Part 7 (1/2)

The car I had stolen was a jalopy, old, not properly kept up, a bad valve knock in the engine, and a vibration in the rotor that I didn't like at all. But she would run and she had better than half a tank of fuel, enough to get me to Phoenix. I couldn't complain.

Worst was a complete lack of any navigating equipment other than an old-style uncompensated Sperry robot and a bundle of last year's strip maps of the sort the major oil companies give away. There was radio, but it was out of order.

Well, Columbus got by with less. Phoenix was almost due south and almost five hundred miles away. I estimated my drift by crossing my eyes and praying, set the robot on course and set her to hold real alt.i.tude of five hundred feet. Any more might get me into the cybernetwork; any less might get some local constable annoyed with me. I decided that running lights were safer than no running lights, this being no time to pick up a ticket, so I switched them on to 'dim'. After that I took a look around.

No sign of pursuit to the north-apparently my latest theft had not been noticed as yet. As for my first-well, the sweet darling was either shot down by now or far out over the Pacific. It occurred to me that I was hanging up quite a record for a mother's boy-accessory before and after the fact in murder, perjury before the Grand Inquisitor, treason, impersonation, grand larceny twice. There was still arson, and barratry, whatever that was, and rape. I decided I could avoid rape, but barratry I might manage, if I could find out what it meant. I still felt swell even though my nose was bleeding again.

It occurred to me that marrying a holy deaconess might be considered statutory rape under the law and that made me feel better; by then I didn't want to miss anything.

I stayed at the controls, overriding the pilot and avoiding towns, until we were better than a hundred miles south Of Provo. From there south, past the Grand Canyon and almost to the ruins of the old '66' roadcity, people are awfully scarce; I decided that I could risk some sleep. So I set the pilot on eight hundred feet, ground alt.i.tude, told it firmly to watch out for trees and bluffs, went back to the after pa.s.senger bench and went at once to sleep.

I dreamt that the Grand Inquisitor was trying to break my nerve by eating juicy roast beef in my presence. 'Confess!' he said, as he stabbed a bite and chewed. 'Make it easy on yourself. Will you have some rare, or the slice off the end?' I was about to confess, too, when I woke up.

It was bright moonlight and we were just approaching the Grand Canyon. I went quickly to the controls and overrode the order about alt.i.tude-I was afraid that the simple little robot might have a nervous breakdown and start shedding capacitances in lieu of tears if it tried to hold the s.h.i.+p just eight hundred feet away from that Gargantuan series of ups and downs and pinnacles.

In the meantime I was enjoying the view so much that I forgot that I was starving. If a person hasn't seen the Canyon, there is no point in describing it-but I strongly recommend seeing it by moonlight from the air.

We sliced across it in about twenty minutes and I turned the s.h.i.+p back to automatic and started to forage, rummaging through the instrument panel compartment and the lockers. I turned up a chocolate almond bar and a few peanuts, which was a feast as I was ready for raw skunk- I had eaten last in Kansas City. 1 polished them off and went back to sleep.

I don't recall setting the pilot alarm but must have done so for it woke me up just before dawn. Dawn over the desert was another high-priced tourist item but 1 had navigating to do and could not spare it more than a glance. I turned the crate at right angles for a few minutes to check drift and speed made good over ground to south, then figured a bit on the edge of a strip map. With luck and a.s.suming that my guesses about wind were about right, Phoenix should show up in about half an hour.

My luck held. I pa.s.sed over some mighty rough country, then suddenly, spread out to the right, was a wide flat desert valley, green with irrigated crops and with a large city in it-the Valley of the Sun and Phoenix. I made a poor landing in a boxed-in, little dry arroyo leading into the Salt River Canyon; I tore off one wheel and smashed the rotor but I didn't care-the important thing was that it wasn't likely to be found there very soon, it and my fingerprints . . . Reeves's prints, I mean. Half an hour later, after picking my way around enormous cacti and still bigger red boulders, I came out on the highway that leads down the canyon and into Phoenix.

It was going to be a long walk into Phoenix, especially with one sore ankle, but I decided not to risk hitching a ride. Traffic was light and I managed to get off the road and hide each time for the first hour. Then I was caught on a straight up-and-down piece by a freighter; there was nothing to do but give the driver a casual wave as I flattened myself to the rock wall and pretended to be nonchalant. He brought his heavy vehicle to a quick, smooth stop. 'Want a lift, bud?'

I made up my mind in a hurry. 'Yes, thanks!'

He swung a dural ladder down over the wide tread and I climbed into the cab. He looked me over. 'Brother!' he said admiringly. 'Was it a mountain lion, or a bear?'

I had forgotten how I looked. I glanced down at myself. 'Both,' I answered solemnly. 'Strangled one in each hand.'

'I believe it.'

'Fact is,' I added, 'I was riding a unicycle and bounced it off the road. On the high side, luckily, but I wrecked it.'

'A unicycle? On this road? Not all the way from Globe?'

'Well, I had to get off and push at times. It was the down grade that got me, though.'

He shook his head. 'Let's go back to the lion-and-bear theory. I like it better.' He didn't question me further, which suited me. I was beginning to realize that off-hand fictions led to unsuspected ramifications; I had never been over the road from Globe.

Nor had I ever been inside a big freighter before and I was interested to see how much it resembled, inside, the control room of an Army surface cruiser-the same port and starboard universal oleo speed gears controlling the traction treads, much the same instrument board giving engine speed, port and starboard motor speeds, torque ratios, and so forth. I could have herded it myself.

Instead I played dumb and encouraged him to talk. 'I've never been in one of these big babies before. Tell me how it works, will you?'

That set him off and I listened with half an ear while thinking about how I should tackle Phoenix. He demonstrated how he applied both power and steering to the treads simply by tilting the two speed bars, one in each fist, and then discussed the economy of letting the diesel run at constant speed while he fed power as needed to the two sides. I let him talk-my first need was a bath and a shave and a change of clothes, that was sure; else I'd be picked up on sight for suspected vagrancy.

Presently I realized he had asked a question. 'I think I see,' I answered. 'The Waterburies drive the treads.'

'Yes and no,' he went on. 'It's a diesel-electric hook up. The Waterburies just act like a gear system, although there aren't any gears in them; they're hydraulic. Follow me?'

I said I thought so (I could have sketched them)-and filed away in my mind the idea that, if the Cabal should ever need cruiser pilots in a hurry, freighter jacks could be trained for the job in short order.

We were going downhill slightly even after we left the canyon; the miles flowed past. My host pulled off the road and ground to a stop by a roadside restaurant and oil station. 'All out,' he grunted. 'Breakfast for us and go-juice for the gobuggy.'

'Sounds good.' We each consumed a tall stack with eggs and bacon and big, sweet Arizona grapefruit. He wouldn't let me pay for his and tried to pay for mine. As we went back to the freighter he stopped at the ladder and looked me over.

'The police gate is about three-quarters of a mile on in,' he said softly. 'I suppose that's as good a spot to check in as any.' He looked at me and glanced away.

'Mmm . . . 'I said. 'I think I could stand to walk the rest of the way, to settle my breakfast. Thanks a lot for the lift.'

'Don't mention it. Uh, there's a side road about two hundred yards back. It swings south and then west again, into town. Better for walking. Less traffic.'

'Uh, thanks.'

I walked back to the side road, wondering if my criminal career was that plain to everyone. One thing sure, I had to improve my appearance before tackling the city. The side road led through ranches and I pa.s.sed several ranch houses without having the nerve to stop. But I came presently to a little house occupied by a Spanish-Indian family with the usual a.s.sortment of children and dogs. I took a chance; many of these people were clandestine Catholics, I knew, and probably hated the proctors as much as I did.

The Senora was home. She was fat and kindly and mostly Indian by her appearance. We couldn't talk much as my Spanish is strictly cla.s.sroom quality, but I could ask for agua, and agua I got, both to drink and to wash myself. She sewed up the rip in my trousers while I stood foolishly in my shorts with the children making comments; she brushed me off and she even let me use her husband's razor. She protested over letting me pay her but I was firm about it. I left there looking pa.s.sable.

The road swung back into town as the freighter jack had said-and without benefit of police. Eventually I found a neighborhood shopping center and in it a little tailor shop. There I waited while the rest of my transformation back to respectability was completed. With my clothes freshly pressed, the spots removed, a brand-new s.h.i.+rt and hat I was then able to walk down the street and exchange a blessing with any proctor I might meet while looking him calmly in the eye. A phone book gave me the address of the South Side Tabernacle; a map on the wall of the tailor shop got me oriented without asking questions. It was within walking distance.

I hurried down the street and reached the church just as eleven o'clock services were starting. Sighing with relief I slipped into a back pew and actually enjoyed the services, just as I had as a boy, before I had learned what was back of them. I felt peaceful and secure; in spite of everything I had made it safely. I let the familiar music soak into my soul while I looked forward to revealing myself to the priest afterwards and then let him do the worrying for a while.

To tell the truth I went to sleep during the sermon. But I woke up in time and I doubt if anyone noticed. Afterwards I hung around, waited for a chance to speak to the priest, and told him how much I had enjoyed his sermon. He shook hands and I gave him the recognition grip of the brethren.

But he did not return it. I was so upset by that that I almost missed what he was saying. 'Thank you, my boy. It's always good news to a new pastor to hear that his ministrations are appreciated.' I guess my face gave me away. He added, 'Something wrong?'

I stammered, 'Oh, no, reverend sir. You see, I'm a stranger myself. Then you aren't the Reverend Baird?' I was in cold panic. Baird was my only contact with the brethren short of New Jerusalem; without someone to hide me I would be picked up in a matter of hours. Even as I answered I was making wild plans to steal another s.h.i.+p that night and then try to run the border patrol into Mexico.

His voice cut into my thoughts as if from a great distance. 'No, I'm afraid not, my son. Did you wish to see the Reverend Baird?'

'Well, it wasn't terribly important, sir. He is an old friend of my uncle. I was to look him up while I was here and pay my respects.' Maybe that nice Indian woman would hide me until dark?

'That won't be difficult. He's here in town. I'm just supplying his pulpit while he is laid up.'

My heart made a full turn at about twelve gee; I tried to keep it out of my face. 'Perhaps if he is sick I had better not disturb him.'

'Oh, not at all. A broken bone in his foot-he'll enjoy a bit of company. Here.' The priest fumbled under his robes, found a piece of paper and a pencil and wrote out the address. 'Two streets over and half a block down. You can't miss it.'

Of course I did miss it, but I doubled back and found it, an old vine-grown house with a suggestion of New England about it. It was set well back in a large, untidy garden-eucalyptus, palms, shrubs, and flowers, all in pleasant confusion. I pressed the announcer and heard the whine of an old-style scanner; a speaker inquired: 'Yes?'

'A visitor to see the Reverend Baird, if he so pleases.'

There was a short silence while he looked me over, then: 'You'll have to let yourself in. My housekeeper has gone to the market. Straight through and out into the back garden.' The door clicked and swung itself open.