Maps in a mirror, p.107

Maps in a Mirror, page 107

 

Maps in a Mirror
 



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  “What did she do?”

  “She got bit,” Reuben said, a little angrily, though he knew it would be dangerous to let any emotion happen right now.

  “And the dog died.”

  “The man in the pinstripe suit wins the prize,” Reuben said, absentmindedly stroking the dog’s fur.

  “Look, kid, I know you’ve told us straight so far, but you’re a DP, right? Do you hallucinate?”

  Reuben glared at him. “Never.”

  “Hey, okay,” the man said, “I just had to ask.”

  “What happened? Down in the south?” Reuben asked.

  “Well,” the FBI man said, “I don’t know if I can tell you, and unless the boss says I can tell you and signs it in triplicate in his own blood, I’m sure as hell not going to breathe a word.”

  “They weren’t there, were they,” Reuben said.

  The FBI man looked at him. “What makes you think they weren’t?”

  “Because,” Reuben said, “the day after I told you they broke their routine, and the lady in the park knew enough to kill Maynard.”

  “Who the hell is Maynard?” the FBI man asked.

  “My dog,” said Reuben.

  “Oh, he’s got a name,” the FBI man commented. “Hey, look, can I do an autopsy? Cause of death?”

  “You?” Reuben asked.

  “I mean one of our staff.”

  “Sure,” Reuben said. “Maynard won’t give a damn.”

  The FBI man laughed. “Right,” he said, and then stopped laughing when he saw the expression on Reuben’s face. “Hey, kid, I’ll have the dog right back, okay?”

  Reuben nodded and sat down to wait. While he waited he wondered what they’d say if he told them about the way the lady in the park always snatched the packages when nobody could see, and how she never even seemed to get close to the bench. They’d be sure to think he was hallucinating after all.

  It was a circle. No way out. He looked at the drab walls and his mind wandered.

  What did the enemy look like, anyway? Nobody could say. On the few planets they had come to and had not yet conquered no one had ever seen them. On the planets they had conquered, no one would say. All that anyone knew—or at least all the government would let on—was that without active help from the people on the planet they were attacking, the enemy couldn’t do a thing. But with such help, they were irresistible.

  What if they were already on the Earth? Reuben looked at his hands, how the fingers were all the same and yet different. What if they could look just like us, and they were already going to the store, and holding down influential jobs, and—why not?—walking dogs in the park and picking up Auerbach’s packages without going near them? Possible, Reuben thought.

  Maybe I do hallucinate, he thought. The idea frightened him.

  The FBI man came back after about an hour.

  “What did Maynard die of?” Reuben asked, jumping to his feet.

  “Nothing,” said the man. “He’s not dead. I mean, he is of course,” he caught himself, seeing the look of hope that Reuben couldn’t hide. “But there’s no reason in the world that the dog should be dead. Perfect shape. Good for years. Not an injury.”

  “But dead anyway,” said another man who came through the door. Reuben hadn’t met him before.

  “He’s The Boss,” the FBI man said, “and he wants to have a talk.” The Boss smiled. Reuben did not smile. The FBI man left the room.

  Reuben and The Boss had a talk. During the talk Reuben figured out that nothing had happened down in southern Utah, that the whole thing was either called off or was so subtle that nobody saw it. The FBI was hunting for straws, because they did have the microfilm, and it had to mean something.

  “Ideas?” The Boss asked.

  “You’re asking me for ideas?” Reuben asked.

  “Is there anyone else in the room?” The Boss asked.

  “What kind of great ideas do you think I can give you when you’ve been trying so hard not to tell me that nothing happened down in Enterprise and that you don’t know what’s going on?” Reuben said with a look that made The Boss feel a little weak.

  “So you can read between the lines,” The Boss whispered.

  “Why are you whispering?” Reuben asked.

  “Get off my back for a minute,” The Boss said. “In my line of work we meet guys with brains about once every twenty years. Everybody else is a cop, a crook, or a congressman.”

  “So let’s trade some secrets,” Reuben said, feeling, for some reason, a little less contempt for The Boss than he felt toward everyone else.

  “All right,” The Boss agreed.

  “You first,” Reuben said.

  “Okay,” The Boss said, sighing. “So much for Top Secret. Right, nothing happened in Enterprise, even though everything pointed to it, and so we figure that either they were on to you, in which case why the hell did they have another rendezvous in the park today, or else the whole thing was a sham and they wanted someone to find out about Enterprise so we’d all go there while the real thing happened someplace else. In which case we’re looking for a needle in a haystack.”

  “And you want ideas,” Reuben said.

  “You said we’d trade secrets,” The Boss said,

  “All right,” Reuben said. “How’s this? Maybe it was a sham, like you said, only not to keep you from noticing something happening at the same time someplace else, but to keep you from noticing that it already happened awhile ago.”

  The Boss looked at him. “Like?”

  “Like you’re running around this time and maybe next time and maybe the time after, trying to find where the enemy is going to land—all the time not noticing that they’re already here and working right where you won’t notice them—under your noses.”

  The Boss looked interested. “So if they can do that, what’ve they been waiting for?”

  “I don’t know,” Reuben said, “unless maybe there aren’t very many of them, and they need to get up an organization, or else maybe they’re weak, and they have to divide us in order to take over. I don’t know. But I think they’re here.”

  And then Reuben told The Boss about the way the woman in the park never seemed to touch the Auerbach’s package. “And the way Maynard died. My dog. Just bit her and then dropped dead.”

  “Interesting theory,” The Boss said. “In fact it holds up pretty well, just the sort of devious thing we might expect. Except for one thing.”

  “Yeah?” asked Reuben.

  “We know who the lady is. Birth certificate, lots of relatives, no way she could be a plant, already thirty years old when the enemy ships came. Sorry. Just an ordinary Earth-type traitor.”

  “Was she ever bit by a dog before?” Reuben asked.

  “What does that have to do with anything?” The Boss asked.

  “Because unless it’s ordinary for certain people to cause dogs to drop dead without an injury, then she isn’t ordinary. She’s changed, right?”

  The Boss smiled. “Very good, Reuben,” he said. “We’ll check it out.”

  Reuben shook his head. “Promise me something.”

  The Boss said, “What in particular? Some promises I can’t make.”

  “Promise me you’ll tell me what happens.”

  On the way out Reuben stopped by Maynard’s corpse in the autopsy rooms. The body was kind of a mess, and Reuben did not touch Maynard’s fur.

  “Want us to take care of this for you?” The Boss asked.

  “Yeah,” Reuben said.

  Three months later they told him what happened, and as Reuben had announced on his birthday, it was his lucky year. He got to meet the president of the United States and shake his hand and wear a medal, none of which impressed him much. He got to have his picture in every newspaper in the country, along with pictures of the people he had followed who turned out to be the enemy, which didn’t thrill him either.

  However, he also got to go home.

  His father wasn’t happy about it and Reuben notic
ed that there were new locks on all the bedroom doors, but Reuben just thought Suck Rocks and talked to his mother for an hour or two alone just to bug his father. They quarreled a lot, Reuben and his father. And his mother really didn’t understand him any better than she ever had. But all in all it beat hell out of the government-owned apartment and there were other compensations.

  It turned out that the enemy was a very intelligent but not-too-tough marsh gas sort of thing, only about six of them, and they had to take over human bodies—curious people, who came too close—in order to do anything at all. And once they were in a human body, when the body died so did they. So—firing squads (Utah law) and the problem was over. The ships continued to circle around the Earth, but after a few months some air force shuttleships with heavy rockets shot them down. All the ships’ defenses, impregnable a few months before, were gone, and the ships fell into the Sargasso Sea.

  It was on Reuben’s thirteenth birthday that he realized his lucky year was over. That was the day they took away his purple card and he had to start carrying money and asking permission. But he didn’t mind all that much. It was kind of fun.

  The day after his thirteenth birthday his mother and father took him to the park. Out at the car, Reuben’s father remembered the camera.

  “It’s upstairs in my closet,” his father said, and Reuben ran back up the asphalt path. He stopped just inside the front door. He bowed his head a moment, reached out his hand, and waited.

  The camera materialized in his palm.

  He opened his eyes, looked at the camera, smiled, and ran back outside, being careful to lock the door behind him as his father always asked. Then he skipped down the sidewalk, conversing with the stranger in his mind, who followed him far more closely than he would have thought possible back in the old days when he was a child, and still human.

  HITCHING

  Mort, he says to me, “Runt, you wanna bicycle, you gotta figure out how to get the money.”

  “Thanks,” I says. “Hey, Mort, you’re a real pal, I knew that already.”

  “Oh, yeah,” says Mort, “I forgot, you got all the brains in the family.”

  We always talk like that. I’d kill anybody else called me Runt, and he’d kill anybody else called him Mort, but we can’t kill each other, we’re brothers. Oh, every now and then he pounds the crap out of me, but these days he bleeds pretty bad before I call uncle and so he don’t fight me too much. Everybody else calls him Butch and me Ernie.

  But it turned out it was Mort after all who thought up how I’d get the money for the bike I wanted so I could have a paper route so I could make some money. I asked the Olds for a bike, but the old man said no, I should earn the money myself, and I said how the hell can I do that with no bike for a route, and the old lady said you’re thirteen years old and you shouldn’t talk like that and I said something else and the old man strapped me. He thinks it still hurts. But after that I knew they’d rather die than get me the bike.

  Mort saw as how I wasn’t feeling too good right then and like Mort always does he tried to joke about it and then he started smart-mouthing about how he’d never stand for it and how if I didn’t have him to look out for me I’d have let everybody walk all over me all my life.

  He thinks he’s a real bigshot because he beat up Rodney Lawrence who nobody ever beat up before and because he and Darcia Kleinsmidt go up into her dad’s loft every Sunday and make out. He says he’s seen her without any clothes on but I think that’s a bunch of crap for the reason I will tell you when I get to that place in my story. He brags about a lot of things that I don’t think he ever did.

  Anyway Mort comes to me on Tuesday after milking, it’s still early in the morning but it’s summer and so there isn’t any school and he says, “Hey, Runt, you still want a bike?”

  “Hey shutup,” I said, thinking he’s making fun of me again.

  He says, “OK, Runt, if that’s the way you want it. Only I know how you can get the money.”

  Well, I thought that sounded pretty good, so I says to him, “Hey, Mort, what is it, Darcia paying you a dollar a smooch?”

  “I’d be a millionaire then,” he says, and I think yeah, sure.

  But I followed him around behind the barn and he tells me his plan. “See, we just hitch a ride with somebody over on I-15.”

  “Somebody’s gonna pay us to hitchhike?” I says, real snotty, because if I get snotty he tells me faster.

  “Don’t get snotty with me, Runt,” he says, and then like I figured he told me. “They’re gonna pay us to get out. I read about it in the newspaper.” That means that somebody who reads the newspaper told him. “You get a ride with somebody, and then you pull a gun or a knife and make them pull off onto some lonely place or a rest stop or somewhere there isn’t a lot of cars, and then you take their money and their car and leave ’em there. Or else you leave ’em their car and hitch a ride back with somebody else.”

  I thought for a minute and I says, “I bet that’s stealing.”

  “Ooooooh,” he says, making faces like an old lady who just heard a bad word. “Ooooooh, I forgot, you always go to Sunday School.”

  Which is true. I have to keep going till I’m fourteen. The old man says that till you’re fourteen you can’t decide for yourself. But I always stick gum under the folding chairs.

  “Look, Mort,” I says, “all I care about is that if we get caught they’ll stick us in jail.”

  “They can’t,” says Mort, “because we’re both minors.”

  “I am not,” I says, wondering what the hell being a miner has to do with going to jail.

  “You are too and so am I. It means being under eighteen years old. That’s why we can’t buy beer or cigarettes. But it also means they can’t put is in jail.”

  “Yeah, but we’d go to the JD place in Fillmore.”

  “Jeez,” says Mort, “what a runt, Runt. This’d be the first thing we ever did wrong, they don’t send you to Fillmore till you done a lot of stuff.”

  “What about painting Elton Barney’s cow green?”

  He just rolled his eyes in his head. “You remember what Sheriff Burton said?” Mort asked me, like I was real dumb. “He said, ‘Boys will be boys.’ ”

  He said that, but I still didn’t know about pulling a knife on somebody.

  “Besides,” says Mort, “the guy we hit isn’t gonna know who we are or where we come from.”

  “I don’t think I want a bike that bad,” I says, thinking how I really don’t want a paper route if I gotta go to the JD place for it.

  “Man, what a knockout,” says Mort. “I find out that my brother’s a chicken, besides being a runt.”

  Nobody calls me a chicken.

  So there we were out on I-15 thumbing for a ride. Not too many people want to pick up farmers with manure on their boots, so we put on our Sunday clothes and snuck out of the house so the Olds wouldn’t ask us where we was going.

  But the cars still wasn’t piling up in line to pick us up. Of course, on a lot of them Mort says, “Not this one.” And then I asked him why, and he says, “Car’s too old, this guy doesn’t have any dough,” and then one time he says, “This guy’s really rich, all he’s gonna have is checks and credit cards.” Credit cards in your pocket isn’t much good on the farm, and anyway nobody’d be fooled, they know me and Mort and they know we never could get a credit card.

  So we waited for about two hours getting hotter and sweatier and I was thinking what the hell kind of dumb thing am I doing out here? But then we see this shiny new yellow car coming along and there’s just one person in it, either a girl with short hair or a guy with long hair, and old Mort jumps out in the freeway sticking his thumb out and the car slows down and the girl (this close we could tell she was a girl) flips open the back door. Me, I got in back, but old Mort, he reached through, unlocked the front, and sat down next to her.

  Audi, bucket seats, thing looked like it cost a million bucks and when she started off it felt like we wasn’t even moving
except the telephone poles flipped by like beanpoles when you’re running.

  She was pretty but old, probably twenty or thirty, and if she wasn’t sitting right there I know old Mort would’ve leaned back and said, “Stacked, man, stacked.” Instead he just kept playing with his pocket where he had a knife.

  “Where you going?” she asked us, and since we wasn’t going anyplace I didn’t know what to say, but Mort says, “Noplace you’re going, but maybe you’ll come close. Where you headed?” he asks her.

  “Las Vegas,” she says, and I wonder if she’s one of them topless dancers.

  “You one of them topless dancers?” Mort asks her.

  “No,” she says, laughing. Jeez, Mort can be dumb sometimes.

  “How old are you?” she asks us.

  “I’m fourteen,” I lied. Mort said, “I’m seventeen,” which makes him a bigger liar than me, since I was only one year off, but Mort’s big and hairy and so everybody figures he’s older than he is.

  Well, it was still hot but there was clouds coming in from the south and it looked like a dust storm was coming up and then rain, and so I figured we oughta get it over with so we could get back home before we got our Sunday clothes all wet and the old lady chewed us hollow. So I says, “Hey, Mort, what’re you waiting for?”

  “What do you mean?” asks the girl.

  “Oh, nothing,” says Mort, shooting me a glare like I should drop dead.

  “Well?” says I, since I don’t like him glaring at me that way.

  So he reached down into his pocket and pulled out his hunting knife and took it out of the sheath and reached over and stuck it right next to her ribs and he gets this mean look on his face and says, “Pull over.”

  I gotta say that girl looked surprised and scared, but she didn’t go crazy or anything. She just had kind of a shaky voice when she said, “Right here?”

  Mort thought a second and said, “No about a mile up ahead there’s a dirt road off to the right.”

  And then her face turned all white and I felt real bad about what we was doing, because I wanted a ten-speed all right, but I didn’t like the way she looked.

  She sped up to about seventy-five.

 
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