Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Chapter Twenty-Three

L.L. Bean - Freeport, Maine
3:43 PM

I sat on a stone wall beside Ben and Jerry’s.  Mist froze on my jacket and cap bill.  I watched the steps leading up to L.L. Bean.  From this spot I could also see if any tour buses turned in for the parking lots behind the store.  I'd been sitting for an hour. My hands were jammed into my jacket pockets, yet still numb.  My body shivered but my  gaze stayed steady.
Driving South on I95 from Portland
Earlier that day: 8:17 AM

I'd thought about calling Walters before I left.  But I didn’t.  
I should have. 
I tried drowning out my thoughts with the ‘70s Channel – Boston wailed "More than a feeling." What if I’m wrong? What if there is a way to intercept those mules? 
I turned the volume up as high as it would go. The truck's doors rattled from the bass thumps.
The Kittery rest stop was coming up in five miles.  
What if I'm right? What if I am being set up? 
Too much caffeine weighed on my kidneys so I decided I’d pull in.  
And there are pay phones.
Early that morning, after the shock at the ferry, I had decided to leave Maine and go home. That's where I was headed.  
But what if I gave up too easily? 
I drove the truck into the gas station.  I pulled over to the rest area, parked and walked to the building -- and noticed the phones outside.  
An old drill instructor’s gravely voice whispered – “Not taking action is an action itself!”
After I rid myself of the caffeine, I returned to the phone booth and stared at it.  I heard the voice again: 
“There are always more options.  You need to find them!”
“Get out of my head, you old ghost!”
A woman walking by clutched her daughter and shot me a hard look.  I coughed and pretended to be searching for my dog.
There are always more options.
I lifted the receiver and heard the dial tone. 
What other options?
Several times I started to dial, then shut the phone off with my thumb.  
The ghost whispered again: “Even if it’s the wrong thing, do SOMETHING!”
I dialed a number I had memorized long ago.

L.L. Bean – Freeport, Maine
3:47 PM

A bus rounded the corner behind Ben and Jerry’s, its diesel groaning as it labored up the small hill.  Through its blacked-out windows I couldn't see the passengers.  Just in case this might be the right bus, I grabbed my backpack and hustled up the stairs to the side of the L.L. Bean building.  A friendly Labrador waited at one of the dog ties, wagging at every passerby.  I patted his head as I passed him.  I miss Tonka.  Rounding the corner, I spied the bus chugging into the back lot. 
I tugged my cap bill down to keep the mist from my eyes.
Kittery Rest Stop, I95, Kittery, Maine
8:41 AM

“HRT Quantico,” a man's voice answered. 
Why do all operators sounds so nasal?
“A collect call from Jake MacGregor for Dolores.” the phone operator asked.
“What the …” The FBI has zero sense of humor.
“Its important, asshole,” I yelled past the phone operator.
A long moment passed.  I thought I was toast, then the man spoke again. “We’ll accept the charges. Wait two.” And put me on hold.
Phone booths were no longer fully enclosed.  So I half crouched and listened to a Muzak version of "Bad to the Bone" – amazing. Who would think you could even do that to such a song?
“Dolores Small.” The genteel Virginian voice answered.
“Can you still twirl a rifle?”
“Oh my gawd. Jake!  What the hell are you calling me collect for -- just to ask stupid questions like that?  And damnit! yes I can!”  Dolores had been captain of the rifle team in the marching band at our high school. We had dated for about a year.
“Your father never liked me, your mother however …”
“Jake, would you shut up and tell me why you fucking called!”  Subtlety was never Dolores strong suit.
“I need help, girlfriend.”
She must have heard the seriousness in my tone. Gruff as she could be, she did have a heart of gold. “Are you in trouble, Jake?”
“No. Yes.  Hell, Do, I don’t know.  Probably.” 
Sometimes I even confuse myself.
“Which one is it, Jake?  And why are you calling from a pay phone in Kittery, Maine?!”  Dolores was Chief of Security for the Hostage Rescue Team in Quantico Virginia. She had resources I don’t even want to think on.
“Ok.” I took a long breath, and told her everything. I started with Moira’s kidnapping, my ex, every rotten thing I suspected about Walters -- all of it. 
Dolores had been a wild child when we were young. She drove a car like a possessed epileptic. She could out-cuss most Marines.
And she was one of the most honest and trustworthy people I was blessed to know. 
I heard her breathing and taking notes on her keyboard as I talked.  She’d interrupt me briefly as I rambled to ask me to repeat something, but otherwise she just listened and typed. 
When I finished I could almost hear her thinking.
Finally, she spoke.  “Jake, you are fucked.” 
Surgeons giving you news that you have a month to live probably sound the same.
“Will you help me, girlfriend?” 
“Of course I will.”  She'd always been a sucker for lost causes.  She continued,  “Call me back on this 800 number. Use this extension, but give me a few hours.”
“Thanks. Dolores,” I muttered as I wrote the number down on the back of my hand.
“And, Jake?”
“You owe me – big time.”
“Don’t go there Dolores.  I still have pictures of you at that Earth, Wind and Fire concert.”
She snorted.  “You crack me up, Jake.”  And she hung up.

L.L. Bean, Freeport, Maine
3:49 PM

I stood by the massive L.L. Bean boot that was the store's signature landmark.  I rumbled in my bag, searching for something that looked like –- there. I withdrew my Ipod, then held it up as if it were a camera and pretended to take photos of the boot.  A teenager walked out the doors and stared at me.
“What, haven’t you heard they upgraded gen one Ipods?” I tossed his way.
He flipped me the bird and kept walking. 
I continued taking imaginary pictures, walking around the boot to keep my eye on the bus.  Damn, this boot must be 30 feet tall.  Wonder what they made the thing of. 
Yes. There they were. Several cloaked gowns departed the bus. They took their time disembarking, more and more getting out as they waited for their leader.  Finally, they gathered by a man with a clipboard.  Then they started toward me.
Kittery, Maine
9:41 AM
I drove to a place called 'The Beach Pea Baking Company' in Kittery.  I was cold. I was hungry.  I went in and looked at the menu board.  A friendly young lady with a tattoo of a petite lobster on her neck strolled up to the counter and waited to take my order.
“What’s good?” I asked.
“Everything!” she chimed.
“Really?” I responded with a raised eyebrow.
“Really, really!”  Wow, she needs to switch to decaf.     
“What do you get?”  Always pays to order what the staff eats.
“We shut down breakfast, which is too bad, ‘cause breakfast so rocks.  And like, I’m a vegan, so I like the spout sandwich. But my boyfriend is one of the cooks and he loves the turkey club on pumpernickel.”  Her grin was huge. It reminded me of a young Joni Mitchell.
“I’ll take a club.”
“Will that be on white, wheat, rye, sourdough or multi-grain?”
“What happened to pumpernickel?”
“Oh, we don’t have any today.”
“Great, I get all lathered up for pumpernickel and you leave me hanging.”
“That’s what my boyfriend says!”
I was seriously out-gunned here in vibrancy.  I threw the towel in.  “I’ll take sourdough, please.”
“Excellent choice.  Toasted?”
“Surprise me.”
“You are wicked funny.”   More Vibrancy.
She pivoted and hollered my order back into the kitchen, then turned back and motioned me toward the register.  I grabbed a bag of Cape Cod chips and a Snapple – mostly because I liked their sayings.
I ate my sandwich and chips, then sat playing with the bottle cap.  "Frogs never drink," It said. 
Damn, that must suck.
After a while I got up and went to the phone, in the back near the bathrooms.  I stood for a moment fiddling with a toothpick. 
This is going to be a shitstorm of epic proportions. But Gunny, I did something. 
I did something.
I dialed the number.  Dolores answered on the first ring.
“Do you have any goddamned idea what you are involved in?” She barked.
“Fine, thank you.  And my sandwich was excellent.  Though I hear their breakfast rocks.”
“Jake, I am not fucking kidding here!”
“The pickle was a bit sharp, made my eyes water.”
“We had no idea on any of this!  Jake, this place is a fucking madhouse now! Once I had the guys look into this, it…”
“Did you know frogs never drink?”
“Keep your dog pants on.”
“Keep my WHAT ON?”
“Its what I tell Tonka when he gets all excited.  Seems to work for him.”
“ARE YOU TELLING ME YOU THINK I'M A DOG?” I could hear the phone slam on the desk.  She always had a temper. Anyone within shouting distance back in Quantico was getting an earful of explicative-deletes.  After a while I heard her walking back to the phone.
“Jake, you listen to me and stop fucking around.  I have not heard word one from you for years, and then you call and drop a big time bomb on me!  Do you have any idea how BIG THIS IS!  We have three teams scrambling to Maine right this second.  Don’t move, don’t breathe, hell don’t blink!  Now …”
“Jake, don’t you dare try to sweet talk me.  I won’t have you …”
“Jake, I swear to God I will come and kick your …”
“Dolores, just tell me what I asked for.  Where and when are these mules going to make the drop?”
I could hear her suck in her breath. I had known her since we were kids.  Hell, we had to take ballroom dancing together when we were 13.  I could hear her gnawing her bottom lip.
“Dolores, just this one little thing. Please. I need to do this.  I need to do this for Moira.”
“L.L. Bean, today, mid afternoon, and …”
I hung up and started out the building.  I did a u-turn at the door.  I went back to the counter and handed the young lady with the lobster tat a five-dollar bill as a tip. And the bottle cap.
I was walking out when I heard her voice behind me.
“Wow, who knew – frogs don’t drink?”
L.L. Bean, Freeport, Maine
3:51 PM

The Burqa-clad women streamed past me and past the big boot, into L.L. Bean.  It was comical in its absurdity – cloaked fundamentalist Muslims shopping at the world headquarters of preppy.
I may only have minutes to do this; the FBI is not going to fuck around on this.
I walked through the doors and stood beside the shoe department.  Burqas milled around.  Other tourists exited past me. 
Where am I going to do this?
A little girl paraded in her new green boots.  I noticed they had frog faces on the toes.
The Burqas glided toward the bathrooms.
I looked down at the little girl’s feet and said, “I don’t know about you, but I could really use a drink.”
I followed the Burqas.