"I'm not sure I should really call these, 'Roger Stories,' any longer, Sal. Roger is gone. I do not even mention him in most of these accounts now."
We were having breakfast at the main center of the 'hide-out,' as Ned insisted on calling it. There were only a few others in the dining room, and none of those we knew had shown up, not even Ned.
"Of course you can call them anything you like, Mark, but would you be doing them at all if it were not for Roger?" Sally asked.
It suddenly occurred to me, the question might be moot. As far as the world was concerned, we had simply vanished. I wondered what Meinken Press Inc. would do with my next submission. The stories had only garnered a small syndication, anyway. They had been running the stories as fiction, of course, but how would they handle fiction from an non-existent, or at least missing, writer. I knew what Jake Gold would say: 'Where the hell are you? Everyone's looking for you. I can't print your stories anymore. If I do the Feds will be all over me to tell them where you are. What do you want me to do? I should go to prison for you?'
"Sally, I'll never get any more of the Roger Stories printed now. There's no point in writing them," I said.
Sally could see, and probably feel, the disappointment that suddenly overwhelmed me. "Darling, what were you writing them for anyway. It certainly wasn't the money. You're already famous, if not as a writer, then at least as a fugitive."
I chuckled in spite of myself.
"And who were you writing them for?" She continued. "You know Jake didn't want to print them at all. He said nobody would read them. "They'll offend everybody, and nobody will believe them. You've made these extraterrestrials gods, for God's sake. People don't want gods, they want devils, monsters, evil spirits, anything so long as it will frighten them.'"
"I know Sally. And Jake's right too, but I couldn't make him understand I hadn't made Roger and the others anything, and certainly not gods. They are just human beings, just what human beings are supposed to be."
"You really expected Jake to understand that?" Sally asked.
"Of course not," I admitted. "But he did print them, Sal, and was surprised by how many people read them, and even commented on them, even if most of the comments were stupid and insulting—they were being read."
"Yes, they were being read, Mark, but is that really who you wrote the stories for—for those who hated them, who laughed at them, who wrote ignorant and insulting comments about them?"
"Well, of course not, Sal. I don't care who reads them or what they think of them. I wrote them because I have to tell the truth, and if I wrote them for anyone else but you and me, I wrote them for those who might come across them who really love and want to know the truth."
Sally smiled. "And that's why you have to keep writing them, Darling, because there are others who love the truth and want to know the truth. There are the Barrett children, Roxanne and John. They may not be burning to read the Roger stories now, but they will. And there are others that haven't come along yet."
There was something very sly in that last comment.
"What ones that 'haven't come along yet?' How could you know that? Is this just wishful thinking, Sal, or are you just supposing there might be others."
"Oh, I know there are others, Mark, or at least there will be."
I was just about to press her on that matter when Ned came in, obviously looking for us. He spotted us and came over to the table.
He ordered breakfast, and we had our cups refilled.
"Heard anything?" Ned asked.
"Well, no, Ned," I said, "but how could we have?"
I had never noticed what a big man Ned was until that moment when he sat down with us. He's well over six feet, and I would not guess his weight, but he looked like it would be twice mine. He was big, but had that kind of thick build you knew was all solid.
Perhaps it was the breakfast he ordered. He was always a noticeably big eater at all of Roger's functions, but never seemed to me he ate more than was appropriate for him. The breakfast was huge, four eggs, sausage, ham, steak, grits with gravy, home fries, and several pieces of toast, juice and coffee, but somehow it just seemed right for him. He did not give the impression of eating quickly, but the whole meal was devoured in a matter of minutes.
He had in fact finished it all and was wiping his mouth when he answered, "Of course, of course, you couldn't have heard anything either."
He took a sip of coffee and looked at us.
"Well, you're Roger now. What are we going to do?"
We both knew what he meant.
"Ned," I began, "did Roger ever tell you what to do. Oh, I know he would ask you for information, and reprise you of things the were going on he thought you might like to be involved in, like the threats to Sally. But did he ever actually tell you what to do?"
"No, he didn't, Mark. I knew Roger for a long time, and somehow, even when I was completely involved in my own business, Roger was always a part of it in some way. He never told me what to do, and I never told him what to do, of course, but we kept each other informed about what we were doing, and what kind of help we could use, and did a lot of things together, even though we never really planned it that way and were both working on our own.
"Ned, we're not Roger. We have no intention of taking Roger's place, and of course we have no intention of telling anyone else what to do. Quite frankly, Ned, Sally and I have not even decided what we are going to do.
"When everyone gets here, I would like to invite everyone interested to discuss what they think can be done and if any of them have plans, what they plan to do.
"You know, Ned, we don't even know exactly what the danger is to us. We know someone, or some government agency is apparently, 'after us,' but only because Dempsey warned us. We think it's NatAlSec, but don't even know that for sure, and we have no idea why they want us, or what their intentions for us are.
"Next to Dempsey, you probably know more about what is going on than anyone else. We at least need to know that before we can decide what we'll do, and I think everyone else needs to know the same thing. They don't seem to be after you, Ned, but I'm sure you'll want to know what they plan for us as well, if you plan to remain connected with any of us, I mean me, Sally, Jo, Peter, Margo and all the others."
I know why I always feel uncomfortable using the word, 'us,' and always feel constrained to explain when I do. It seems to frustrate others, like Ned, who made a face indicating my explanation was unnecessary and perhaps a little insulting. Of course I did not mean it that way. The explanation was for my own sake, a kind of affirmation of the central principle of my life—I do not and never will belong to any collective 'us.' Even Sally and I are only an 'us' by mutual choice and by virtue of our love which is the only exception to individualism, while being the ultimate individualist act.
It was our plan to make plans that day. Sally and I had our own plan, but it was not so much a plan as a policy. Whatever happened, and whatever we did, we would do it as free individuals, and because we cared not to live without one another, whatever we did would be together, or not at all.
As for any other plans, they were, at the moment out of the question. The Barretts had arrived at some time during the past night and were just coming into the dining room. They seemed unsure about whether to join us or not, but Ned enthusiastically waved them over and Ned and I hitched up another table with ours so we could all sit together.
Everyone was glad to see the Barrett children because they are so refreshingly happy and well behaved, and such a rarity these days.
They ordered breakfast and there was some casual conversation while they ate. When Bill was finished, he pulled something out of his pocket and handed it to me. It appeared to be a very simple cell phone with a strangely curved bar on the top. It rang. I looked to see how to open it.
"There's nothing to open, Mark. Just hold it near your ear and talk when you want."
"Ah, Mark. So now you know the surprise," the voice of Dempsey said.
"Well, no I don't Dempsey. What's the surprise?"
"You're holding it, Mark. It's the AWTS communicator. Nobody can hear this conversation except those sitting next to you. No one can trace it, and no one can decrypt it even if they could intercept it, which is all but impossible."
I looked at Bill, who was grinning all over. I winked in approval. He dipped his head slightly in acknowledgment.
"Mark," the voice of Dempsey continued. "Andrew and I are on the way there, only not to the resort. You'll have to meet us at Joel's ranch. I'll call back with instructions when everyone else has their AWTS.
"Andrew?" I asked, surprised?
"Who are your talking to?" Ned asked. I waved my hand to shush him.
"Yes, but I'll explain it all later. Mark, only you and Sally are to meet us at Joel's. Please do not say anything about us coming there to anyone else. The Barretts know, but will not say anything. Ned will know too, but will not say anything about it either."
"What about Andrew?" I heard Ned asking.
"I'm afraid I have some bad news, Mark. Ruth is held up in Holland. The US Feds are trying to get Holland to hold her, but they've refused to arrest her because she's not charged with any crime and is immensely popular there, but the US government has been able to intimidate the airlines, and she cannot get a flight. She's in no danger at the moment. You do not need to share this with anyone but Sally please."
"Oh," she suddenly said, "how are you enjoying your vacation, Mark?"
"Well, it was a bit of a surprise, Dempsey. How's the bike? since we're asking each other silly questions."
"Ah...," she paused. "Ask Andrew when you see him." Then abruptly, she added. "Have to go Mark. Keep the AWTS with you. I'll contact you very shortly."
"Who was that?" Ned wanted to know even before Bill had shown me how to disconnect.
"That was Dempsey. Just called to check the communication with the AWTS and to give us the good news that Andrew has been released."
Of course, at that moment, I did not know Andrew had been released, only that Dempsey had said he was coming with her. I just wanted to avoid the subject of Andrew, which of course Ned pressed on with.
"When was Andrew released?" Ned asked.
"I don't know, Ned. That's all Dempsey said. She's planning to call again when we all have our AWTS communicators." I said, pointing to the one in my hand.
I looked at Bill.
"I have one for each of you, and everyone else who is here at the resort."
"The hideout," Ned corrected him.
Bill raised his eyebrows.
"It's just what Ned calls it, because we are all here 'hiding' from whoever might be looking for us. Of course you and Sarah and the children don't really need to hide out, since Dempsey made it impossible for you to be found, and they don't seem to be looking for Ned either, and perhaps not Joel.
"By the way, Bill, how do we pay for these things."
Bill chuckled. "Right now, they're half a million each." He paused, perhaps expecting more reaction than he got. Ned raised his eyebrows a little, but everyone else just waited for him to go on.
The truth is, you can't pay for them because they're not yours. They all belong to Frank, and you are only using them because Frank wants you to. You don't have to take one if you don't want to. Frank bought the entire lot from the first production run, but there will be more. If you want to buy your own later, you can.
"Frank is here, by the way. She arrived last night. She should show up here anytime."
That she did. Show up, that is, almost before the words were out of Bill's mouth. All in black, all very Spanish, all very aristocratic—but all smiles as soon as she spotted everyone at the breakfast table.
She walked directly up to Sally, her eye's sparkling, and took her hand.
"You have no idea how I've missed you, both of you," she said to include me, but there was something special about the relationship between Frank and Sally.
Room was made for Frank at the table and she sat beside Sarah. She squeezed Sarah's hand and smiled, then spoke to both of the children. It seemed a great contrast to see this grand lady joking with the children like their grandmother and it was obvious that is just how they felt about her.
Frank did not order breakfast. It was getting late, she said, and would have lunch a little later, then she announced to everyone, "Margo, Franz, Jo, and Peter will be arriving early this evening, or late this afternoon. Would it be possible for us all to get together later?" she asked, looking at me?
I looked at Sal, and she gave me her 'you're in charge and I'll be happy with whatever you decide' look. "Sally and I would love to have everyone who can meet with us at our lodge later. How would eight o'clock suit everyone?"
Everyone agreed to that.
Ned was the first to leave. He was obviously tired of sitting and seemed anxious to do something. He said he'd see us all later and left.
The Barretts were next to leave. Their children were very patient, but I'm sure they were more eager to be in the huge pool then sitting in a dining hall with a bunch of old people.
That left Frank. I knew Sally was eager to visit with Frank.
"Can you come over to our lodge for lunch, Frank?"
"You know that's exactly what I'd like, Mark. Are you sure you and Sal wouldn't rather be alone."
"I'll tell you when we're tired of you Frank." I winked.
"You better," she said. "Love you both. See you for lunch."
She left, and Sally and I sat just holding hands, without saying a word.
"We don't have to do any of this, you know," she said.
"What would you rather do?" I asked.
"Exactly this, so long as it's with you, and it's what you want to do."
"It's what I want to do. Let's go plan lunch."
She kissed me, just as she did the first time we had made a date, and it surprised and pleased me just as much as it had then. So we went and planned lunch.