Part II of the Dawnwalker Cycle
"A Spearfish Lake Story"
It had been hard to stand on the ramp at the airport and watch Jennlynn launch the Learjet into the winter sky toward Phoenix without wishing they were with her, but the few days in the sun on St. Thomas over Christmas brought them back to Tech with a much better attitude than when they’d left. It seemed like they were on the home stretch, now; they’d be going home before long – their new home, that is, in Phoenix.
Then, when spring break rolled around in March, their studies were under control, and they allowed themselves the luxury of driving the Monte Carlo down to Disney World, doing all the fun things they’d often wondered about. However, they admitted that they spent a lot of the time looking at the technology of some of the things that went on and figuring how they could improve it. They really were in the home stretch when they got back from Disney World. By then, they were counting the days until their sentence was completed.
Spring came early to the south, and it seemed warm and bright a little over a week before graduation. For weeks, they’d been getting ready for the big move back to Phoenix, going through the stuff that had accumulated in the apartment, throwing out a lot of it, and boxing up more stuff and shipping it to Lambdatron for future pickup. They were willing to pack the Monte Carlo to the roofline for the trip, but they didn’t want to mess around with more stuff than they had to. Even that project was under control, so one nice morning, they decided to go for a run, just for the sake of exercise, and making a mail pickup seemed to be a good idea, so Jon carried a small daypack.
They didn’t check their mailboxes very often, Once in a while, there’d be something from the college among all the junk mail, but that was relatively unusual. In order to avoid a paper trail, they still didn’t share a mailbox in Atlanta, not even the same post office, so it made for a relatively long run, but it was a nice day for it.
As it worked out, they went to Jon’s mailbox first. As expected, there was the usual stack of junk mail, a couple letters of no particular importance from the college, and a long envelope from Lambdatron. After hearing Jennlynn’s worries back at Christmas, Jon was just a little leery about opening it, but reasoned that if it were really bad news, they’d have gotten some hint about it via e-mail.
This wasn’t bad news – it turned out to be from Molly. There were several pieces of official paperwork concerning their security clearances, and a cover note: Don’t let this scare you. This is just a notification that you’ve been granted Top Secret security clearances. Stan, Jim, and Jennlynn say they’re looking forward to your being back, so have a safe trip. There’ll be a stack of paperwork I’ll need to go over with you when you get here. See you soon!
"Pretty close to a year, just like she said," Jon nodded, handing the paperwork to Tanisha.
"I’m not so sure I’m all that happy to see it," she said. "We’re probably going to get stuck on that mysterious project on the back lot that’s been so much trouble."
"You’re probably right," he shrugged. "Wonder what that’s all about?"
"We’ll know pretty soon, I guess," she said. They took a few minutes to pitch the junk mail, put the letters that might mean anything in the backpack, and head for Tanisha’s post office box. It was a couple miles away, but it was a nice day and they took it easy, just enjoying the exercise – something they’d never have thought of doing two years before, but the last two years had changed both of them a lot.
There was a big stack of junk mail in Tanisha’s post office box, as well, a couple of relatively meaningless letters from the college, and the long envelope from Lambdatron, which contained the same paperwork and message from Molly. But then, as they were sorting through the junk mail, there was another envelope, with the return address of "Bethel African Baptist Church."
"Oh, dear God," Tanisha said, shaking and tensing up. "There’s no way that can be anything but bad."
"No shit," Jon agreed, fear also running up his spine.
"You open it," she said tearfully. "I’m scared."
"All right," he agreed, not wanting to do it. With shaking hands of his own, he ripped open the envelope, took out the letter, and began to read. "‘Tanisha, I got this address from the college registrar, so you can knock off all the garbage about being in Los Angeles. It would have been nice if you could have let us know your address so you could have been here for your father’s funeral. He died last Christmas Eve. The doctors said it was a heart attack, but I think it was from a broken heart because his daughter had slipped away from him.’"
"Oh, Dear God," Tanisha said, wrapping her arms around Jon.
"There’s more," he said, glancing ahead at the letter, "And it’s worse. ‘I realize now you’ve been lying about your job and your fiancé, too. The registrar tells us that you’ll be graduating soon, so I’ll let you have that. But I’ll be coming down for graduation, so I can take you back to your people and your church where you belong. I will no longer allow you to wander in the wilderness without supervision, and ruining my reputation in the church in the process.’"
"Like hell," she said immediately, her tears turning to anger. "My asshole brother is even more radical than my father ever was. He’s dumb enough to do something crazy."
"Sorry about your dad," Jon said. "But, you’re right. We don’t want a confrontation if we can avoid it. At least he was dumb enough to give us a heads up."
"I’d like to go to graduation," Tanisha said sadly. "Damn it, Magna Cum Laude counts for something. But, I think our best move is to get out of town before he gets here."
"Just guessing," Jon said, "But he must not know where we’re living, or he’d have been down here making trouble by now. What do you say we go talk to the registrar and the department, and tell them we’ve got good jobs lined up, but they need us out there ASAP?"
"God, I don’t know that I even want to go on campus again," she protested. "I’m not even sure I want to go back to the apartment. He may be laying some false trail of his own and be watching us."
"Shit, you’re right," he said. "Now what do we do? Jesus, I wish there was some way I could get hold of Crystal, maybe get her and Randy down here to cover our asses while we blow town."
"We can’t do that," she said tearfully. "You said she disappeared somewhere out west again. It’d be nice, but we can’t . . . Hey!"
"Crystal and Randy aren’t the only ones who know martial arts," she said. "How about if we go down to the dojo and have a talk with Sensei?"
"You know why I love you?" he smiled. "It’s not only because you’re insatiable, even though you are, but also because you’re downright brilliant."
"It might work," she said. "Are we really in a position to get out of town this afternoon, maybe tomorrow morning?"
"As far as I can think, we are," Jon said. "We’ve got our course work turned in for all but two classes. We’ve got finals in those, but we’re in good shape. Maybe we could take those finals early, or something, but we wouldn’t bust the classes if we skipped them. It wouldn’t even count against our graduating with honors."
"It’d be best if we talked to the professors," she said. "But they’d have to send us our diplomas. The letter said my brother found out our address through the college, so maybe we’d better not let them have our address in the future."
"We could call Stan," he suggested. "We never used the mail drop at the Los Angeles field office; maybe we could use it now."
"Or, better," she said, "We could just tell the college we don’t know what our addresses will be, and then have them send our diplomas when we notify them. That way we could set up a mail drop almost anywhere."
Jon thought about it for a second. "That might . . . " he said, and broke out laughing. It was a serious laugh; he couldn’t speak, just laugh, and in a second was pounding the wall of the post office.
"Jon, what’s so funny?" she grinned, realizing it must be a good one.
"The perfect idea," he said, struggling through gales of laughter to get it out. "The most world class nasty idea ever. We’d have to talk to Jennlynn, but . . . Oh, God . . . " he continued to laugh.
"Jon, would you please let me in on this?"
"It’s simple," he said, struggling to come up for air. "Let him find out your address through the college. It doesn’t matter about my diploma and stuff, we can have the college send it to the Scottsdale post office box. But yours . . . we could set it up through Jennlynn to have it sent to you at the Redlite."
"Oh, my God!!" Tanisha broke out laughing. "Ohhhhh . . . myyyyy . . . Goddddd!!! He’d just die!!" She went on laughing for a moment. "God, I can just imagine the heart attack he’d have when they give him my forwarding address – ‘Tanisha Blythe, c/o Redlite Ranch Bordello!’"
"Yeah," he laughed, "St. Louis would qualify for federal disaster relief after that."
"You know why I love you?" she smiled. "It’s not just because you’re insatiable, it’s because you’re also downright brilliant. Let’s head over to the dojo and talk to Sensei. Maybe if everything works out we can get out of here this afternoon."
"Sounds good to me," he smiled. "Hey, look," he said, more serious now. "I really am sorry about your dad. I know you’ve wanted to be free of him, but still . . . well, if it was my dad, I’d be relieved in a way, but I’d feel pretty sorry, too."
"I know," she nodded, "And thanks, Jon. Yeah, I am pretty sorry. There wasn’t a lot of love lost between us the last few years, but he was my father, too. I guess I’d be crying a little if I wasn’t so pissed off at my brother for thinking he’s going to try to run my life. Shit, he even took that away from me. Maybe I’ll find a chance to cry a little over my father some time, but it won’t be soon."
* * *
"You sure I can’t slip you some money for your trouble?" Jon asked the sensei twelve hours later at a rest stop not far to the west of Atlanta. Once they’d explained the problem to him, he had been nothing but helpful. He’d accompanied them on the rounds of the campus closing out things and making arrangements, and even had a couple of other students come over to the apartment to help with loading the Monte Carlo. It didn’t take long.
Still unsure if they were being followed, the sensei and another of his students had followed them out of town, as they took a rather rambling route, so they could be sure they weren’t being tailed. As it turned out, no tail had been noticed, so they felt pretty safe, now.
"No, don’t worry about it," the big black man said. "You two have been good kids, and have gone through a patch of trouble. Just take care, and keep up the lessons someplace, since you still might need the skills someday. Drop by and say hello if you’re ever back this way."
"It probably won’t be soon," Jon said, "But you never know."
"Thanks again, Sensei," Tanisha said. "You’ve been a tower of strength when we needed it."
"Like I said, no big deal," he smiled. "You might want to get a move on, though. I don’t think you’re being followed, but you might want to check once in a while. The best of luck to you. Drop me a Christmas card some time. You take care."
"I still think there’s something we should do for you," Jon said.
"Just pass the favor ahead," the sensei smiled. "Sometime, sooner or later, you’re going to come across some kids having a rough patch. Help them out, and consider the favor returned."
"You bet we will, Sensei," Jon said. "And, thanks again."
In a minute, they were in the Monte Carlo, heading westbound for Phoenix. Although they felt like they were leaving Atlanta and Tech with their tails between their legs, at least they were leaving, and heading toward Phoenix to stay.
As they headed down the highway, Phoenix seemed safe. Tanisha had never given her father any real idea of where in the west they were, although she’d said Los Angeles several times without being specific. She’d never mentioned Lambdatron, and it wasn’t even well known at Tech that it was where she and Jon had been working – Dr. McDermott knew, of course, but he was about the only one they could think of, and they hadn’t had any on-campus friends since their first summer in Phoenix.
As far as that went, the trail to Jon was thin, as well. Tanisha had never mentioned his name to her family, so that seemed pretty safe. Jon’s mother did know that they had spent time in the Phoenix area, and knew they had the post office box in Scottsdale, but he’d never mentioned Lambdatron to her, either. He was about as sure as he could be that his father didn’t have that much information, and certainly, if his father had any suspicion that Jon had been email@example.com, there had never been any hint of it.
But still, they were feeling pretty paranoid as they drove west along the now mildly familiar highways – so paranoid, in fact, that they drove all night and much of the next day. Finally, they pulled into the motel in Amarillo where’d they’d stayed on their westward trip the last two years. When they got there they were tired enough that they skipped the pool and hot tub, and mostly used the bed for sleeping, at least the rest of the day.
They got up early the next morning and hit the road again, the paranoia of Atlanta still on them, anxious to be back in Phoenix and what seemed like safety. As much as the job at Lambdatron appealed to them, they both had second thoughts – the trail to them was thin, but someone might be able to follow it. Still, Lambdatron and Phoenix was a bird in the hand, and there didn’t appear to be any others in the bushes.
The panhandle of Texas went by quickly on I-40, and so did New Mexico, and half of Arizona, but when they got to Flagstaff, Jon drove right by the exit to I-17 without slowing.
"Uh, Jon, you missed the exit," Tanisha said lightly.
"No," he replied, "It just struck me that we’ve got an additional layer of security available to us. Something we should have done two years ago."
"What are you talking about?" she frowned.
"It’ll be even harder to find you if we change your name," he said enigmatically. "If there’s no Tanisha Blythe in Phoenix, we’re that much safer."
"Jon, getting a name changed is a lot of hassle," she protested.
"Actually, a few hours up the road, it’s pretty easy," he said, "In Las Vegas. We can change your name there with no waiting period. Your brother won’t have any idea that he has to look for Tania Chladek."
"Jon, are you sure about this?" she said quizzically. "I mean, we’ve lived together for two years, but getting married – well, it’s a big step."
"It’s a big enough step that we could have saved ourselves some problems if we’d done it two years ago," he said flatly.
Seven hours later, in a tawdry wedding chapel in Las Vegas, they were pronounced man and wife. Just to celebrate, they spent the night in one of the big casino hotels in Lost Wages, caught a couple of shows, didn’t invest a nickel in a slot machine, and the next morning headed on down to Phoenix and Lambdatron.
As they headed back down US-93 and over the Hoover Dam, they held hands, as they’d done so often while driving over their past two years together. Tanisha was happy to be Jon’s wife, and he was proud to be her husband. It would have been nice to tell someone they’d known before they met that they were now married, but there was no one they could find that they could tell. At least, their friends and co-workers at Lambdatron would sort of make up for it, but it still lacked something.
At least now, they were married. They loved each other intensely, had done so for years – but they knew well the price that they’d paid to do it.
* * *
Late that afternoon, they walked hand in hand into Lambdatron. "Well, gee zow," Angela piped up, "Look what the cat drug in! Nobody figured you kids would be around for another couple weeks, anyway! What are you, gluttons for punishment?"
"Just glad to be home," Jon smiled.
"So where are your T-shirts?" she asked, standing up, showing off her T-shirt: Firemen: find ’em hot, leave ’em wet.
"Oh, wow," Tanisha smiled, "Is it Thursday? I guess we sort of lost track of the day."
"Doesn’t matter," Jon said. "We hadn’t really planned on coming in till the first of the week, we just wanted to say ‘hi’ to Stan and Jennlynn and Jim, and talk to Molly for a bit."
"Not a prayer on Stan and Jennlynn. They flew off to DC, probably won’t be back till late tomorrow night. Jim’s in LA, might be back tonight. Molly’s here, though," she said, picking up the phone to call her. "Someone here to see you," she said into the phone.
"Good, that’s the important part, anyway," Tanisha said. "If this is Thursday, we should be ready to go the first of the week. That’ll be OK for Stan and Jim and Jennlynn."
"So what’s the news with you?" Angela smiled. "I take it you graduated?"
"Yeah, sort of," Jon smiled. We decided to skip the ceremony and get out here. We just hit the point where we didn’t want to waste another minute in Atlanta."
The door to the reception room opened. "Angela, who is . . . " they heard Molly’s voice. "Hey, wow, great to see you two! Back with us again, huh?"
"This time to stay, I hope," Tanisha smiled. "But I’m not too sure how happy you’re going to be to see us."
A frown stole over Molly’s blonde face. "I don’t get it," she said.
"We brought a lot of work for you," Jon said, holding up his and Tanisha’s left hands so the rings showed.
"Oh, shit," Molly grinned. "You’re right, that is a lot of work. But, hey, congratulations, you two."
"What’s this?" Angela smiled. "Oh! You got married! Congratulations! When did this happen?"
"Just happened, up in Las Vegas," Tanisha smiled. "We sort of decided that the time had come."
"Look, I can’t get a whole lot done yet this afternoon," Molly said. "I mean, I can get started on some things. Any chance you could slide in here along in the morning tomorrow? We could go over some of it and you can sign some forms. I wrote you that you got your clearances, so you’re going to need the security lecture, too."
"We’ve got some other stuff to do today and tomorrow, too," Jon told her. "We haven’t tacked down an apartment yet, we’ve got a motel for the night. We could use a couple days to get moved and settled in. But look, Molly, before you get started typing forms, we do have a question. Getting married changed Tanisha’s last name, that’s relatively easy, we know. What’s the chance of changing her first name a little in the process?"
"Ohhh, hard to say," Molly frowned. "My first reaction is it’s a little harder, some of that stuff you’d need a court order for, and it would really ball up the security side. Do you have some kind of problem?"
"Well, yeah," Tanisha said. "Nothing legal, or anything, but you know we’ve been trying to lay low from our families. We went over that with you when we filed the security applications last year."
"Yeah, I remember," Molly nodded. "There were some riders and notations on your background checks. You still have the same problem then?"
"Actually, maybe a little worse," Tanisha replied, "Mostly, because we’re going to be staying here, this time. I really don’t think we’re going to have major problems, but if one word got to my brother that we’re here we might have some, so we want to scrub the trail as much as we can. We know he won’t know to look for someone by the name of ‘Chladek,’ but Tanisha is not a common name. We’re kind of thinking maybe Tania, or T.M. or something in any records might make things simpler."
"I wouldn’t worry about company records at all," Molly said. "We can probably fudge social security, IRS, and like that, at least as far as the T.M. goes. Security stuff, well, that’s secure, it’s going to be hard for someone to get to without a court order or something."
"As far as that goes," Angela said, "Any simple inquiry will have to go through me. No, we don’t have anyone named Tanisha working here. Blythe? Isn’t that some town in California?"
"That’ll help," Jon said. "Actually, I’m about as concerned about driver’s license records and like that."
"I don’t really know about that," Molly told them. "I think you have to use your birth certificate name, but I’m not sure what happens when you get married, maybe you can fudge things there, a little."
"Then maybe I’ll just sit on my driver’s license for a while," Tanisha said. "It’s a Missouri license, and it’s got a couple years before it expires. By then things should have blown over a little."
"Might work," Molly said. "You’d have to check, but I know that in some states you can get an out-of-state renewal with no photo ID. That might be an issue if you want to go out drinking."
"Yeah," Jon said. "I’m going to have to get a new one; my old one expires next month. But my license isn’t the issue, anyway."
"OK, not a problem," Molly grinned. "There’s some stuff you’re going to be Tania, some of it will have to be T.M., and some of it will have to be Tanisha. Do you want everyone to call you Tania, or what?"
"It might be easier," she replied. "But I think it’d be awful hard to learn. It’ll be hard to break the habit, anyway, mine and everyone else’s. Angela, if you can call me Tania if anyone calls, it might be enough." She let out a sigh. "Actually, I’m hoping it’ll blow over in time, and being married might put a different spin on things. But right now, I’m pretty paranoid. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens."
* * *
Finding an apartment and moving in was more of a hassle than it had been in previous years. Initially, they’d thought about just going back to the place on Price Road where they’d been the previous summer – it was fairly close to Lambdatron, and it was cheap. But even with the separate bedroom it would seem a little on the small side. They’d been living in small places ever since they’d been together, and now that they were in a place hopefully to stay, a little bigger place would be luxury. A two-bedroom place would be about right, they thought – that would give them the second bedroom for their desktops and reference stuff, so they could use it as an office, since they planned on working on their master’s degrees part time at Arizona State. That would mean they didn’t have to cram it into the bedroom or living room or both, and might be able to have a living room in the rare event that they might have company.
They got a copy of the Republic, and checked out the apartment ads. There seemed to be plenty available; there had been a building boom that was dying out a little, or so it appeared. As they were driving to the first possibility, they happened to drive up Price Road past their old apartment, and their eyes fell on the townhouse apartments right across the street. There was a banner out front, advertising availability, and the cost of a two-bedroom unit was well within their price range.
"Jon?" Tanisha said as she glanced at the banner.
"Right," he smiled, flicking on the turn signal.
Not only was the complex of townhouses in Tempe not far from Lambdatron, it was close enough to Arizona State that they were in a college atmosphere, where a mixed-race couple might not be as noticeable. Within minutes, an agent took them back partway into the cookie-cutter complex, filled with tens upon tens of two-story townhouses in blocks of four and six, with sunshades in front to park cars under. He showed them the end unit in a block of four, near the outside of the complex where they had a view to the west; there was also a small patio with a roof to keep off the sun. There was no lawn; that took precious water. Their yard was a combination of stone, dirt, cactus, and some kind of tree they couldn’t identify, pretty in its way, but far from what he’d been used to in Glen Ellyn, and from what she had known in St. Louis. It just underlined how far away from those places they’d come to be together.
The town house was pretty small, two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs, a kitchenette, dinette, and living room downstairs – but after the places they’d been in near Georgia Tech and in Phoenix the past two summers, it seemed large and luxurious. It didn’t take them long to sign a lease.
One minor problem was in the past they’d rented furnished apartments, but this place was bare. That wasn’t any major problem; there was a discount furniture store with a delivery truck not far away, the agent told them. By the end of the day Friday there was furniture in the townhouse – not a lot of it, and rather cheap – with one exception: there was a good quality queen-sized bed in the front bedroom, with a rather expensive mattress, which they planned on putting to good use.
They’d come a long way in a week; Atlanta and Georgia Tech were even farther behind them than ever, almost as far as St. Louis and Glen Ellyn. After two years of being alone together, they finally had something resembling a home that was theirs, and they hoped it would be a while before they had to move again.
As unlikely a pair though they were, they were now incredibly close to each other – something neither of them could have imagined two years before. Being so different, from such different backgrounds, it might have been difficult – but that unlikeness had led to an isolation, especially from each of their families, that in the end had just driven them deeper into each others’ arms.