Maps in a mirror, p.105

Maps in a Mirror, page 105

 

Maps in a Mirror
 



Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font   Night Mode Off   Night Mode


  But they had to.

  Reuben closed his eyes and counted to two hundred. People stared, but then they noticed the purple card in his hand and looked away. It was illegal to stare at disturbed persons.

  Then Reuben opened his eyes. The first person he saw was a tall man in a business suit. The man was walking away, and Reuben stepped out to follow him. Then he realized that the man looked like his father, and he stopped dead. No, it wasn’t his father. But Reuben decided not to follow him anyway.

  Reuben remembered the last time he had seen his father. It was his birthday, and his father had—his birthday. Father would be coming to visit him again today. Reuben felt very dark and somehow vaguely afraid.

  Father would visit him and Mother would stay home. Reuben spat on the ground. The people around him did not look disgusted. It was illegal to look disgusted at the antisocial acts of disturbed persons.

  Reuben closed his eyes and counted again. This time when he looked up he saw a short dumpy man in an expensive suit. He seemed uncomfortably hot, even in the air-conditioned station, and Reuben thought this one might be fun. So he put his purple card in his pocket and walked out of the station right behind the man.

  Following was easy for the first few blocks, because the man was walking through crowds, and Reuben could stay ten feet behind without the man ever seeing him. Because Reuben was shorter than the adults in the crowd, staying out of sight was simple. It was one of the few times Reuben was glad he was not yet grown up.

  But then the man left the crowds and went down a long alley. The only people were a few workmen unloading a truck. The man walked by and waved. The workmen waved back.

  Reuben took a rubber ball out of his pocket and threw it down the alley, not far enough to reach the man, but well over halfway. “Okay, Maynard,” Reuben said, “Go earn your dog biscuits.”

  Maynard took off down the alley after the ball. When he reached it he didn’t pick it up and bring it back. Instead, he pushed it farther along.

  “Fetch!” yelled Reuben. The dog ignored him and pushed the ball even farther.

  “Come back with that ball, you stupid mongrel!” Reuben yelled. Then he took off trotting down the alley.

  The men stopped work and watched Reuben. Suspiciously, he thought. One of the workmen glanced up the alley, where the man Reuben was following was just turning the corner. Then the workman turned back and looked at Reuben.

  “How come you ain in school, boy?” the man challenged.

  Reuben pulled the purple card from his pocket.

  “Oh, hey, boy,” the man said, embarrassed. “Hey, sorry, okay, kid?”

  “Sure, fine,” Reuben answered. Maynard had the ball at the end of the alley.

  “Dog doesn’t fetch too good, huh, kid?” the workman asked, trying to joke. A lot of people tried to be friendly to disturbed persons. Reuben felt nothing but contempt. He ran on after Maynard.

  But when he got to the end of the alley and took the ball back from Maynard, he noticed that the workmen were still watching him. Suspiciously, Reuben thought again. What are they suspicious of? And they had seemed to know the man Reuben was following.

  It didn’t matter. The man was nowhere to be seen on the busy street the alley opened into. Lost him, Reuben thought as he gave a biscuit to Maynard. “Not fast enough this time,” Reuben said. Maynard ignored him and gobbled the biscuit. “You’re not a dog,” Reuben said. “You’re a pig.”

  Maynard stopped eating and glared at him.

  “Okay, sorry,” Reuben said. “Geez, what a sensitive dog.”

  Maynard swallowed the last of the biscuit and trotted on down the street.

  “What is this,” Reuben said. “Trying to play hero and smell him out?” But Maynard went on until he had stopped in front of Auerbach’s department store. “Okay, Ugluk, Dog of the North, let’s go find somebody else.”

  But Maynard wouldn’t budge. And then the man came out of the department store carrying a small sack. The chase was on again. Maynard strutted out ahead of Reuben. “Let’s not have any of that I-told-you-so crap,” Reuben said to Maynard. Maynard ignored him and went on strutting.

  The man stopped one more time before they got to Liberty Park, and that was to buy a newspaper. When he got to the park he strolled to a bench under some trees where there were some guys throwing a frisbee, and a family having a picnic. He started reading the paper.

  Reuben and Maynard watched for about five minutes. The man turned a page. “Whoopee,” Reuben said. “What a winner. Let’s go follow somebody else.” But just then the man looked at his watch, folded the paper, and left. Reuben almost got up to follow him, but the grass was too comfortable and the guy was dull anyway. He watched the frisbee game.

  Then he glanced at the bench. The man had left the sack he had bought at Auerbach’s. What a dunce.

  “Hey, Maynard,” Reuben said softly, stroking the dog’s neck. “We’ve been following a dunce. Left his bag on the bench.”

  And then a woman with a poodle walked over to the bench and sat down to rest.

  The poodle was in heat. Maynard was feeling frisky. He got up and trotted over to the poodle. The poodle seemed to sneer at the shambling sheepdog. Maynard didn’t mind. It didn’t seem to occur to him that a fellow dog could be snobbish.

  But snobbish the poodle was, and she began to bark, running behind the woman for safety. Cheerfully persistent, Maynard followed. The poodle tried to go farther, but the leash stopped her. Maynard kept coming. So the poodle lunged away, snapping the leash out of the woman’s hand.

  “Gertrude!” the woman shouted.

  Gertrude took off at a brisk run. Maynard shuffled after her, gaining on her in his ramshackle way. The poodle dodged and headed back for the bench. Maynard turned faster than anyone would have thought he could, and began to head her off.

  “Gertrude, come back here!” the woman yelled. “Whose dog is that? Leave Gertrude alone, you mangy mongrel!”

  Reuben had been enjoying the show. But when the woman called his dog a mangy mongrel he got mad. “Who you calling mangy?” he called out.

  “Is that your animal?” the woman asked.

  “I feed him,” Reuben said.

  “Get him away from my dog!” the woman demanded.

  Reuben called to Maynard.

  “Hey, Maynard, get back here,” he said. Maynard didn’t even glance back. “Come on, Maynard. You’ll probably get a disease anyway.”

  The woman gasped in anger. At that moment Maynard got tired of chasing—he wasn’t used to having to ask twice—and came back. Gertrude, utterly exhausted, came back to the woman, who reached down and picked up the leash. “Gertrude, you poor thing,” the woman crooned. “Was that big nasty dog making you fraidsy? Was he, sweety?”

  “Oh, Maynard, you poor poopsy-woopsy,” Reuben crooned in imitation. “Did that little warthog run away from you?” Maynard moved away in disgust, but Reuben got what he wanted: the woman had heard him.

  “What do you mean, anyway,” the woman snapped, “letting your dog run around in a public park without a leash? I should have you arrested.”

  Reubed pulled the purple card from his pocket. He loved to watch how people suddenly became kind and thoughtful.

  The woman saw the card and suddenly became kind and thoughtful. “I’m so sorry,” she said sweetly, though Reuben could tell it was a strain. “I hope my dog didn’t disturb you,” she said as she moved away. Was that sarcastic? Reuben wondered. She had more spunk than most. But she was still a zero.

  “She’s still a zero,” Reuben said to Maynard. Then he remembered the Auerbach’s package on the bench and went over to see what the man had bought.

  But the package was gone. Reuben tried to remember if anyone had gone near the bench during the melee. No one. The woman must have lifted the package. Clever, Reuben thought. “Clever,” he said to Maynard. “The lady’s a thief.”

  But something didn’t ring true in the whole situation. What had been in the bag? And w
hen did the woman take it? And why, for that matter, had the man forgotten it? Why—

  Coincidence.

  His father was waiting for him when he got home.

  “Reuben, my boy,” said his father cheerfully. “Happy birthday, my lad. Good to see you.”

  “Hello, Father,” Reuben said as he opened a can of dog food for Maynard.

  “It’s been a long time,” his father said.

  Reuben set the dog food down in a dish. Maynard slurped it up noisily. “Has it?” Reuben asked. “I’ve been busy.”

  “I’ve been busy,” his father said. Then he realized that Reuben had just said that. “Oh, you just said that.” Then his father laughed. “Mother sends her love.”

  “How nice,” Reuben said.

  “And I brought you a present,” his father said. He had even wrapped it.

  “Thank you,” Reuben said.

  “Take it,” his father said, offering him the package.

  Reuben took the package.

  “Aren’t you going to open it?” Reuben’s father asked.

  “Do you want me to?”

  His father’s patience snapped right then. It always snapped within the first five minutes.

  “I don’t care if you flush it down the toilet.”

  Reuben opened the package. It was a watch. Very expensive. The kind that told the time, the day, the weather, did math problems up to twelve digits, and played FM radio.

  “Three hundred twenty-nine ninety-five plus tax,” Reuben said. “Or did you get a discount?”

  His father looked angry. “I got a discount, Reuben. I own the store.”

  “Ah,” Reuben said, putting on the watch. “Did you know that two plus two is four?”

  “Yes, I knew that.”

  “So did the watch. It’s a clever watch. Thank you.”

  Then Reuben ran water into another dish and set it in front of Maynard. Maynard slopped into it, splashing all over the floor as he drank. Reuben’s father sat down on the couch. “Nice place,” he said.

  “Yes,” Reuben answered. “The government gives us new furniture every three years. It makes us disturbed persons feel—not so disturbed. Of course, some of them can’t cope with new furniture, so they don’t change it. And others—the furniture slashers—they get new furniture more often. But me, I’m a regular disturbed person, so I got my new furniture at the regular time.”

  “I’m glad they, uh, take care of you so well,” said Reuben’s father lamely.

  “I’m sure you are. Eases the conscience, doesn’t it?”

  “Reuben, do you have to?”

  “Does Mother miss me?” Reuben asked. “Or. has she forgotten her little boy?”

  “She hasn’t forgotten.”

  “Why don’t you tell her that my name is Reuben? It might remind her. I’m twelve, too, a big boy now, with bright eyes and tousled, sweet-looking blond hair. A lovely child, of whom she can be very proud.”

  Reuben’s father had a sick look on his face. “Can’t you lay off? For one day a year?”

  “Daddy, this is the only day in the year I get to lay on”

  “Well, I hope you’ve had a good time.”

  “It’s been swell,” Reuben answered.

  Reuben’s father paced angrily to the window and back again. “You aren’t crazy,” he finally said. “You aren’t crazy, Mr. Boy Genius. You just think you’re too good for the world. Come down off your IQ for a few minutes someday, Reuben. Maybe real human beings have something you don’t have.”

  Reuben smiled at his father. “I love you, Daddy,” he said.

  He watched his father struggle, trying not to answer, knowing what would happen if he did. Finally habit won, and his father said, “I love you, too, Reuben.”

  Reuben began to laugh. He laughed and laughed, rolling on the couch, falling off and rolling on the floor. When he finally stopped laughing his father was gone, and Maynard was scratching his paws on the refrigerator door. Reuben lay on the floor looking at the ceiling for a while. Then he went to bed. For a few crazy moments he wanted to cry himself to sleep. But he hadn’t shed a tear in years. Not about to start now.

  He dreamed about his mother.

  He woke up with Maynard licking his face.

  He followed the short dumpy man every day that week, and all the next week, too. The man had a routine. Mondays at the park, where he always forgot a package from Auerbach’s and the woman walking her dog happened to pick it up. Reuben never saw her take it, but it was always gone. Tuesdays to the airport, where he left a briefcase in a locker—Reuben followed on the overhead.

  Wednesdays to the post office, where he took a letter from a post office box. The man opened the letter as he walked. Inside was another envelope, which he casually dropped by a mailbox. A few moments later another man came along, picked up the envelope, and walked away. Reuben followed this second man every time, and every time a block away from the mailbox the man opened the envelope, crumpled up the letter and threw it in a wastebasket without reading it, and saved the envelope. Strange, Reuben thought.

  Thursdays the man was back in the park, only this time the woman came first and left an empty package of dog biscuits, which the man carried to the garbage and threw away. And Fridays the man went to a dirty movie and stayed there for three hours. So many people came and went that Reuben had no way of knowing if one of them was coming to meet the man.

  And by the end of the two weeks, Reuben was more confused than ever. The short dumpy man was obviously a messenger. And obviously the messages he carried were secret. But who were the messages from? And who were they to?

  Reuben imagined many things. Perhaps it was a gang of criminals passing the messages. But the short dumpy man didn’t seem like a criminal. That meant nothing, of course, as Reuben well knew. But he still didn’t think that that was the answer.

  It might be government work. That fit much better, because the man’s regular routine seemed like just the sort of stupid thing the government would have somebody do. But why would the government be hiding its actions like this? It seemed to Reuben that the government spent most of its time hiding things from the people, not from itself.

  Which left the last guess, which Reuben thought was crazier than the others. The man must be a spy.

  Of course, everyone knew who a spy would be spying for. There was only one enemy. The spaceships circling the world had been there all Reuben’s life, a shadow hanging over the planet. All the enemy needed was an ally on the Earth and they would attack.

  But who in the world would be friends with the enemy? What could anyone gain by being enslaved as the other planets had been enslaved?

  It didn’t matter who, Reuben decided. It was the only possible answer to the things he had seen.

  The next Wednesday when he followed the man, Reuben waited for his chance. Obviously the bit with the letter was so that if someone found it, they would simply mail it without ever realizing that it was something important. So when the short dumpy man dropped the letter, Reuben ran in before the other man could get there. He picked up the letter, looked carefully at the envelope, and dropped it in the slot. As he turned and left, he saw the other man come over to find the letter, then move quickly away when he realized it was gone.

  They won’t suspect a thing, Reuben thought.

  When he and Maynard got home that night, Reuben wrote down the address that had been on the envelope:

  Bill

  14N7W

  Enterprise, Utah 840033

  Mr. Hyrum Wainscott

  1408 S 2200 E

  Salt Lake City, Utah 841236

  And that was all. An address and a return address.

  Reuben decided it was a code. He sat down and copied out the alphabet and tried to link up all the letters in ways that might make an intelligent pattern. He tried assigning number values to the letters, and letter values to the numbers. But no matter what he did, it made no sense. He fell asleep at the table.

  When he woke up he
looked at his work of the night before and decided it had all been stupid. The letter meant nothing. The man just had some weird habits. He dropped letters a lot. He always left Auerbach’s sacks behind when he went to the park. He left briefcases in airport lockers just for fun. And he liked dirty movies. It meant nothing.

  Then Reuben looked at the address again and realized how simple it really was. The address was real. It told where the real message was. The return address was just for show.

  Reuben gathered up Maynard, who grumbled about leaving the house so early, and took the overhead to thirteenth south and twenty-first east. He walked from there to the corner of fourteenth and twenty-second.

  There was no 1408.

  Another theory down the drain. Discouraged, Reuben got back on the overhead and headed into town.

  And just as he stepped off the overhead he realized what the address meant. He headed straight for the library and got the Forest Service map of Utah. He found Enterprise near the southwest corner of the state.

  Fourteen miles north and seven miles west of the town of Enterprise, Utah, there was absolutely nothing but desert mountains. It was miles off the road, and there wasn’t a town or even a settlement close enough to matter.

  So if on the fourteenth day of the eighth month, which was in three days, at 2200 hours—ten p.m., just after dark—something were to happen fourteen miles north and seven miles west of Enterprise, Utah, not a soul would see it.

  What would it be? A meeting? A parachute drop? An important message? It didn’t matter. The short dumpy man had delivered the message, but it had not been received. Would the meeting or the message or the parachute drop take place anyway? They must have a backup system. It would undoubtedly happen right on schedule. And I have to do something about it, Reuben thought. It didn’t occur to him that it was none of his business. He might feel contempt for everyone he knew, but the enemy was the enemy.

  Reuben went straight to the doctor’s office. It wasn’t time for his appointment, but the doctor was willing to see him anyway. Reuben explained about everything he had done in the last few weeks, about the short dumpy man and the messages, and finally about the address and what he had finally realized that it meant.

 
Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Scroll