He prayed that his plan would work, as he maneuvered just clear of the trail of fire, barely out of sight of the menacing motorcycles. He counted slowly as he prepared to make his move. Then he swung one of the fire extinguishers to the front, pulled the pin, and squeezed the handle. The white discharge was a sudden fog bank that caught them full in the face and totally by surprise. The result was more than he could've asked for, as the torches were snuffed out and the disoriented bikers dropped their mounts in a tumble of metal and leather.
He rode a short ways back along their fiery trail, attempting to limit the damage. When both extinguishers were empty, he discarded them and went to take care of the source of the destruction.
Two horses were heading straight for the bikers, who were now on their feet, slapping their leather gear and mad as hornets. The one on the left was a tall man with a scraggly beard; his mustache whipped in the wind and his grin showed a few missing teeth. The one on the right was more wide than tall, and he wore a steel WWII helmet. Clark reached them first, sliding off his horse. They saw him and started stomping towards him. Suddenly the other horseman showed up and slid to the ground.
"Two against one? That's what I'd expect from COWARDS like you." His voice boomed loudly, sounding like gravel in a bucket. Music to my ears, thought Clark, looking at the tall man with the full white beard who continued to mock the bikers. "So which of you dirt-for-brains thinks he can best an old man?"
There was an exchange between the two bikers. The wide one with the WWII helmet jerked a thumb towards Clark, and the other man nodded. Advancing on Clark, he pulled out a military trench knife and swung it before him, grinning menacingly and daring Clark to get closer. He avoided the wicked looking blade as much as he could, but a stretching lunge caught him on the arm, making a thin line of red. Clark hesitated only a moment, then executed a spinning kick to the biker's knife hand. His heel connected, and the knife went flying into the crops. Clark smiled, waiting to see if his opponent was further armed, while sidestepping and dodging the advances of the leather clad pug-ugly.
The frustrated biker yelled and cursed at him, "C'mon, fight me, man! Fight me!"
Clark pulled the metal tube off his arm, twisted the end, and gripped it tightly. He waited for the man to make another lunge at him, then went low, swinging his leg around and catching the biker from behind, below the knees. Off-balance, he dropped to his face. "Catch!" said Clark, dropping the tube near him and holding his breath. The biker, breathing rapidly, looked with fear at the object. Then he blinked a couple of times and became unconscious. Clark didn't wait to see if the man would get up.
Clamping a bandanna to the cut on his arm, he slowly walked in the direction of the other fight. The mallet-sized fists of the old man and his fighting style only confirmed the obvious. He sparred with the tall biker for a few minutes, toying with him, then delivered a cannonball of a right hook to the biker's head. He spun four times before falling face first to the ground.
Clark stood and applauded. "Very good. Very good." Then he dragged the one biker's body to where the other lay. "We saw them from the road and thought we'd help. The sheriff's on his way, and it looks like the fire's not going to spread far."
They turned to see the two fire engines finishing the job Clark had started.
"I thank you for your help, stranger," the man with the white beard replied, rubbing his fist.
"Have they been causing trouble for long?" asked Clark, jerking his head in the direction of the bikers.
He nodded. "These Cossacks --" He kicked at one of the unconscious bikers for emphasis. "-- have been terrorizing my farm and the farms around here for three months." Then he looked at Clark, squinting. "You look familiar, friend. Have we met?"
Clark grinned. "It depends. When was the last time you put your fist through a wooden door panel?"
The man's expression was a combination of curiosity and fear. He took a step back, cautiously.
"Don't be afraid . . . Renny," Clark said softly. "Look closely."
The man's eyes went wide, then wider. He staggered back, and for a moment his face matched the color of his beard. "Holy cow! They said you were dead!"
Clark's grin grew wider. "Well, it seems I don't have a monopoly on that, do I? I think we look pretty good for two dead men, brother." He walked closer, and reached out a hand.
Renny laughed, and took the hand. A moment later the two men came together in a bear hug. Side by side, they dragged the bikers back to the house like sacks of rice. While Renny got some rope, Clark waved to me and Dot to come over. We drove in right behind the sheriff's car, and saw the two bikers bound back-to-back and still unconscious.
"Ivan, you did a hellova job with these two. Thanks," commended the sheriff. "Sorry about what they did to your crops."
He shrugged. "That's okay. I'll check 'em out later and figure what can be salvaged. In the meantime, I'm gonna show my gratitude to these kind strangers who helped me by lettin' them stay around here for a few days."
The sheriff acknowledged us with handshakes, then climbed back in his car and drove away with his prisoners. As he did, the front door of the house opened and a woman stepped out onto the porch. She was at least twenty years younger than Renny, quite lovely, with long black hair enclosed in a traditional head scarf. She waved, and caught Renny's eye. He turned to her and began making gestures to her in sign language. I recognized a few words: he was letting her know everything was okay, and that we were friends of his. She smiled, stepped down from the porch, and joined us.
Clark also knew sign language, and made the introductions. She smiled demurely, and reminded me of Lea in many ways. Renny interpreted her words to us. She was his wife, Amanda. I was able to sign a few words to her, apologizing for my clumsiness. She smiled understandingly. Dot was the only one who knew no sign language, but she gave Amanda a hug and skipped the language barrier completely. When I shook Renny's hand, I was amazed at the size of it, comparing it to Clark's.
Renny invited us inside. There were a couple of couches and a few chairs, including one well-worn easy chair that I figured was Renny's favorite. He signed to Amanda to prepare some refreshments for us, then walked over to an old oak desk and pulled out a pipe and a tobacco pouch. He started to light up, then caught himself. "Anybody mind?" he asked. We shook our heads, and he continued to light up the pipe. The heady smell of the tobacco was not unpleasant.
We sat around for a few uncomfortable moments as we waited to see who would speak first. Then I grinned and said, "Okay. Renny -- you want to know what happened to Clark, and we're dying to know what happened to you. So who's got the guts to tell his story first?"
That was just the touch of humor to loosen things up. "I'll go first," said Clark, and gave the summary of events that brought us up to here. While he did, Renny puffed slowly on his pipe, relighting it occasionally. Then he set it aside. "So Long Tom's the only one unaccounted for," he commented.
"Yes," replied Clark. "Now it's your turn. With the help of Johnny and Monk, we were able to track you from San Francisco to Mexico, and eventually to Romania." He paused. "What happened, brother?"
He stood and put the pipe and tobacco away. "I've got a question first. I've been 'dead' for ten years -- what prompted you to look for me?"
I was prepared for that question, and handed him a highlighted photocopy of Massey's article. "Massey didn't believe you had died, and his notes gave us a direction to start."
"Holy cow," he mumbled incredulously, reading through the article. "And I thought I had covered my tracks."
"Hardly," answered Clark dryly. "We figured you and Durant envied one another, and his death in the earthquake was an opportunity to . . . be free again."
"You haven't lost your touch, Doc," he commented half-sarcastically. "Yeah, you're right. Mark started working for me during the 70's and was a good worker. When everybody around us saw how much we looked alike, they called us the Grim Brothers. Eventually, we got to be good friends, and would swap stories for hours. But his stories were current -- my stories were ancient history. And he was an independent -- he'd vanish for six months or so, then come back looking for work and with a hatful of stories that would curl your hair. I was running out of stories of the past, and didn't have anything to look for in the future.
"You're probably wonderin' how I made it out alive," he said. "On the day of the quake, I was going to check out a worksite in Oakland. I wanted Mark's input on it, 'cause I hoped to put him in charge of it. I planned on checking it out that afternoon. So I called Mark and told him I'd pick him up at his place, then run the two of us out to the site. On the way back I'd deposit the money I had with me. Kill two birds with one stone. Since I had some papers I wanted to go over and run past him, I told Mark to drive while I read the stuff. So that's how come he ended up in the driver's seat. Before he got in, he put his jacket behind the passengers' seat in the cab."
He paused. This was starting to hurt. "We were on the Cypress Structure when the quake hit. At the first tremor, both of us looked overhead. We knew that there could be serious trouble if the overpass came down. I looked for cracks while he tried to find us an offramp. When I saw the cracks forming, I knew there wouldn't be time to drive clear. I yelled for him to stop and make a run for it. He yelled to me to grab his jacket -- he always put his wallet there while on site, rather than have it drop into a cement mixer like it did a couple of years earlier. I opened my door, grabbed the bag with the money, grabbed his jacket, and ran for the edge of the overpass. I looked down at the ground some twenty feet below, then glanced back at the truck. There were chunks of concrete falling, and I saw a slab land right on the cab. I always hoped he didn't suffer.
"Anyhow, I started moving back in, when the whole upper deck started to come down around me. I glanced down and saw an eighteen-wheeler swinging out from the lower level, trying to get clear. I felt a rush of adrenalin, and jumped. I landed on the roof of the trailer, banging my head and my left shoulder. I rode the truck until it stopped, then climbed off. I looked around to get my bearings, and saw Mark's motel. All I wanted to do was find a place of shelter. And I was starting to feel dizzy. Next thing I know I came to on the floor of Mark's room. I musta headed there, gone in using the key in Mark's jacket -- I was still holding onto it -- then blacked out. When I came to, it was night. I switched on the tv to see what was going on. The news told about the quake, the collapse of the freeway, and they started giving the names of the dead. And my name was there."
He paused to take a sip from a ceramic mug. "I didn't know what to think. Those yahoos had mistaken Mark for me! I was getting ready to call my secretary to pass the word on that I was alive, but suddenly I stopped." He looked at Clark with pleading eyes. "I know it was wrong, Doc, but I had been handed a second chance on life -- somewhere else. Everyone thought I was dead, so why not take advantage of it? I had the bag of money, which got replaced from my 'estate', and I was free to go anywhere, do anything . . . be anyone. And I figured that, once they took a close look at the body, they'd know it wasn't me!" He downed the rest of the mug's contents.
"Anyhow, I took the money and Mark's rig and headed down to Mexico. I found a few of our caches that had somehow survived the years. I did some fightin' and some bettin', and built the money up into a sizable nest egg. Then someone offered me a boat --"
"The Houdini," supplied Clark.
Renny gaped at him, then grinned. "You have been doing your homework, haven't you? So you know I sold the truck, bought the boat, and traveled the world. Didn't stay in any one place for long. I guess I got paranoid. Well, I ended up in Romania. They were going through some real bad times, and I saw a way my talents could be used. I did some building and stuff, and decided to settle down -- especially after I found Mandy. Her family had been lost during some of the fighting in the area, and she was alone. I knew sign language -- you taught us well, Doc -- and we were able to communicate. I interpreted for her, and we got close . . . we fell in love. And I found a reason to stay put.
"I changed the John to Ivan and kept the Renwick part. Figured no one would think twice. Mandy and I worked together in Romania for a few years, and I told her everything. Eventually she wanted to see the States, so we emigrated back and took up farming here. Oberlin's a small town, and we found the people friendly. I put together this farm, and I even do a little building from time to time for neighbors."
He leaned back in his chair and took in a deep breath, letting it out in a sigh. "All I wanted was for me and Mandy to live out the rest of our lives in peace. Now that's gone. My cover's been blown."
"Says who?" commented Clark calmly.
Renny's expression was a combination of confusion and frustration. "Huh? What do you mean? This guy Massey -- he's found me."
Clark shook his head. "No he didn't. We did. He got you only as far as departing San Francisco. He didn't take you the rest of the way. We did. We had the only people who could see inside your brain and figure out your moves. We had the connections in Romania and in Immigration to get the information back to us. You just made it easy by keeping the name Renwick. If you hadn't . . . well, we wouldn't be having this conversation, would we?"
Renny was calming down. "You're right. But will Massey stop looking?"
Clark shrugged. "If we do nothing, maybe, maybe not." He paused for a moment, thinking. "But what if we give him the end of a trail?"
I saw where he was leading. "Give Massey a bone, and hope he'll be satisfied with it. Hope that he won't want a bigger bone."
"Precisely." Clark looked over at Renny. "Brother, he doesn't even know which direction you went in. We could give him your trail from San Francisco into Canada for all it mattered. Then you could've just gotten lost in the Great North. Might even suggest you tried heading for the Fortress and never came back. Since they found the Fortress, that might be a good misdirection for you."
Dot made a suggestion. "Or we can say you had plastic surgery and changed your name. And the trail ended with an alcoholic doctor with a poor memory."
Clark concluded, "So take your pick. Then Dot can call Massey and give him the bone."
"You know," he commented with a grin. "That just might work."
"Massey speaking," came the reporter's voice.
"Dorothy Brooks here," greeted Dot.
"Ms. Brooks! How are you?"
The niceties out of the way, he got right to the point. "You have something?"
"Yes. I think we've come to the end of our search. And it's not very good, I'm afraid." Looking at the notes we assembled, she related the story of our 'search' from San Francisco to North Dakota and into Alaska, where we lost the trail. "And that, as they say, is the end of the story."
Massey took a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. "Then that's it. Well, I guess that's the best that can be done. Just wish we could've found a body."
"Yeah. Finding a body would've been conclusive proof, but I guess it just wasn't meant to be." She looked across the room and silently blew Renny a kiss. In the past, his expression would've been the opposite of what he felt -- a grim face indicating happiness, sullenness indicating satisfaction -- but now he could relax and let a grin cross his face.
Dot returned to the call. "Oh, yes! One thing we confirmed -- he didn't take the money. It looks like the looters actually did get it."
"Really? Well, can't be right all the time," he admitted with a chuckle.
She giggled. "We've got your number in case we come up with anything. Take care." And she ended the conversation.
"Bravo," commented Clark, as we applauded her performance.
She leaned back in the chair and looked drained. Shrugging, she said, "It's a knack."
"Thank you very much, Dot," added Renny, breathing a sigh of relief. Then he stood, invigorated, and announced with a mighty clap of his hands, "Tonight, we celebrate!"
I felt like King David at one of the royal feasts. "Pass the corn, please," I asked.
Dot passed the platter, and followed up with the butter. I couldn't get enough of the corn on the cob, taken straight from Renny's own fields.
"I would love to see Grandma's baked chicken with this," commented Dot.
"And Jack's mashed potatoes -- can't forget about those," added Clark.
"Amen," I agreed. Then I elaborated to Dot. "He uses cream cheese instead of milk. Smoothest potatoes you ever tasted." My eyes rolled up in my head, remembering.
"So," asked Renny between mouthfuls of food. "Where do you go from here?"
"To find Long Tom, if we can," answered Clark.
He took a sip from his mug and gave him a curious look. "I think I can help you."
We all stopped chewing as one. "Excuse me?" asked Clark.
"I . . . I know where he is," said Renny, sheepishly.
The three of us were silent, and just stared at him, waiting.
"He's in the States. A place called Lincoln City, on the coast of --"
"-- Oregon?" I blurted, my eyes wide as saucers. "Less than ninety minutes from Portland?"
"Why didn't you tell us about this sooner?" asked Clark.
"It never came up. After you mentioned that you hadn't found Long Tom, we got sidetracked with my little dilemma, and this is the first time his name has come up since." He paused. "So, you want to know about him, or not?"
"Yes," we all said as one.
"Okay. But first I've gotta tell you a couple of things. The first thing, Doc, is that . . . he doesn't have any legs anymore. And he's got an adopted daughter. Her name is Amy and I think she's Vietnamese." He sighed. "I know very little of his life apart from that. He's very secretive. But who knows -- maybe you can get through."
He took a sip from his mug. "Okay, from the top. It was about six years ago. I was still traveling the world, and I docked at Newport. I didn't have the beard back then -- just whiskers I'd hack off every now and then. I was staying on the boat, and was wandering around the docks one day when I saw him. He was in a wheelchair, and his daughter was with him. Anyhow, I recognized him. Unfortunately, he recognized me -- I shouldn't have stared at him so long. They approached me, and he said my name. I tried to deny it, but he pointed out the big hands . . . and my voice. I gave in."
He paused. "We talked, and it didn't take long for us to come to an understanding. We both had secrets that we didn't want everyone to know -- such as where he was and how he lost his legs. We agreed to keep in touch, but we've respected each other's privacy. He supplies me with a terrific pipe tobacco you can only get at a little place in Lincoln City, and I send him a crate of corn fresh from my harvest. Beyond that, we live our lives separately and don't ask."
He paused and smiled, leaving the best for last. "But I do have his address . . . "
It was the next morning.
Stepping from the camper van, I squinted at the harsh glare, still groggy from my less-than-restful sleep. I entered the house and dragged myself to the kitchen table. Clark was already there. Dot came in a couple of minutes later, silently poured a cup of coffee, and flopped down into a chair. We all looked weary, and Dot hadn't even paused to give me her usual good morning kiss.
"Don't we make a lovely group," I commented sarcastically. "So none of us slept well. I had bad dreams -- how about you?"
Clark looked up, suddenly alert. "Dreams? Did any of them involve hospitals, or water?"
"Not just water," added Dot, ominously. "The ocean . . . and tombstones."
My eyes went wide. I blinked a couple of times. "We all had the same dream?"
Dot nodded. "And a feeling of urgency. Like . . . "
"Like Long Tom is in danger," concluded Clark. "How soon can we get ready?"
"A couple of hours," I answered. "Less, if we're not neat."
"Do it. I'll tell Renny."
Clark found Renny in the barn feeding the livestock, and told him of our dream. "God is telling us that we need to get to Long Tom as soon as possible. We would like to spend more time here, but . . . "
Renny's eyes were wide. "I, too, had the same dream. Now I understand why. Go."
"Can you call Tom? A familiar voice telling him that I am alive may be able to cushion any shock caused by my sudden appearance."
He smiled and nodded. "Sure. Be happy to."
"I'll give you our cell phone numbers." He shook Renny's hand. "Thank you."
Within the hour, we were saying our goodbyes to Renny and Amanda, and were gassing up for the final leg of our quest.