didn’t reply, but Hollis—in a motion to which he’d grown accustomed—retrieved it from underneath his shirt, displaying the medallion for the mysterious woman.
“I’ve seen something very similar, but it wasn’t lit up like that.”
Eyes darted from one to another before Naali spoke. “What year is it?”
“Are you serious?” Eleanor wondered if she’d gotten herself involved in some sort of cult meeting. She thought maybe it had been a mistake to approach these people for help.
“I am,” he replied.
The room grew still.
“You have not seen something similar to this amulet. You have seen this one. It was stolen from my grandfather in 1941 and the gods have brought you here for a reason.”
The blood drained from Eleanor’s skin, her blood vessels dilating with nerves, her eyes shooting back to the computer and at the plastic cases of Pepsi.
Naali could feel she was about to break down. He’d seen it before. “Sit,” he said. He motioned with his arm for Kirby to drag over a chair, which the boy did. She sat, absent-mindedly, eyes darting from object to object around the room.
“Get her some clothes,” Naali said to Cha’Risa, who marched out the office door.
The boys didn’t know how to approach their new comrade and looked at each other for encouragement.
Naali leaned in toward Eleanor, “What did you do at the facility?”
She barely acknowledged him, her gaze shooting from the radio to the box of foil wrapped powerbars resting on the office desk.
“Eleanor?” Naali said.
She looked at the old man, a new focus in her gaze.
“What do you do for work at this facility?”
“I can’t say.”
“You need to know,” said Naali, “that it’s not 1945.”
“It’s 2018,” Kirby interjected.
“I don’t understand,” said Eleanor, her face turning a sickly moistened pale.
Naali just nodded.
Her brow started to tremor as if something might snap inside her. She pulled the tarp tight around her, the plastic crinkling.
The office door shot open and Cha’Risa entered with a set of flip flops and socks in one hand and a pair of gray sweat pants and a New Mexico Lobos sweatshirt under her arm. She tossed the clothes to Eleanor, who caught them with a surprised breath and a rustling in the tarp.
Naali looked at Hollis and Kirby. “We need to give this woman some space to get dressed.” He struggled to his feet, Kirby helping him, and the males made their way out the screen door.
The outside air was crisp and biting, a cool, dry desert air. Naali motioned to Kirby, who helped lower the old man to the ground. Naali wrapped his arms around his knees and stared into the side of the store wall. Hollis had taken up a resting position by an old neon sign, which had been covered by a plastic tarp not that long ago . He stared past Naali across the desert, the patchwork shrubs and grasses dotting the landscape.
“This is so cool,” said Kirby, pacing between his friend and the old man. “Is that lady really from 1945?”
“Cool,” the boy added.
“I know of nothing like this in the history of our people,” Naali said. “The Níłchʼi Bee Hane'e has offered up some wondrous miracles, but none of this significance.”
Kirby continued to pace, seemingly unaware of Naali’s words.
But Hollis was listening. “She was dying when I saw her.”
Kirby stopped in his tracks and looked back at his friend.
Naali shifted his eyes slowly toward Hollis. “What is it that you saw?”
The boy didn’t move his gaze from the horizon. “Someone shot her. There were a bunch of people around and she was lying on the ground by the road.”
It was certain that Eleanor had been brought here for a reason. Naali knew that. How she’d arrived was obviously tied to the Níłchʼi, but why was a mystery.
“Did you see someone shoot her?” Naali asked.
Hollis shook his head. “No, she was just lying on the ground bleeding.”
“So she was not dead?”
Hollis shrugged his shoulders. “I guess not. I mean she was still alive, but it didn’t seem like she was going to be for long.”
“Who else was there, anyone you recognized?”
“No. There were some guys in suits and an old lady and some lights set up on the road, like it was a checkpoint or something . . . They were looking for something.”
With a nod, Naali confirmed what Hollis had already suspected. “They were searching for the Níłchʼi and they thought this woman had it.”
“Yeah, but this was just a dream, right,” Kirby interrupted. “Unless this thing made Hollis into some sort of time traveler . . . seer guy.”
“The Níłchʼi Bee Hane'e has never been fully understood. It allows its bearer many capabilities that would seem unnatural. I have no doubt—given that he recognizes this woman—that Hollis indeed experienced something very important.”
Kirby cocked his head. “So how can she be here and all good and everything if she’s been shot?”
The question hung in the air for a moment before Naali spoke. “It may be that it was just a vision, an interpretation meant to be deciphered by your young friend here.” He nodded toward Hollis. “Then again, perhaps her future still lies in our past.”
It took a second for Kirby to understand what Naali meant. “Whoa!” the boy shouted. “You mean this lady . . .”
Naali motioned for him to keep his voice down.
“You mean this lady,” Kirby continued in a more hushed tone, “is still going to get killed in the future . . . I mean in the past . . . or whatever?”
Naali threw up his hands, casting an uncertain look toward the young man.
“This is nuts!”
“What I can tell you is that she is here for a reason. Whether she stays in our time or returns to her own, I cannot know.
Cha’Risa popped her head out the screen door. “She’s all set.” She stepped toward her grandfather and helped him stand up off the ground, speaking to him alone as the boys headed back inside. “So, what’s the plan?”
He paused. “Hollis will need to be hidden for the rest of his life.” Then he continued toward the screen door.
Cha’Risa pulled at his arm, halting him. “That’s not a plan,” she said as the screen door inched back open. Hollis had overheard their conversation.
“I want to see my parents,” said the boy.
“I do not know if that is wise,” Naali responded.
“I don’t care if it’s wise.” Hollis’ voice had risen. “I’m ten years old. I need to see my parents again . . . at least some time.”
The old man and Cha’Risa made their way into the office, where Eleanor was examining the computer screen on the desk and Kirby was studying Eleanor. Hollis was awaiting a reply with his arms folded in front of his chest. The blue tarp in which Eleanor had been wrapped was folded and draped over a set of boxes.
“I do not want you to be unhappy,” Naali finally said. He reached for a chair and, with Cha’Risa’s help, sat down. “I will need counsel. The government has long arms and sensitive ears and I have seen enough movies to know that I don’t know enough. There is a man who may be able to help. We will go see him.”
Mary Nez sprang in from out front, closing the door firmly behind her. She spied Eleanor with her hands all over the store’s computer. It was only displaying the day’s weather, but the stranger seemed spellbound. “Who’s this?”
“This is a woman who came to us from a research facility in 1945,” Naali answered.
Mary nodded her head. “I see. I’m sure that’s not what it sounds like, but whatever. I think I found one, an oxygen tank.”
“It’s good to have connections,” said Naali.
“Do you want me to have them bring it here?”
“No. We will need to get going. Can you provide an address? We will pick it up.”
“I have her address right here.” Mary held out a scrap of paper and Cha’Risa accepted it.
“Eleanor,” Cha’Risa said. But the woman was focused on the computer’s keyboard. “Eleanor!”
The woman spun around, aware once again of her surroundings.
“We need to get going and we think you should come with us.”
“I don’t like this.” Agent Grey had a bad feeling about the truck they were following.
“I don’t either,” Breiner replied, one hand on the steering wheel. They’d been keeping their distance behind the grandfather for more than a half hour, but they couldn’t even see the truck; instead they were following the federal agents who were tailing the grandfather. “Where the hell are we going?”
They had left civilization.
Breiner placed his second hand on the steering wheel and tightened his grip, the faux leather crinkling. “What if this isn’t the grandfather?”
“What are you thinking?”
“What if the grandfather changed clothes with his son?”
“And took off in the other car.”
Breiner wanted his partner to come to the same conclusion he had.
“But if this is the grandfather, this is our best chance to find the woman and the kid,” she said.
Grey pulled a phone out of her jacket. “I’m going to check the satellite.” But the phone buzzed in her hand with a no-nonsense ring. “Grey,” she said into the phone. She listened, then conveyed the message to Breiner. “The grandfather is the grandson of the original owner of the medallion.”
“You’re shitting me,” Breiner replied.
Grey was back on the phone. “Where’s the other car? Mmm hmm.” Grey looked at Breiner again. “It’s at a store.”
“Maybe we should go check the grandfather’s place. What do you think?”
“Hold on,” Grey said. Holding up a finger. “Hold on! Five people just got in the other car.”
Breiner slammed on the brakes and whipped the car into a u-turn, speeding back toward Navan.
• • • • •
The always stolid Naali, in the front passenger seat of the Toyota Camry, was as calm as always. He seemed like he might well have just been heading out for a cup of coffee.
From behind Cha’Risa, Eleanor reflected on life outside the window, each passing car quiet and streamlined. She studied the Camry’s interior, so compact and such a smooth ride. There was no bouncing around like in her father’s truck, the bumps on the road ticking by, barely noticeable. She’d never been out west. The land was flat for miles and miles until it wasn’t. And then there were hills . . . mountains even. It was so desolate.
She considered her parents. If these people were telling her the truth, her parents were long dead, all of her friends as well. Everything was different. She wondered how the world had changed. Had Japan rebuilt after the bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima? It had only been a few weeks in her time, but this was decades later, the majority of a century. What had happened to the Nazis?
Eleanor noticed her clothing. The outfit she’d picked out this morning was gone. What had happened to it? One moment, she was pulling paper out of her desk, preparing for Colonel Clay’s latest crisis and the next she was lying naked on the freezing dusty ground halfway across the country in the future.
Was Clay experimenting on her? Maybe he needed unwitting guinea pigs and had introduced some sort of mind control substance into her system. That would make the most sense. It was impossible to travel into the future. But this wasn’t like a dream or any run-of-the-mill hallucination. She felt the car heating up, she could smell stale cigarette smoke seeping out of the upholstery. The boy next to her kept knocking into her arm as he fidgeted. No, this felt too real.
Seventy-three years had passed? Was it possible that some of the people she’d known were still alive, maybe some children? They’d be old fogies now. How could she find out? She needed to get back to Virginia.
She examined the clothing she’d been given. It looked to be a man’s exercise outfit. The top was printed with something, although she was too distracted to try to read it. It was a comfortable set of clothes, but she wondered what people would think of her when she stepped out of the car dressed like a man out for a jog. She was grateful for the help, but weren’t there any women’s clothes in the store they’d just left?
The two other adults in the front seats looked to be Indians. And one of the boys said he had recognized her. She’d certainly never seen him before. So, where were they all going and why did they want her to come along? She had heard the medallion was an Indian artifact, and knew it was extremely important to the Defense Department. Colonel Clay had been put in charge of researching it and he wore it just like the boy did, like a necklace under his shirt. He had tried to impress her with it on several occasions; Clay had been chosen for his military acumen, he said, his intellect. There was no shortage of narcissistic embellishments he’d used to describe himself, but men of true brilliance rarely needed to bloviate. And despite all of his talk, she’d never seen the artifact glow like it did on the boy. Eleanor didn’t know why, but she knew that was important.
The car made a left turn onto a smaller road, which weaved around several curves, passing an auto body shop and a couple houses. Cha’Risa stopped the Camry at the third house, a drab single-level southwest brick structure. There was a long open porch and two rocking chairs facing the road. “This should be it,” she said, checking the scrap of paper Mary had given her. She threw the driver’s door open and made for the house’s front door. Disappearing inside for a moment, she returned wheeling a small oxygen tank to the passenger side of the Camry. She opened the door and hoisted the brushed aluminum and green tank in between her grandfather’s legs.
“Did you pay these people for this?” Naali asked.
“We have more important things to worry about,” Cha’Risa snapped back. “They know it’s for you. They’re okay with it.” She slammed the door and returned to the driver’s seat. After a quick u-turn, she gunned the car back to the main road. “Which way?”
Naali had fitted the oxygen mask over his nose and mouth and started the flow. He pointed to the right and the Camry’s tires spit out sand as it took off.
“You should keep it slow,” Naali said, his voice muffled through the mask.
Cha’Risa eased off the gas. “I know. I’m under a little pressure here.”
“No argument about that.”
“Who is this guy, anyway?”
“He is a little insecure. He has theories about the government that I cannot follow.”
“So he’s paranoid.”
“I have no doubt he has been described that way.”
“So what’s he going to do for us?”
“I feel we are in a situation when a little paranoia could be helpful. He is very knowledgeable about computers and he has told me on several occasions that if I ever needed to disappear, I should come see him.”
“If you ever needed to disappear?”
“You know, get off the grid, avoid detection.”
“Yeah, I got the point. When were you ever on the grid?”
“Do you remember the data breach last year, where millions of people’s identities were hacked? I was one of the millions. We are all on the grid, make no mistake.”
“And this guy can, what, get Hollis off of it?”
“I know that he has studied this idea far more than I have.”
Naali instructed Cha’Risa to head toward the reservoir, about 45 minutes from Dobie’s. After a half hour, he leaned closer to the windshield. “Turn up at that next road.” Cha’Risa spun the car onto a glorified dirt path, the bumps and potholes becoming more evident on the suspension.
Eleanor craned her neck to look out the rear window and watched the road they’d been on disappear in a cloud of dust.
It was desert out here, dried patches of grass and an occasional spindly cactus. Every half mile or so, the car passed a home, caked in dust with red tin roofs and southwestern red and blue tile decorations. But after fifteen minutes, there were no more signs of life.
“Turn here,” said Naali.
“Where?” Cha’Risa asked.
“Past the turpentine-brush.” He signaled with his bent, wrinkled finger.
It was evident that a vehicle had driven where Naali had directed Cha’Risa, but it didn’t even qualify as a dirt path. The Camry followed the tracks, which disappeared after a few dozen yards. They seemed to be in the open desert. “Is this the right way?”
“Head for that mesa,” Naali replied, pointing to the distance.
Cha’Risa found she had to navigate around boulders and shrubs, always turning back for the steep cliffs dozens of miles away.
The car’s suspension squeaked as the weight of five passengers pushed down against the uneven terrain. Ten miles per hour seemed about the top speed for the car. Occasionally, they’d hit a particularly big bump and everyone would bounce six inches off their seats.
Eleanor leaned over Kirby, who was seated next to her out back, and she spoke to Hollis. “How is it that you know me? Have we met?”
Hollis stared out the side window. “I saw you in a dream.”
“And what happened in the dream?”
Hollis held his tongue for a moment. “Nothing . . . there was just you and a bunch of other people hanging around.”
“Does anyone know how I got here? Does it have something to do with the tom-tom?”
At that, heads spun.
“The what?” Kirby asked with a touch of confusion.
“The tom-tom, the thing he’s wearing.”
Naali spoke though the oxygen mask. “Is that what they call it at the research facility?”
“It has everything to do with it,” Naali replied. “But it is the Níłch'i Bee Hane’e.”
Eleanor squirmed. “Sorry.”
“Hey Cha’Risa,” said Kirby. “Let me use your phone.”
“I just want to show her how awesome it is, you know, compared to the telegraph or whatever they had back then.”
“I told you I turned it off so they can’t follow us,” she replied. “Remember?”
Naali pointed to something in the distance, little more than speck on the horizon. “That’s it.”
It was 10 minutes at their ambling pace before the house became apparent, and another 10 on top of that until they reached it. The small adobe structure melted into the landscape, a peculiar design with soft curves and awkward angles as if it had eroded through the millennia. There was an array of solar panels atop the roof and a satellite dish springing from the side wall, as well as an off-road motorcycle and dirt-encrusted Jeep.
The lower half of the front walls was lined with wood—split and stacked, and the chimney puffed out a steady billow of smoke along with the unmistakeable smell of burning mesquite. Naali placed the oxygen tank on the ground outside the passenger door and stood beside it. He removed the mask and breathed in deeply the smoky mesquite as a content smile lit on his face. The rest of the crew exited and stayed near the car. If there was a middle of nowhere, this house sat smack dab at the center of it.
“Come,” the old man said. He placed his mask back on and wheeled the oxygen around the car. A few haphazard paving stones led the way to the door, losing its aged cyan paint in large chips. He rang the doorbell, which didn’t dong as most would, but rather sounded to the opening theme of Star Wars, its horns muted through the door.
“Cool,” Kirby said, elbowing Hollis.
A voice shouted from inside. “Come in!”
Naali stepped inside, followed by the others, and moved toward the sound of a television in an adjacent room. A man sat on a sofa with his back to the door, machine gun sounds blaring from the TV. He was playing a video game.
“How’s it going, Naali?” the man squawked in a nasally tone, without turning or waiting for a reply. “Who’re your friends?”
The old man laughed through his oxygen mask, then removed it. “He is fond of security cameras,” he explained to Cha’Risa. Then he spoke to the man on the couch a little louder. “This is my granddaughter and her friends.”
The video game paused and the man rose and faced them. His arms dangled out of his tee-shirt like a couple of noodles, six foot two and a hundred-twenty pounds sopping wet. His haircut seemed to be an afterthought, dark curly hair, cropped tight. But his most prominent features were a mouth that seemed to stretch to his ears, and his ears, which were two sizes too large for his head. He grinned enthusiastically. “What a great surprise! You should have told me you were coming. I don’t have anything here. What do you want, a tea or a pop?”
“Nothing, thank you,” Naali responded. “Biggs, this is my granddaughter Cha’Risa.” He motioned around the room. “And this is Eleanor, Kirby and Hollis.”
Biggs bobbed his head as each name was called, raising his hand and waving. But his smile slowly faded as his eyes stayed on the boys, then he lowered his hand. “Naali, man, what’s going on?” He glanced back at Cha’Risa. “Shit! Are you kidding me, man? These people are hot right now, I mean really seriously hot!”
“All is not what it seems,” the old man replied.
“This is the wunderkind and half the country’s looking for your granddaughter for kidnapping him.”
“You know as well as anyone that things are rarely as simple as they are made out to be.”
“Geez! Were you followed? Aww man! Why’d you come here? Why’d you have to come here?” Biggs shot to the front window and scanned the horizon before snatching the drapes closed.
“We weren’t followed.”
“Yeah, right.” Biggs spun around in a panic. “Holy crap, what were you thinking lady?”
“We need your help,” Naali said.
“Boy, you spend your life staying off the grid and then someone you thought was your buddy brings over the target of every government agency in the world.” He started to wheeze and stuck his hand into a tray of coins and rubber bands on a shelf and retrieved an inhaler, taking two puffs.
“Maybe you should sit,” Naali told him. “We are the good guys.”
“Yeah,” he agreed, plodding back to the sofa, looking glum. “I got no doubt you’re the good guys, but the good guys aren’t the ones that crash through windows and erase people.”
Biggs stiff-armed a door and led the party into a windowless room in the rear of his house, for “covert operations,” he explained. He flicked the switch on the wall and a couple of desk lamps shot to life. They illuminating a tempered glass workstation in the center of the room, on top of which were laid a trio of laptops. There were a series of nondescript boxes with flashing colored lights under the computers, all connected with a spaghetti jumble of cables. A dehumidifier ran noisily in the corner of the otherwise sparse room, which was a good 10 degrees warmer than the rest of the house.
“There’s all sorts of rumors about your granddaughter and her friends,” Biggs said as he ensconced himself on the lone chair and fired up the computers. “But I discounted most of them. Some guys just let their imagination run wild and posit whatever they want. Scuttlebutt turns into accepted theory. Usual horse shit, you know what I mean? There’s only a few people you need to give credence to. They have good sources and don’t pretend to know stuff they don’t. They’re just trying to get to the truth, you know?”
“They have good track records,” Naali said.
“Exactly,” Biggs replied, pleased that the old man was on his page.
Cha’Risa was eager to find out if anyone else knew about the Níłch’i, if someone could help them out of their predicament. “So what are they saying?”
“Okay, well first of all, most of them are on your side. Those other quote, unquote agents, you know, the ones that were barely mentioned in the stories. No doubt. They were definitely military. They want your friend here to help with weapons research.”
“They don’t want me,” said Hollis. “They want the Níłch’i.”
Biggs spun around in his seat. “The what, now?”
Hollis pulled out the medallion and displayed it for the lanky nerd.
“Geez,” said Biggs, scrutinizing the object. “Look at that thing glow. What the heck is it made of? Looks like something out of Lord . . .” He was silent for a moment as his jaw slowly dropped a few inches. “No way! No way!” He grabbed the Níłch'i and yanked it closer, pulling in Hollis as well, who was still connected via the necklace. “Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me? The tom-tom! This is the freakin’ tom-tom!”
“The Níłch'i Bee Hane’e,” Naali corrected.
“Wow! This is a totally new ballgame. I had no idea you guys had this thing.” He relinquished control of the medallion to Hollis’ relief. “That explains everything. Holy crap!”
“You’ve seen this before?” Cha’Risa asked.
Biggs’ speech had become frenetic. He shifted again toward the computers and started typing. “You bet I have. It’s supposed to be an old Native American artifact, which makes sense given the company in the room, right? They say the government ripped it off back in the 40s to use for military research. It was stolen a few years before the A-bombs, you get me? A scientist named Robert Cox was put in charge of it. You never heard of him, have you? Well neither has anyone else. You know Oppenheimer and Manley and Serber. But Cox, he was the guy. They kept him under wraps, all right.”
“So what are you saying,” Cha’Risa asked. “That this guy Cox invented the atomic bomb?”
“That’s what I’m saying. Don’t get me wrong. The other scientists were geniuses. No doubt. But Cox, he was head and shoulders above. And they say it was because of that medallion, the tom-tom.”
“Níłch'i Bee Hane’e,” Naali said.
“Whatever. The piece of metal tied around this guy’s neck.” Rough illustrations of the Níłch'i popped up on the laptop screens. “But you see, some people say Cox was a pacifist and he ended up dying of natural causes at the age of 46. Natural causes, my ass.”
Naali interrupted. “So how did he die?”
“All I’m saying is it wasn’t natural causes. My guess: the feds wanted someone a little more military-oriented. So that’s when the tom-tom found its way out east to some facility in Virginia where it went missing.”
Eleanor straightened herself up and the eyes of everyone but Biggs fell upon her.
“Eleanor,” Cha’Risa said in earnest. “How did that scientist die?”
“I don’t know,” Eleanor replied. “Honestly, I don’t know.”
“So how do you know about the Níłch'i?”
Eleanor stood in the shabby sweats she’d been given, not sure whether she should open up about the top-secret project to which she was privy. She bit her lower lip before answering. “The man I work for is in charge of it.”
“Colonel Emory Clay,” said Biggs as he spun dramatically in his seat, revealing a proud grin.
Biggs looked as if he’d caught the murderer in an Agatha Christie novel, then his face melted into utter bewilderment. “Wait a minute, what do you mean the man you work for?”
“Miss Eleanor is from 1945,” Naali explained.
Biggs stared blankly like a deer in the headlights as the conversation continued around him.
Cha’Risa started. “Well, this doesn’t really tell us anything we don’t already know.”
“I am not sure we need to know anything more than how to keep Hollis safe,” Naali replied.
“What about me?” asked Kirby. The fifth grader was worried for his friend, but he was also tired of not being considered.
Cha’Risa and Naali eyed each other. Was there any way to return Kirby to a normal life?
Biggs’ expression hadn’t changed. “She’s from 1945.” His words distracted the group for a second, but that was all.
“We will find a way to return you to your parents,” Naali said to Kirby.
“What about me?” Hollis asked.
Neither Naali nor Cha’Risa had an answer.
“I don’t get it,” Biggs said. “I don’t get it. What do you mean she’s from 1945? You’re not telling me that this woman is from 1945. Because that is just spectacular.”
“Biggs,” Naali began, “what we need to know is how we can protect Hollis. Can you help us with that? It is of the utmost importance that Hollis remains with the Níłch'i Bee Hane'e and is free to grow with it.”
“Help me out here,” Biggs said. “So you’re saying she’s actually from 1945. You saying she’s from 1945, that this woman was born in like 1920 or whatever and that now she’s here and the tom . . . the nil whatever is responsible for her traveling through actual time? That I’m looking at a time traveler?”
There was a moment of silence as Naali nodded. Then Cha’Risa spoke. “Can you help Hollis?”
Biggs shook his head as if he were fending off a night of bad drinking. “I think I need a minute here. This is just nuts.”
“Biggs.” Naali’s tone had grown serious. “You to concentrate. Please. We do not have the privilege of time.”
Biggs nodded, his lips tightening. “I can think about that later, right? I need to set some priorities. All right, what are we looking at? Hollis. Yes.” His voice lowered as if he’d realized something troubling. “Oh boy.”
“What is it?” Cha’Risa snapped.
“The thing is, I don’t live this far away from everything for no reason. I picked this spot because I wanted bug out options. It’s just that I can’t believe I’m actually going to need them.”
“Where would these options be?” Naali asked.
“A few miles away, at the base of the mountains. I lugged a bunch of junk out there so I could make it, you know, in the event of the apocalypse or whatever. It’s not going to last forever, but there’s enough there to keep you going for a few weeks while we figure out some sort of plan to get you down to Central America. There aren’t enough supplies to keep you going forever. It was only supposed to be me, you know. I wasn’t planning on hosting a convention.”
“All right,” Kirby said. “What are we waiting for?”
Naali, Cha’Risa and Biggs eyed each other, silently acknowledging that the boy was right. Biggs hopped out of his chair and the group spun toward the door, stopping in their tracks.
Eleanor was gone.
In her absence, a pile of crumpled clothes lay on the floor.
Biggs was the first to speak. “What the heck?”
Then Cha’Risa shouted through the doorway. “Eleanor! Eleanor, what’s going on?”
“I don’t know that I would waste my breath,” Naali said. “She was here for a reason and it seems she has left our realm in the same way she entered, having fulfilled the task.”
“Whoa!” Kirby exclaimed.
Biggs held in both sides of his cranium with his stick arms. “Geez! You can’t tell me she just went back to 1945.”
“I don’t know where she went,” Naali replied. “But she isn’t here anymore. Come, let’s find this bug out spot before anyone finds us.”
They trampled over Eleanor’s garments and made for the vehicles, Biggs grabbing a backpack by the front door on his way out.
“It would appear we have an extra spot in the car,” Naali said to Biggs as he climbed into the front seat of the Camry.
But Biggs was heading toward his motorcycle. “No thanks,” he said. “Always good to have a backup. This baby was made for terrain like this.” He threw on the backpack, fired up the bike with his thumb and revved it several times, the engine spewing out a cloud of black smoke. He pulled in front of the car and punched it toward the set of mountains in the distance.
The first couple of seconds were utterly disorienting. One moment, Eleanor was tagging along with a group of people in a foreign world and the next everything had gone blank, sheer white. Her vision needed to reset before it could even process what she was seeing, some sort of reference point. It was a ceiling. She was lying on her back in front of her desk, having apparently returned to 1945. Her visit to the future had begun the same way, which somewhat prepared her for the jolt back. What on earth was happening to her.
She sat up, only then realizing she had returned in the same way she’d gone out—naked. The pounding in her chest doubled, fast and heavy. She shot her eyes to the door. It was closed. Then to Col. Clay’s office, closed. Thank god.
Then she heard it . . . his voice. He was on the phone in his office. And she was lying naked. There was simply no way, this would end well if he strode out of his office. He’d take it as a sexual advance. How could he not? He considered himself to be irresistible and any protests on her part would be seen as part of a game. Furthermore, he wasn’t the kind of man who would stop, even if she fought.
She shot to her feet and raced around the desk, trying too stay silent. There they were, her clothes, lying in a heap on her chair. Without her body to support them, everything had just fallen. She reached for her blouse, which was on top, buttoned up. Her bra was still inside it. She shook the blouse and the undergarment fell out. Get the top on first, she thought; she could always hide her lower half beneath the desk.
She had never felt so exposed. With no clothes for cover, every movement created a breath of air across her skin. It’d be better to be nude in Times Square than at work with a chauvinistic slime ball in the next room.
She didn’t bother to unclasp the bra. Just throw the straps over your arms, she thought. It can be fixed after you’re covered up. Then she lowered the buttoned blouse over her head, looking somewhat normal from the waist up.
She lowered herself onto the chair, trying unsuccessfully to keep it from squeaking. Then she inadvertently kicked over her shoes, which lay right where she always placed her feet. The wooden seat had remained warm during her disappearance, but it felt wrong upon her naked rump.
Col. Clay slammed the phone down, and Eleanor felt her heart speed up even more. She kept a nervous watch on the opaque glass of his office door. There was no movement inside and the room was quiet. There was only the sound of the clock on the wall of the outer office, its motor slowly turning the second hand.
She unzipped the skirt and shook out her pantyhose and underwear, raising up her butt enough to pull on the skirt. She was at least covered. The clock on the wall read 1:38. No time had passed during her journey into the future. How was that possible? She slipped on her underwear and pantyhose, making sure to stay in the chair in case Clay came barreling through the door.
Her feet found the shoes while she simultaneously reached up the front of her blouse with both hands and unclasped the bra, still bunched up uselessly on the front of her chest. She placed the straps on either of her sides and raised the rear of the blouse enough to stretch the bra back together.
The thoughts of the last several hours were a jumble in her mind. Clay had shown her the medallion several times, trying to impress her, but she never really knew anything about it. Had the military actually stolen it from an Indian family, killing an innocent American in the process? Did they use it to create the atomic bomb? And were they now making more hugely destructive weapons?
Her hands jolted to her desk as Clay’s door sprang open. There wasn’t a chance to tuck in the blouse or straighten out her clothes.
Her peripheral vision picked him up. His lips were wrapped around a stogie, his eyes ogling her. He leaned against the door jamb and sucked on the cigar, removing it with his right hand and blowing the stinky smoke toward her desk.
Eleanor had to make an effort to slow down her breathing, which only caused her heart to accelerate. Would he pick up on the fact that she was sweating? Did she look flush? She acknowledged her boss with a calm glance and set her eyes back on some papers covering the desk. She was trying to stuff her feet back into her shoes without appearing distracted.
Clay stepped to the front of her desk and set the cigar down in an ashtray. “That was General Groves,” he said. “He’s flying up from D.C. tomorrow.”
Eleanor didn’t want to look at Clay. Eye contact only encouraged him. She wondered how unkempt she appeared. Her hair was probably all tousled, her blouse loose. She replied while keeping her attention on the desk. “Should I do anything to prepare for the general’s arrival?”
“You know, General Groves is losing his secretary of thirty years.”
Eleanor’s mind was having a hard time focusing and this new information only added to the disarray. Maybe she could be reassigned to Washington, live in the big city, work for a professional. She could sense the possibility of a weight being lifted, a light at the end of the tunnel.
“I could put in a good word for you,” said Clay.
And then she realized what he was doing. He wouldn’t put in a good word; Clay would never let her go; he was too much of a dog. He was dangling a better job in front of her to grease the wheels, to use her own ambition against her. This was his latest maneuver to bed her. Her eyes met the ashy end of Clay’s cigar, smoldering at the end of her desk and she swallowed her anger. “Thank you, sir.”
“It’d be a raise if we could get you in,” Clay added. “You’d be the top of the secretarial pool down there.”
“Yes sir,” she said. Her breathing was under control now, but the pressure in her head was still building. It was all she could do to prevent herself from reaching up to this man’s neck and strangling him. Did he really believe she was that gullible and desperate? She took a deep breath and moved her eyes up to meet his, responding in a calm tone. “Of course I do have friends and family up here. I help my parents around the farm.”
“Of course you do,” he said. “But I think it’s something else. You don’t believe you have what it takes. Is that it? Let me tell you I think you’re wrong on that. If you put your heart into it, if you’re willing to give it your all, you’d be the best of the bunch. And I think if you’d let me help you, you’d realize I’m right . . . usually am.”
If this were anyone else, his little speech would be heartening, Eleanor thought. But Clay was a manipulative, womanizing narcissist. Everything he did was for his own gain. “Yes sir,” she said.
“I tell you what, why don’t you give it some thought. And while you’re at it, why don’t you grab me Lt. Coffey’s file.”
He stepped back toward his office, pausing at his door and facing her. He’d left his cigar in the ashtray on purpose. In a few minutes, he’d come back out again to retrieve it and gawk at her some more.
Eleanor rose from her seat while tucking in her blouse, but this was far more than a normal tuck. The blouse was entirely loose. She started around front and worked her way back before realizing that her skirt was loose as well. She’d forgotten to zip it.
She spun around to face Col. Clay, continuing to tuck nonchalantly, and reached behind her back fumbling for the zipper. “Lt. Coffey, you said?”
“That’s what I said.” His eyes hadn’t strayed from her. He had obviously noticed the unzipped skirt and loose blouse. In fact, unless he was blind, she’d just given him a glimpse of her underwear.
She stood for a second too long, facing Clay silently, zipping the skirt and tucking in the remainder of her blouse before turning back for the filing cabinet.
“What have you been up to when my back was turned?” Clay asked.
Eleanor pretended not to hear him, reaching for the filing cabinet drawer. She could hear his footsteps getting closer. In a moment, he was standing directly behind her.
“I said what have you been up to? That’s not the kind of office we run around here.”
She could only play this off as a misunderstanding. “I don’t know what you mean, sir.”
“Oh, I think you do,” he said, his smoky breath warm on her ear.
She had finally had enough. She spun around and jammed her palm into his chest, forcing him to stumble back a step. “What are you doing?” she asked.
“Oh, I like that,” he replied. He planted his hands on her hips and pulled her towards him, placing his face two inches from hers. His breath was a mixture of coffee and cigars and it made her stomach churn. The man towered over Eleanor, but she didn’t care.
“Get your hands off of me!” she said, pushing against him with the full strength of her arms. But Clay was too strong. He didn’t budge.
He kissed her on the cheek and whispered. “You’re all sweaty. Have you been focusing on work or something else?”
“Leave me alone! Get off of me!”
“You know I can help you. I can get you out of this cruddy town. All you need to do is nothing.”
She clenched her fists and began hammering on his chest, inches from her own, but he barely noticed. Clay ducked his head down and followed her lips as she tried to avoid his. He kissed her on the lips, her head pulling back. Eleanor’s arms were shaking from the strain of trying to hold him off. Then he began moving his fingers on her hips. He was slowly hiking her skirt up.
“Stop it,” she said. Her skirt was up six inches. Eleanor spun toward the filing cabinet and shook loose, using her hips and arms and moving in the only direction available. She pulled her skirt back down. Unfortunately, by shaking free she had cornered herself, on one side a wall and the other a bookshelf. He closed the gap and grabbed her hips again, yanking her skirt up more forcefully.
“Let’s see what you got. What have you been hiding from Colonel Clay?”
“Stop it!” she shouted. She grabbed at his hands struggling to pull them free of her hips, but his arms were branches, and her own like twigs.
“Promotion or reprimand? You can decide that right here.”
“I quit! Now let me out of here!” Eleanor’s words floated right through him.
“Squirming is good,” he said, before kissing her neck.
Eleanor couldn’t see below the top of his skull, but he had moved a hand from her hip to his waist. He was unbuckling his belt. She reached up to the bookshelf, grasping for a book to hit him with. They were just out of reach. Then she felt something solid at her fingertips. Bending her arm back farther than it was intended to go, she clutched the object and whipped it around toward his head, the edge of it hitting with a satisfying thud. Clay stumbled back a foot and fell to the floor, reaching instinctively for the wound she’d just inflicted on the back of his skull. He lay on his side, his belt unbuckled.
She straddled the man and walloped him again three more times before straightening herself out. Cole had stopped moving and a small streak of blood was oozing out of a cut next to his eyebrow. The object in her hand was a cast iron replica of a cannon, with a solid square base, three or four pounds worth of metal. Placing it back on the bookshelf, she stared at Col. Clay, unconscious on the floor. Was he seriously hurt? She didn’t mean to permanently damage him, but she didn’t have a choice. Surely people would see that.
She pulled her skirt down off her hips. No. She didn’t have a choice.
Her brain had reached overload. Too much had happened in the last few hours. Her life, whatever the consequences of assaulting Col. Clay, was about to take a drastic turn. The question now was what to do. Who would she even notify? Clay was the commanding officer at the base. Should she reach out to General Groves? How had this all happened? All she wanted to do this morning was try out a new look. Now she wondered if anyone would believe her. Certainly the other women on the base would, but what about the military officials? It would be her word against his.
The insufferable bastard lying at her feet had caused this whole thing. What was wrong with him? Why would he try to take her in the middle of their office? As far as she was concerned, he was no better than a common criminal. It’s just that he had power to dangle over his victims. She thought of the old Indian she’d met just a few hours earlier, and his granddaughter. Then she considered the sweet little boy who would eventually wield the tom-tom. He was so much more deserving of the artifact than the sleazeball on the floor.
Inching toward Clay, she leaned over his chest and noticed the medallion pushing against the side of his shirt. She ripped open a few buttons, and there it was, lying over his tank top, dangling from a ribbon around his neck, the tom-tom, the object that had uprooted her life. Or had it saved it her? Was this her purpose? The medallion was supposed to go missing and it hadn’t dawned on her until this very second that perhaps she was intended to liberate it from such an immoral man, to return it to the people from whom it had been stolen.
It wasn’t glowing like it was in the future. It seemed a mix of stone and silver, an unnatural material. Seizing hold of the item, she lifted Clay’s head and removed the necklace. The blood streaming down his forehead looked worse than it had even a few seconds ago. It was now or never. This was obviously an issue of national security. If she took it, that would be the end of her life as she’d known it. She would most certainly be sent to jail, or worse. At this moment, her loathing for Col. Clay was as much a determining factor as any. He would face harsh penalties for letting the item be stolen. That was good enough for her.
Eleanor straightened out her clothing, tucking in her blouse and pulling her pantyhose tightly up her legs. Checking out her reflection in a frame on the wall, she did her best to make her hair presentable. She gave one last glance at Col. Clay, who lay motionless on the ground, then she stowed the tom-tom in the waistline of her skirt. She opened the office door and stepped through, closing it on the way out.